Yeah yeah yeah

So that was Christmas. It was alright, I’ve known worse. I’ve known better too. We closed the shop at 2 o’clock on Saturday and I got home somewhere about four, leaving it all ready for stripping out and repainting the kitchen this week. I know how to enjoy the festive season. We had to get the drinks in and a few last minute bits of food shopping too, so that was the early evening accounted for. I saw they had the bluray disc of Atomic Blonde in the supermarket so I slipped it into the trolley.

All I knew about the film is that it’s set in cold-war era Berlin and it stars Charlize Theron. I usually enjoy spy movies, I also enjoy most films set in continental European cities, and all I can say about Charlize Theron is that if I were a woman I would be strongly tempted to become a lesbian. Extremely so. Especially if I found out that she was one too. But then I’d probably make my way to Los Angeles, find out where her favourite cafe is and start hanging around there, hoping to bump into her accidentally on numerous occasions. I reckon the situation would quickly deteriorate into accusations of stalking and counter accusations of blatant incitement, then the inevitable restraining orders, hate-mail and quite unjustified internet trolling followed by a short but extremely uncomfortable residence in prison, where I’d most likely become Big Shaqui’ta’s dirty little bitch, and then a brutal deportation. That would cause the self loathing to kick in, and then I’d go and do something really stupid. Like getting a tattoo of Charlize Theron’s face on my chest with my nipples where her eyes should be and a bottomless abyss of paranoia and suspicion in my navel. Thinking about it I don’t reckon I want to become a lesbian after all. It doesn’t sound that much fun really, does it? Quite grim, actually.

So I was quite looking forward to watching the movie with a glass or two of gimlet or maybe Gin & Tonic. My new favourite drinks.

If you haven’t watched the film, I won’t spoil it for you by disclosing the plot, praising the screenplay with its realistic dialogue or admiring the period detail. Mainly because there weren’t any. What a pile of shite. I know it’s only meant to be entertainment, not a documentary, but it wasn’t. I’ve seen telly adverts for payday loan companies that were more entertaining and convincing.  Yeah, I’m the 21st century’s Barry Norman. I watched the old Beatles’ movie ‘Hard Day’s Night’ today. That’s a great film. Probably because the 1960s London landscape was the background to my childhood, and the songs were what I grew up to. And didn’t those boys dress sharp before hippiedom came along to drag them down!

We spent Christmas eve at my oldest daughter Anna’s, and her husband Ali* made us all a slow cooked Lebanese lamb dish with herby salad, carrot and yogurt dip and piles of flatbread. It was gorgeous, especially washed down with lashings of fizzy white wine. Jess 11 the granddaughter was well choked (in a state of extreme excitement and happiness) to realise we’re taking her to Amsterdam in February for her present and George 14 the oldest has convinced me that the only suitable birthday treat for him will be if I take him to Berlin in the Spring for a boys only weekend. I was persuaded by his reasoning. Alfie 7 and Stan 5 were very happy too. So all good there. We spent the afternoon  playing games and the evening watching George do his singing and then Me Myself & Irene and a couple of episodes of Bottom. All classy stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

We had a quiet Christmas day. Rach.a.El had her face buried in her phone as usual and my son Joe is back home with us having broken up with his woman after three years. He spent most of the day in his room looking tearful and lost. Anita worries about him. My other daughter Sarah phoned, she was a bit subdued because her two oldest boys had to spend the day with their wastrel lying shite of a father, and she was having a quiet day with David, husband no.2, who’s a much better dad to the boys, and their youngest two. They are all staying with us over New Year. All of them. What have I done? I know what I’ve done. I’ve got a huge fucking dinner to cook on New Year’s Day.

So that could have been better and it could have been worse. We ate well though, and were well hydrated.

So here we are today. Earlier today Anna’s first husband, Geo’s dad, came around ours with his second wife and Geo’s little half brother. They live up north in Surrey. The branches of the family tree are many and quite entangled. My little Juanita is back at work tonight so I’m going to watch a film on the telly. Nikita or Leon. I’m going to flip a coin.

I hope both of you, my lovely readers, had a good Christmas, despite the adversities that life seems to delight in chucking at us sometimes, and hope we all have a much better 2018.

Night night. X

 

 

*Ali. He’s not Lebanese in case you were wondering. The food was. His name isn’t. It’s short for Alastair. He’s not Scottish either. In case you were wondering about that too.

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Glitter Pies and Floating

I sat at the table for a whole evening, first pruning and then adding to the Christmas card list. So many departures, so many new friends and arrivals. The balance is out though, I have less cards to write and send this year than last. Maybe I’ve simply forgotten some people. Maybe not.

Anyways, by the end of the evening, having listened to Patti Smith’s Horses, Television’s Marquee Moon, R&LT’s Shoot Out The Lights and finally Zappa’s Hot Rats I was replete with mid to late 1970s music, my pile of cards was written, addressed and stamped where necessary, and I had wrapped and labelled all the books I’ve got for the grandchildren. Except for Harry, but he’s only nine months old. He eats books. The other seven read them, or at least make a bloody good show of looking through them. Anita gets all the toys, clothes and stuff. I get each of them a book, carefully chosen. I had a strange shimmer around the lower half of my field of vision. As, you may think, it all should be.

I went to get a coffee, and glancing in the hall mirror I saw a distorted vision of Gump. Not Forrest, but the small elven type person played by David Bennent in Legend which, apart from its main male star, I always think of as a good bit of 1980s escapism. The Tin Drum’s another film he’s in which I would recommend. That was made by Volker Schloendorf, in case you want to know. The sparkly stuff. It was the glitter from the cards. It had settled in a lightly sprinkled nimbus of stardust upon my cheeks, trying hard to lend me an angelic cast, but failing miserably.

I’ve had a letter from HMRC sitting unopened on the desk here in my little office for the last week. I took the bull by the pizzle and opened it today. It was my very first Self Assessment Statement, as I’ve so far been able to avoid their clutches, but they changed the rules last year and they’re now getting income tax as well as Corporation Tax and Vat out of me. I’m so excited. They only want the cost of a long 4* weekend for two in Rome from me this year. So that’s out of the question. Sorry, I’d have asked you along otherwise.

 

I’ve started the Christmas food at home already. Every year I make pork and stilton hand raised pies for us at home, my sister and her family and a few friends. The first job is get 1lb each of pork belly, pork shoulder and smoked bacon or gammon, derind all the pieces of meat and cut them all into small cubes. This I did last week, and froze it all down, hand turned and mixed. When they’re defrosted and seasoned on Wednesday, I shall make the hot water pastry, then in the pastry cases layer meat, grated stilton and cheddar, then more meat before covering, baking and filling with lovely pork jelly. For smaller pies I just mix the cheese lightly in with the meat. I also make some vegetable pies with hot oil pastry, filling with layers of wilted spinach with nutmeg, sliced potatoes, sliced onions, handfuls of grated cheddar, more sliced potatoes and topping it with tomatoes cooked down to a paste with garlic, shallots and basil. It’s all good. My vegetarian niece particularly loves the second one, surprise. We got a goose for Christmas dinner this year, my favourite meat.

 

Have you ever had recurring dreams? I’ve had one occasionally for the last thirty years or so. In them, I’m walking across the bridge over the nearby river, or sometimes along a Brighton street to where I went to college oh so many years ago, when I find my legs getting harder and harder to move, as though I’m wading through treacle or probably something just as viscous but less tasty. In the dreams my legs always end up in pain, I never get to my usually important destination, and I always wake up in a strange state of anxiety, which I can bloody well assure you is not my usual mood.

The other night I had the same old dream again, but I think it’s resolved itself. Don’t you feel happy for me? I was walking along London Road in Brighton but found myself on the hills above Sheepcot Valley, and turned a corner into somewhere that looked like Whitehawke but couldn’t have been because people weren’t throwing things at me. My legs were in agony and it was like I had concrete blocks tied to my heels. A person was following me along an alley, and every time I turned to see who he was my very small rucksack blocked my view. Eventually I span round as a body and it was a bearded youth. He asked why I was walking so slowly and I told him about my feet and the dreams and the anxiety, and he told me that I knew what I had to do then, didn’t I?

Oh yes, I said, I’ve simply forgotten, at which I drifted up a couple of yards into the air. Not flying, but floating. I was anxious about how to get down again, but he reassured me that I had no need to worry, everything happens when it needs to happen. I wasn’t anxious when I woke up. All very strange and interesting to me, at any rate.

 

Well there we are then. It’s finally stopped raining, which it has been doing in varying levels of intensity all day. I’m going to go downstairs and watch a film now. La Gloire de mon Pere, most likely. Because I got the dvd from Amazon, I keep getting recommendations from them for Pagnol’s novel. I have to ignore them. The dvd’s got subtitles, you see, Amazon. The book hasn’t.

If I don’t come back on here before January, which is very much in the balance, I’ll wish you a very happy Christmas now, and hope you have a happy, peaceful, contented time, which is a lot to hope for sometimes I know, but I wish it to you anyway. Because I’m optimistic and kind like that.

x

 

 

Another week

in the shop, another week further away from the explosively moist instant of creation, and another week closer to returning to dust, to be blown away on the reanimating breezes of other people’s experience and memories. As existence can be broken down so easily into these easily manageable chunks, it sometimes leads me to wonder why the business of what we laughingly call life can sometimes be so strenuously exhausting on the nerves and the patience? There’s probably no answer, but it’s a worthwhile use of your time to think about these things. Sometimes, like now, it can save you, even if only temporarily, from the distasteful business of having to do some work.

 

On Monday afternoon I was standing by the smaller of my two food display cabinets, watching blonde Haylie’s bum as she made her way back to the beauty parlour across the road, where she occasionally works and sometimes looks out and waves to me if she sees me drooling there in the window, in the general direction of her. She’s sweet. My slightly pervy reverie was interrupted, as so many of them have been, by my favourite customer who was gazing past his chin into his cup of tea. Anywhere that’s down and low. To match his mood and his self esteem respectively.

“Do you know, Graham, my boiler’s been broken since Saturday night. The house is quite cold now. I do have fireplaces, but I have no coal.” Yes, Mathew, and your garden is more heavily wooded than the New Fucking Forest. Burn that.

“Ah now that’s a great shame Mathew,” is what came out of my mouth. “Have you thought of calling out somebody who may be able to fix it?” Like a fucking engineer? Haylie’s bum has now disappeared into the parlour, but she’s sat at her station by the window and I’m quite sure she’s looking at me with lasciviousness and thoughts of eagerly shared piping hot bodily fluids on her mind.  “Mathew, I’ve very recently been exploring a theory that if you think about something hard enough, like envisage it in your mind’s eye, conjure up a realistic portrait of what you’d like to see happen, it may actually happen in real life. It hasn’t quite worked for me yet, but perhaps you could try it, maybe your boiler will fix itself?”

“No, I’ve called the maintenance company. A man’s coming out tomorrow morning, hopefully. But I’ll get the taxi to take me to the garage and collect some coal on the way home, just in case he can’t fix it.” said Mathew.

“Knowing your house and all that it contains, do you think the engineer is likely to have access to a time machine in order to get his hands on any replacement parts that may be needed? Do you Mathew?” He’s a queer cove, is Mathew. Sometimes you’ll say something light hearted and jovial, just to keep the conversation from grinding to a painful, embarrassing halt, when he’ll simply go blank on you as though he’s jumped back ten minutes into the past and nothing has passed between you.

“Could I have another cup of tea Graham, or are you going to tell me that you’ve turned the water machine off again?” he asked, without adding the bit about “even though I haven’t heard the steam hissing out and the pressure needle quite clearly indicates that the machine is still in fact on and not only that, it’s full to the brim with boiling pressurised water…” We sometimes have days like this.

***

So they were Monday’s events vis-a-vis this sorry little tale. Tuesday afternoon came, Haylie’s not working in town any more this week so she leaves the story, still blonde and with her bum intact, totally unaware that she has played any part in it at all. Mathew’s still about though. Since Monday he has been tormenting himself with doubts about whether he should get some coal. It really is that easy to agonise yourself into a social coma, if you are Mathew.

I won’t subject you to the full conversation, it’s enough for you to know that for a full three quarters of an hour I was engulfed in a stream of consciousness in full flood where every “what if”, “perhaps I should have…”, “my mother would have…” and “what if I…” were explored, repeated and crushed yet again in a landslide of self-doubt and indecision. It’s bloody painful sometimes, being the affable and approachable proprietor of a small town high street retail bakery slash coffee shop, I can tell you.

The day ended with Mathew leaving the shop, fretful and worrying, saying “maybe I should get some coal…” with a rictus grin which was presumably meant to convey a sense of “decision has been made”, but suggested that an intracranial venous infarction was imminent  Then he stopped dead in his tracks. Which weren’t very noticeable as it happens; we do keep a nice clean floor. His entire demeanour changed. Once again, the self-doubt wracked him from head to toes. “Ah. The chimney hasn’t been swept since 1987. Do you think I….”

Inwardly I was clutching his slightly frayed lapels, shrieking “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?? WHAT DO WANT OF ME?? DON’T YOU THINK I’VE SUFFERED ENOUGH IN MY LIFE??” in a stream of spittle spraying desperation directly into his quivering eyeballs. I said ”Thanks then Mathew, I’m off tomorrow but I’ll see you on Thursday. Good night.” There is an almost bottomless, trackless and ocean dark abyss between the waking world and the one within. Sometimes I fall. Sometimes there’s a hand hold.

***

Thursday arrived. Wednesday was a pleasant day off, spent with the two youngest grandsons as the second oldest daughter has now returned to work dispensing medications, dressings and stuff, following her maternity leave. And last night I booked a weekend away for three in Amsterdam for February, as we’re taking our granddaughter there for her Christmas present. On Christmas day she’s going to get a Berlitz Amsterdam city guide and a cd with that song about a little mouse with clogs on, there on the stair, where on the stair? right there! recorded on it. And maybe Max Bygraves singing about Tulips. But Thursday.

Mathew had bought two bags of coal at the garage. But then took one back because he felt guilty, he told me.

“Why guilty Mathew?” I asked.

“Because I didn’t really know what I’d bought” he mumbled.

I chose not to pursue that branch of the conversation any further. Who knows where it may have led us to in the land of derangement and confusion which we have this week entered?

“So you lit a fire? Has the engineer come out to your house to fix the oil fired burner?” I assume you still don’t have mains gas, a bicycle manufactured since 1957 or a good reason not to one day recompense me for the suffering you inflict on me so regularly?” Yes, you’re right. The last two dozen words were silent. But then so much is.

Mathew laughed, bitterly.

“Yes, I lit a fire. The grate collapsed. My house could have burned down. But the coal hadn’t really caught.” I tried not to laugh too hysterically.

“Oh Mathew. I am sorry. The boiler?”

“Yes the man came. He was waiting there when I got home from here on Tuesday. It was the pump. He had to order one, it came yesterday and it’s all working now.”

“All is well then Mathew, yes?” I said, sensing that possibly, just possibly, there might be a light, however feeble, however guttering, at the end of the long dark tunnel in which we found ourselves now benighted. I looked at him. That light, dear reader, went out.

“It’s just…I just can’t help wishing that I’d asked him if I could keep the broken pump, if only to find out how it worked…” Despair, you are my own.

“But you couldn’t Mathew. Because it wasn’t working in the first place. That’s why he replaced it. It was broken, remember? It could have possibly have misled you if you’d taken it apart to see how it worked and you saw a part of a part that you assumed was a whole part but wasn’t, it could lead you astray, confuse you. Sort of?” I was rapidly  running out of the will to exist. Mathew wasn’t going to give up so easily though. In some ways he is made of stern stuff.

“Or maybe I could have kept it as a sort of souvenir of his visit, to remind me that he has mended it?”

“You simply have to sit in the warm, toasty and snug, for that to happen Mathew. You don’t need oily, broken bits of metal cluttering up the place to know that you’re warm, do you?”

But the look haunting Mathew’s broken yet curiously unlined face told me that he does. Indeed he does.

 

 

 

On an average day in my shop we see three hundred or so people come through our doors. Two hundred buy at the counter and leave, maybe a quarter or a third of those having a brief chat first with myself or one of the girls. Of the hundred or so who sit in, probably half will be alone or in a couple, and will keep their own company. Then there are those who will interact with us, the hard core regulars for whom conversation and sometimes physical contact come easy. There are a few people who cause hearts to sink and vital chores to be suddenly found elsewhere, but who do get served, all the while being held at emotional and social arms length.

And at the very top of the pyramid is Mathew. A man out on his own in so very many ways. One day I shall miss him deeply, and wish he could walk in through the door just one more time. But not today.

 

 

 

The Mirror’d Organ

“Your screws are tight, Graham,” pronounced Mathew, with that familiar blend of shyness, guilt and panic that is his own. He was fiddling with the swiveling thumbscrew fasteners which hold in place the curved glass front panels of my large confectionery display cabinet. He often does. They are a particular fetish of his. I sometimes wonder if, in the deepest recesses of his dark and mysterious mind, he secretly hopes that one day he will gather the courage to suddenly unscrew one of the fasteners and heave out one or more of the beautifully curved sheets of tempered Swedish glass, then stand briefly with it hefted manfully above his greying, slightly bowed head like an aged Hercules balancing a small fragile satellite aloft before dashing it into a hundred thousand glittering jagged shards down on the mottled earthen tiles. He would stand there, spent and sweaty, surveying the destruction he had freshly wrought before asking if perhaps I could fetch a broom from the back cupboard and let him sweep up the mess. Would I fuck! I’d eject the fucker into the cold winter street and tell him to fuck off down to the Turk’s if he thought he was getting a cup of tea today for he certainly wouldn’t be getting one from me.

“Yes, Mathew,” I agreed. “They’re tight. Tight as…Children like to fiddle with them, so I got my cross head screwdriver out and twisted them home only last night. After I finished the stock-take. But before I put up the tinsel and stuff. Do you like the decorations? As you know, I don’t like to overdo it, and I always say that less is more when it comes to Christmas.” ‘Tis true dear reader of mine, I have put up the decorations in the shop far earlier than I ever have before. Weakness of the soul.

We were possibly about to enter into a deep and meaningless discussion re. the festive season and all that it entrails, tightened screws as a means of affecting the fingertips of inquisitive children or even the effects of hardened floor tiles on hurled sheets of glass. Or vice versa. But James Frederick, a gift of blind providence in the shape of an ageing, slightly disappointed dissolute, entered the shop for his habitual coffee and croissant, and saw Mathew, standing by the cabinet looking shamefaced and not much like Hercules. Mathew that is, not James. James is a shameless poseur.

“Mathew!” He beamed and almost bellowed. He’s obviously been practicing projecting his voice. “I thought you played very well the other week!”

Mathew bent his head even further forward and studied the  slightly scuffed tips of his shoes. Or perhaps his multi creased kneecaps.

“Did you? Where? When?” He looked incredibly pale. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. It was like watching Gary Glitter in a Saigon orphanage, flanked by a couple of Vietnamese rozzers.

“Poppy day!” projected James. “In church!” He almost pronounces ‘exclamation mark!!’ at the ends of his sentences. You can almost see them suspended in the air, excited and upright, as he exclaims them. And sometimes he mutters, dark and interesting with a slight thespian lithp. You have to be there. Well you don’t, but it would save me sitting here writing it for you if you were. Wouldn’t it.

“Ah, Remembrance Sunday. Were you there?” Asked the Fretful one. He had noticeable relaxed. There was nothing to fear here, obviously. Where else can Mathew possibly play?

“Yes,” said James. “I read a poem. Something with a Latin title. Didn’t you hear me?”

“Pro Patria Mori” I interrupted. “Dulce et Decorum Est…I bet that’s what you read. Obviously left a deep impression on you, didn’t it Jim? I remember that one from English Lit classes. Mostly because it was by Wilfred Owen and my grandad’s second name was Wilfred. And he got gassed at Cambrai. Didn’t die till 1971. Hard fucker, he was. He used to chalk circles on my mum’s carpet for us to play marbles. I bet you just did limericks at school. I bet they didn’t gas you on the hippy trail to fucking Ibiza in 1969…”

“That’s the one, Graham,” said Jim, steadfastly refusing to rise to the bait, such as it was, “and we went round Europe to Stockholm. Not Ibiza.” He had to rise to it. These are the oceans of irrelevance in which we swim.

Mathew interrupted now, still looking down and muttering into his chest. “I didn’t see you there. Sorry. Somebody has taken the mirrors from the organ. I don’t know who. They were very useful. I had rather a good view of the church without turning around when they were there.  I don’t know who fitted them in the first place. There were two. One gave whoever is playing the organ a view towards the vestry.  The other showed you the front four pews. So you could usually see the entire congregation.” Congregation? You could see the entire population of the fucking ‘hoe in the front four pews.

“They were very useful. One woman who used to come in and play occasionally said that as they were fixed to some of the pipes they’d be very damaging to the organ, but when the church got a professional organ tuner in I asked him about it and he said that the mirrors shouldn’t cause any problem at all. But now they’re gone. I don’t know who took them. I trained to be an organ tuner, but the church always calls in outside help. The man who trained me had a nervous breakdown. You read a poem? I didn’t notice. Sorry, Roger.”

“James Frederick, Mathew.” I chided him. “Roger was in earlier. He wears a bright yellow working man’s jacket, Mathew, don’t you remember. You said hello to him. This is James. He read a poem in church the day you played at the Remembrance service.” And fucking well look up when I’m talking to you! I should perhaps have said.

That was today. Never a day wasted.