Nappy Ever After

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Look at the Disney Princess in the picture above. Actually LOOK at her face. Do you know why she has that frozen, slightly startled and not entirely positive expression?

It’s because she can smell a full nappy. In fact, she can’t just smell it: the odour of festering baby pebbles is so powerful that EVERYONE can smell nothing but cloying, choking, unimaginably foul turds. It’s worth pointing out that all of us: the family, the princesses and the rest of the crowd, are trapped inside a tower in sweltering heat in the middle of the summertime at Disneyland Paris.

Well, not all of us.

Daddy isn’t there…

…which brings me to the subject of today’s blog post.

I have a confession to make: it’s not good.

You know how, in life, there are things you’re proud of and things you’re not proud of? You might be proud of your family, your kids and your scholastic or business achievements….but know, deep down, that you’re actually a bit of a tit. You might be proud of your looks, but secretly suspect that from the wrong angle your face actually resembles a penis with teeth.

Well, I’m extremely proud of lots of stuff, but there is one thing I’m not very proud of. It’s something I don’t do very often, but – boy – do I ever pick my moments. Quite simply, it’s this: when the going gets tough, I tend to run away from stuff…and I mean that quite literally.

I’m like a spineless, cowardly version of Forrest Gump.

Occasionally, I use this is as a weapon. If I see someone I don’t like (which is usually either a bigot, an intellectual snob or some other form of odious, smarmy biped), I wave at them and wait until they’re really close…and then I RUN THE HELL AWAY.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. The next time you see that guy from the office who only ever talks about his car or his sexual conquests or that girl who always pays you compliments in a way that actually puts you down, walk towards that person and then run away. It will completely astonish them, and there’s quite honestly nothing they can do but watch. This is fantastic fun at Tesco, because it adds the thrill that, at any moment, you might have to do it again when you round the end of an aisle.

There are, however, two times that I have run away from a situation where I really should have been a man and stuck it out.

The first was when I was sixteen, and driving to work with my poor mum. In my defence, she’d bought a really crappy Vauxhall Cavalier which had spent more time in the garage than it had in the road outside our house. This lumbering hulk of a mechanical paperweight was about as useful as a condom machine in the Vatican, and it broke down so many times that I was sick – utterly sick – of it. So when my mum pulled up at a busy traffic crossing in Broadstairs at the head of a line of traffic and the engine suddenly sputtered and died on her….

….I got out of the car and ran.

I ran and ran and ran.

Then I went shopping.

I didn’t see mum again until three o’clock in the afternoon, when she came and got me in a taxi when I called her from Birchington….

…and that lovely story brings us to the event in the picture.

It’s the height of a high, sweaty summer at Disneyland Paris and I’m in the worst mood imaginable. This is because we’ve had to buy a ticket to get into a queue, and we’ve been waiting ages. AGES.

Nowhere else on the planet Earth do you buy a ticket in order to start waiting for hours, unless you happen to be attending a book signing by some ridiculously popular celebrity or you’re one of those unfortunate people who use British Rail in order to get to work.

So, for a meet and greet with the Princess, you buy your ticket at – say – ten o’clock in the morning and then you come back at three o’clock and wait for a few hours in a killer queue. Only, in this case, the queue is extra massive because Frozen is still at cinemas worldwide, every kid in the world wants to meet Elsa and they’ve chosen to house the Princess inside a tower that basically consists of a spiral corridor that just winds round and round and round and round like you’re trapped inside one of Willy Wonka’s demented creations.

There’s only ONE way out: you quit the entire experience, leaving your tiny children heartbroken and whining like safari park chimps when all the bananas are taken away.

There are no toilet facilities inside the tower, and if you move from your space in the queue, then you’re basically saying – in the words of Duncan Bannatyne – ‘I’m ooot’.

It is in this exact situation that my wife and I begin to get a tiny and very faint whiff of turdlings.

We look at each other.

Then we look at our six-year-old son, just in case.

Finally, our eyes alight on the usual suspect: our tiny daughter.

She’s smiling up at us, but it’s the sort of smile a body builder would give when they’re pushing five hundred pounds…so we both know she’s filling her shorts.

We look at each other again.

The horror creeps in.

It’s the worst situation imaginable because we know we’re in the middle of the tower and that there’s no way out….

…and that we have around twenty seconds before the families around us begin to notice the smell.

Boy, do they ever notice the smell.

A sort of ‘Whodunnit’ live action show begins, with a burly greek guy grabbing his nose and two women behind him saying, quite loudly: ‘Oh! What’s that smell? God, it’s awful!’

The heat in the tower intensifies as more and more people start to gag: an old man leans against the wall while his wife wretches a couple of times and two little girls start crying.

My wife is refusing to move. She’s saying it with her eyes, but the lack of intention is clear. We are at Disneyland for a BIRTHDAY….and they’re going to meet Elsa no matter what. She’s not going to Let It Go.

….not for anything.

It’s at this point that I lock eyes with my wife and she knows, she just knows, that I’m going to run.

I smile lovingly at her.

I look down at my two beautiful children.

I reflect on what an incredibly lucky guy I am to have such a perfect family.

Then I run.

I run and run and run.

I’m back at the hotel in just under an hour. Thankfully, the room service is incredible, so I have a pretty good afternoon. That Johnny Depp film is on: the one where’s he a lazy writer who hangs around in his pyjamas.

My wife gets back to the hotel just after 6pm. It turns out that Elsa wasn’t available for the Meet and Greet, so they met Cinderella instead.

The picture says it all.

The Fetish House

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I hate waiting for people, and this guy is over an hour late.

An hour late.

It makes me wonder at what point you stop being late and start being dead. I know it’s morbid, and I know I’m a depressing b*stard, but there’s a certain point whenever I’m left waiting for somebody that I naturally assume they’re dead.

You see, I have that level of misguided self-importance: I am, in fact, telling myself that the only reason someone would no-show at a meeting with me is naturally because they’ve died.

Weirdly, I start to miss him….and I’ve only met him twice.

I even get a bit tearful, but that could be my abandonment issues: I need to be cuddled a lot, and told that everything’s going to be okay. Sadly, that level of intimate kindness from strangers just isn’t going to happen in a coffee shop. You can get in trouble for that sort of thing, and I’m not in the right mood to get arrested again. I don’t think my wife would be so quick to collect me, this time.

An hour, though: COME ON.

This guy better have died, because if he hasn’t and he’s kept me waiting for an hour, I may well kill him myself.

I’m only angry because I’m excited…and I’m excited because somebody has told me something absolutely incredible is going on not far from where I live, and I desperately want to know if it’s true.

I’m waiting on the proof, which – in this case – is going to come in the form of fifty pounds inside an envelope. You might be surprised to know that it’s the envelope I’m interested in.I’m looking out at the car park when he gets off the bus, spots me and starts waving the envelope over his head: he’s way over enthusiastic and he’s grinning right at me.

Suddenly, I’m conscious of the fact that I’m wearing a flowery shirt with a tie. A few seconds ago, I was just another customer, but now I’m a really obvious drug dealer with bright ginger hair in a coffee shop full of people who can see that I’m a bit tearful, a little frantic and might firmly believe that I’m sitting next to a massive blue donkey.

He’s STILL waving the envelope when he runs, out of breath, to the door of the shop.

Five seconds later, he’s at the table. I didn’t expect him to buy his own coffee, but simply running up to me and making a scene by slapping the envelope down on the table and going ‘TOLD YOU’ was not exactly a good start to the subtle chat I was hoping for.

I mutter: ‘Could you please sit down? People know me in here.’

I look at the envelope as he takes a seat.

It’s a plain white foolscap one with a few numbers scrawled on the front of it. The numbers mean nothing to me, so I turn the envelope over.

The word ‘PAYMENT’ is printed on the back in bold, stamped lettering. Underneath, in smaller print, is: ‘Thank you for contributing to The Fetish House. We value your discretion.

I can’t believe it’s true.

I know it’s true because I was with the guy sitting opposite me when he first came back from the place, and because I know he doesn’t have the initiative to get a bespoke stamp made in the time constraints I placed upon him.

…but I still can’t believe it’s true.

I rip open the envelope, and take out one ten pound note and two twenties.

Then I slide the money back to him, pocket the envelope and lean back in my chair.

‘WHERE is the house? Exactly?’

‘I can’t tell you.’

‘Tell me roughly.’

‘Over near Birchington.’

‘Who runs it?’

‘Not sure. I’ve only ever met the old woman, and I think she just lets you in and then gives you the money at the end. I don’t think she’s actually in charge: I passed a big file server in the hall, and there’s no way she could set up all the tech stuff.’

‘Have you ever looked AROUND the rest of the house?’

‘No! You’re not allowed. You just go straight to the room, close the door and start. The cameras are on all the time: they rotate and stuff. After an hour, the alarm goes off and you’re done: you collect your money on the way out! Fifty SQUIDLINGS! Easiest money I’ve ever made.’

‘What was in the room, this time?’

‘A banana.’

‘Did you eat it?’

‘Yeah…right. I’m not STUPID.’

I take a deep breath.

‘You’re kind of stupid, dude. You’re going to a house every week and being paid to stand in a room for an hour without knowing why. I can’t imagine Stephen Fry getting caught out like that.’

He doesn’t need the money. Besides, I told you when I first did it: there’s nothing sexual going on.’

‘What did you do with the banana?’

‘Nothing, at first. I think they make it an hour so you get bored, though: I started messing around with it, eventually.’

‘Messing around?’

‘Oh, just tossing it around, throwing it, catching it. You know: crap. I just sat in a corner at one point, scratching my knee.’

‘What was it last time, again? The thing?’

‘A table lamp.’

‘Plugged in?’

‘No. I switched it on and off a lot, though. They probably liked that.’

I scratch my head and squint at him. ‘You said it was a straw the first time: right?’

‘Yep.’

‘A drinking straw?’

‘Yeah: one of those twisty ones.’

I frown. ‘What the hell did you do with that for an hour?’

‘Blew through it, stretched it. I think I stuck it in the wall a few times. Look, it’s really bloody boring, but fifty pound an hour is mental: I know solicitors who don’t earn that.’

‘You know solicitors?’

‘Well, I know the one the police gave me.’

‘Yeah: I’m not sure that counts. You do realise that this is going to turn out to be a sexual thing, surely?’

‘People always think everything is about sex. How can THIS be in any way sexual?’

I can’t really answer him, but I’m picturing certain types of people all over the country, sitting at computer monitors or iPads and watching people messing around with fruit and plastic in tiny rooms with bare walls. I look over at the woman on the opposite table in the coffee shop: she has an iPad, but she also has all of her own teeth and doesn’t look the type. The type I have in mind is probably a guy in his mid fifties called Gus who still lives at home with him mum and has a collection of stuffed animals in the attic. In my head, Gus wears a string vest and socks, but nothing else. Gus loves Maltesers.

I am very disturbed by the image of Gus.

It makes me want to go home and wash a lot.

I thank my friend for his time, I buy him the coffee I promised him and give him a tenner for the information. I make all the usual promises about not using his name, not describing him, not writing the post for a week or so, etc.

When I get home, I look up ‘Fetish’ and ‘Fetish House Birchington’ on the internet. I don’t find anything.

Keep yours eyes open for those envelopes: I’m collecting them, and I want to know what the numbers on the front actually mean. Like Hurley from LOST, I have a feeling that the numbers might be…

…bad.

 

Rear View

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It happens for the first time, today. I’ve dropped my mum and daughter off at a playgroup, and I’m about to head to the car when I suddenly think….

I’ll go see nan, first.

I get halfway up the road before I remember that I can’t go see my nan.

She’s dead.

The truth of this hits me so hard that I just stand there, looking at the pavement. I’m not upset: I’m totally in shock over the fact that, for just a few seconds there, my nan was back in the front room at Bellevue Road, drinking her morning tea, smoking cigarettes and watching Jeremy Kyle….and I forgot.

I actually forgot she was gone.

I just wanted a fight about Jeremy Kyle.

I was looking forward to it.

Immediately, I’m determined not to go home. I’m obviously in some sort of turmoil, so I need to go and find some sort of distraction: urgently. The problem is, all my friends are working today and my wife is desperately ironing out a new design for her jewellery company.

There’s nowhere for me to go.

I look up at the rooftops, and down the street towards Ramsgate town.

That’s when I see John Farmer.

I’ve known John for many years: he’s older than me, has a lopsided walk that he swears he inherited from his father and travels around Ramsgate using a hiking stick in a way that strongly suggests he should be claiming some sort of disability benefit instead of operating a forklift truck at an industrial warehouse, which is actually his regular occupation.

I shout ‘Hey, John!’ and I immediately see a look of complete dread on his face, a face that – I should probably point out – largely consists of a nose. I’m a member of the Big Nose Club, myself…but, unlike John, mine hasn’t yet earned me the nickname ‘Gonzo’.

He looks horrified.

Now, here’s the thing: I hate taking up people’s time. I have this really observant friend who once pointed out that, when I’m stopped in the street, I actually walk past people while I’m talking to them, turning and continuing the conversation as I back away.

I don’t like to be a burden, except maybe during sex.

So, there’s John….and suddenly I don’t care that he’s obviously horrified to see me: I need to kill time with someone a bit special.

John is very special, and when I approach him he’s already screwing up his face and looking at the sky with the sort of expression that suggests he’s trying to think of an excuse not to hang around. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have time: I’m on him in seconds.

‘Hey, dude.’

‘Hi Dave. Sorry about your nan, mate.’

‘Cheers, man.’

‘Didn’t go to the funeral, because – you know – hate them.’

‘Me too. Seriously: no worries. How’s it going?’

‘Yeah, same old. Loving your blog, by the way. How much of that weird shit do you make up?’

‘None of it. Listen: what are you up to now?’

He takes a second to answer, so I know he’s either meeting someone else or he just isn’t up for company.

‘I’m going for breakfast.’

‘Where?’

‘That little cafe by the steps, opposite Madeira Walk.’

‘Fancy some company?’

‘Er…yeah, sure. Great.’

John is quite a serious spiritualist, and he isn’t hedging his bets. He worships a wide variety of gods, practises a few pretty strange religions and travels around the country taking photographs of rural churches and making grave rubbings to put with his increasingly strange collection of religious memorabilia. He’s quite a solitary guy, but – boy – does he love the unusual. It was John who first asked me to try out a Ouija Board, and John who didn’t talk to me for two months after I spelled out ‘The Hip Bone’s Connected To The Thigh Bone’ when he genuinely thought he was getting a message from his Great Aunt.

I think John is awesome, but I know he really doesn’t feel the same way about me. We were introduced by a mutual friend who we both really loved spending time with before he went off to live in Ellesmere Port. Now, we just sort of drift together occasionally.

But John is in a very strange mood today.

Very strange.

I’m asking him about his hobbies, what he’s up to, enquiring if he’s done anything off the wall recently…and he’s being really guarded and defensive, almost as if I don’t know him and we’ve never done all the crazy stuff we used to do together.

However, he lightens up at breakfast and it soon becomes clear that he’s got a day off and is quite excited about something.

‘It’s a woman, isn’t it?’

‘No.’

‘No?’

‘Well, yes. No. Sort of. She is a woman, but it’s not a date or anything and she’s married with kids, so no go there.’

‘Is she attractive?’

‘Dave-‘

‘I’m only trying to work out why you’re acting so shifty: you’ve gone all red. She must be attractive.’

‘She’s quite attractive, but – seriously, mate – there’s nothing going on.’

‘Yeah yeah. So why are you meeting up?’

‘It’s not like that: it’s a professional thing. It’s costing me £20.’

‘She’s a prostitute!’

‘No, you d*ck! For £20?’

‘I don’t know the going rate.’

‘It’s not £20.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I just do.’

‘Whatever. Why are you paying this married woman £20 to spend time with you?’

‘I’m not paying her for that. I’m paying her to-‘

He doesn’t say anything else, just shovels in a load of bacon and eggs. Then he looks around the cafe as if someone is about to assassinate him, leans in close to me and whispers:

‘I’m going to get my fortune read.’

‘Again?’

‘Yes…..AGAIN.’

‘So what’s the big deal? You always do that stuff. Mind you, I remember you saying you weren’t going back after that last guy-‘

‘He was a palm reader. This is what you never understand, Dave: they’re all different. The bloke in Margate did tarot and the old girl in Cliftonville used tealeaves, but this woman is off on a new wave that loads of people are talking about. It’s more intimate, and gives you a better idea of-‘

‘INTIMATE?’

Now I’m staring at him, and I know he’s seriously uncomfortable…but that’s it: I’m in the zone.

‘How intimate? What exactly is she reading?’

He stands up, cranes right over the table and whispers into my ear.

I look at him.

I frown a bit.

Then I say, out loud: ‘You just made that up.’

He shakes his head. ‘I didn’t.’

‘There’s no such thing as an arse reader.’

‘Look, I didn’t want any company today.’

‘She reads bum cheeks? For a living?’

‘It’s only £20.’

‘Yan can go to the doctor for free: he’ll stick a finger up there and give you a full reading.’

‘You think you’re so funny-‘

‘No, mate: I’m actually in shock. What is this woman going to tell you about yourself that you don’t already know by checking out your arse?’

‘Got enough for another blog, have you?’

‘I’m just trying to understand, John.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

‘Do you have to take your underpants off?’

‘Of COURSE. What kind of a reading would I get if I didn’t?’

‘Calvin Klein?’

‘Funny guy. Actually, she can pick up stuff from your underwear…but it’s better if she looks at your body for the best result. I’m not messing around, Dave: you can think what you like. A mate of mine had it done a few weeks back: he got told some incredible stuff.’

‘Like what: you’ve got piles?’

‘No, dickhead. Stuff about his past.’

‘His past? Are you SERIOUSLY buying this? I mean, apart from a possible guess about what you might have eaten for lunch if you happen to fart….’

‘I’m not talking to you about this any more.’

‘Does she touch you?’

He just looks at me, and sips his tea.

‘Did your mate say she touched him?’

‘Sort of. He said he felt…something, but it might have been just the cold.’

‘I’m making an appointment.’

‘Don’t YOU DARE.’

‘I am.’

‘This is why people don’t tell you stuff.’

‘Oh, come on, John. You’re taking the day off to get your arse read for £20. What if she make contact with an old relative while she’s rooting around up there? You’re going to be terrified every time you go to the toilet in case you hear voices.’

‘Yeah? Well YOU talk out of YOUR arse….Bloke. Called. Dave. Dick.’

John finishes his breakfast, and leaves the cafe. I can’t deny the fact that this man has done an awful lot to brighten up my day, but the idea of a bum reading is just too hilarious to leave alone: when I get home, I’m going to find some underwear and test out my psychic powers.

You see, it’s basically the Rear View I’m after.

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I’ve Noticed You…

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It looks like a business card, but the message on the front says:

[I’ve noticed you, and I find you attractive. Take a look around because you will know me when our eyes meet. If you feel the same, simply turn over the card and text my number. We can have some fun]

I flip the card and look at the back. There’s a mobile phone number printed in a sharp, blocky font and a message underneath that says:

[Call XXXXX XXXXXX – If you are offended by this card, I apologise for the advance. Just throw it away]

I immediately look up.

The cafe is really quite busy. I’ve never been here before, as I nearly always hit the chains like Costa Coffee or Harris & Hoole, but today I’m in a part of Thanet that I don’t usually pass through and the resident coffee shop was full.

I should point out that I’d only been in the toilet for about thirty seconds: I took my iPad with me, but left my coat, half my breakfast and an A4 pad on the table. It was right next to the counter, so I assumed my stuff would be safe. Sure enough, nobody had swiped anything….

…but this particularly ugly card advertising the monkey business had, in the time I’d been gone, been deposited underneath my tea-cup and saucer, like a compliment slip so that I’d see it when I got back. Unless…unless it was already there on the table and I put my cup on top of it: that’s a possibility.

I’d love to ignore the card, but there’s too much journalistic questioning that blazes inside me. I love quirky stuff, and while I’m not on the hunt for a torrid affair with some Back Alley Sally who stalks her prey in a greasy spoon, I’m immediately certain that there’s a blogpost screaming to be written about this situation….but I’m annoyed, as I’m supposed to be delivering a book.

I stare around me.

The cafe has three families in it, all with small kids…and while I haven’t ruled out the possibility that somewhere in England is a woman who hits up local guys with a business card while she’s arguing with her husband and hunting around a changing bag for wet wipes, somehow I’m just not buying it as a possibility with any of this bunch.

Then I spot the waitress. She’s looking over at me with a bit of a frown that might almost be interpreted as a smile.

I have to admit, I’m flattered: she’s probably in her early twenties, really quite attractive and has a few of those quirks that always drive guys crazy. Still, I’m a happily married man….so I tell myself that I’m really quite cross about all this and in no mood for some silly girl and her stupid nonsense.

Even so, I tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear and give her a smile I call ‘Bluetooth’ (for reasons probably best left to the imagination).

Over she comes.

I’m a bit taken aback when she arrives at the table, and I just stare at her.

She says: ‘Did you want anything?’

I look at her, and make a face that says: this is all a bit silly, isn’t it?

She says: ‘Is everything okay? Did you want another coffee?’

The smile slides off my face, and I realise that I now HAVE to order another coffee: otherwise, I’m a weird ginger bloke who made a face at a waitress and called her over to the table to look more closely at her. I think that might be a police matter, so I order a coffee.

It’s not the waitress, then.

I’m disappointed, but I now have to focus my attention on the other suspescts.

There are three solitary diners in the cafe: an old guy with two missing teeth who looks like Steptoe (and even I’m not that unlucky), a moderately attractive youngish sort of middle-aged woman with a pony tail who is typing on a laptop (meh) and a woman who is without a doubt the single most unattractive biped I have ever seen. She looks like the end of level boss in an old-school beat ‘em up on the Megadrive.

I just KNOW it’s her.

I just know it.

She’s looking at me, and I’m now really p*ssed off…because all I wanted to do is write, and getting a sex card from the local troll has actually killed some of my writing time.

I glare at the woman.

She glares back.

I sip my tea, very deliberately.

She sips hers.

I pick up the card and theatrically wave it around in a way that says I am not happy about this.

She sniffs a bit, rolls her eyes (I don’t see where they end up) and goes back to looking out of the window.

I slam my hands down on the table in exasperation. Then I rip the card in two pieces, sit back and fold my arms.

Everyone in the cafe is now looking at me.

I realise that I’ve just made a public display of mindless aggression and that I’m having a private but barely contained tantrum that is now threatening to become something….watchable.

I immediately look around at the other woman, the one on the laptop who is currently frowning at me. The old man is smiling like a lunatic, but I’m assuming that this is because he thinks I’m another lunatic and that he’s about to witness some sort of floor show in the cafe. Even the families are now giving me their undivided attention.

I close my eyes, take a deep breath and get stuck into my second coffee.

Then I remember that I’m getting rid of my phone next week.

I’m actually getting rid of it! New number, new handset: the works.

So, in fact, I can ring the number on the card. I can totally catch this woman on the run, call her bluff and put a major distraction in her day just like she’s done with part of mine.

Finishing my coffee, I rise from the table, pack away all my stuff, put the two pieces of the card back together and walk to the door of the cafe.

Then, pausing very deliberately in the doorway, I stop and turn slowly on my heels.

I take out my mobile phone.

I hold it up, thrusting the card aloft with the other hand as if I’m about to make a very important announcement.

I crank up the dialling volume on the phone so that every number beeps when it’s punched in…

..and I call the person who gave me the card.

It rings three times, and to my delight I can hear a ‘Blurred Lines’ ringtone coming from somewhere in the cafe. All I can actually hear is the bit that goes ‘you know you want it’ over and over again.

When the old man answers his phone, I run so fast that I’m nearly at the f***ing seaside before I remember that I parked my car outside the cafe.

 

 

The Last Ride

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Today, we said goodbye to my nan….and I’ve come on here to bleed.

I always bleed a bit when I’m writing: it’s the only way I can be sure that I’m leaving a little something of myself on the page.

But why do it in public? Why do it on a blog? Terry Pratchett always said that a writer is something you are, not something you do. In that respect, I suppose it has taken me a long time to agree with him….but I definitely do agree with him now. Some people cry, some people sing, some people form judgments upon others in order to make themselves feel better and some go to a church to pray to any given god who might be listening.

I write.

As those of you who follow this blog know, my nan died a few weeks ago at the ripe old age of 87. She was an outwardly jolly soul who hid a number of deep psychological scars that never seemed to heal, and would often come to the surface and cause her great suffering when she drank. She died slowly, over a long period of weeks and months during which she refused all attempts – both medical and compassionate – to aid her. It was like watching a terrible car accident in slow motion, seeing her shut down completely while all the doctors, surgeons and consultants stood baffled by the fact that she was given largely positive news but just didn’t seem to want to get better.

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I can only guess at her reasons for going, but most of these centre around my granddad: he was taken from her at a ridiculously young age and I don’t think she ever forgave the world for getting something as vitally important so terribly wrong. My mum was only sixteen, but quickly had to become a rock of support for my nan to make up for the loss of my granddad…something she continued to do, forgoing marriages and many chances at happiness, for the next 47 years.

Growing up, it was just my mum, my nan and me. We were a team, a family unit: a very tiny but quite determined gang. My nan didn’t find it easy to make friends. In that respect, we were very alike: we both craved attention, but never really knew what to do with it once it was given to us.

I will miss her. She was in many respects like Nanny Ogg in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, but with a strong measure of Granny Weatherwax thrown in to balance the jollity. She could be the life and soul of the party, the toast of the town and the most popular arrival at any mass gathering, but she could take those wonderful feelings away from you in a heartbeat when she got upset…and she got upset all the time.

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One of the terrible problems with drink is that it’s easy to forget that overindulging in it tends to strip away not just the natural layers you use to protect yourself from other people, but all of the defensive mechanisms you use to protect other people from yourself.

When I drink, I am overly careful not to let go….but I can feel the battle raging inside. Sometimes, it’s the things that you leave OUT that make you the person you are, the person you should be. Comedian Dave Allen used to say of the Irish that they’d lie to you in order to make you feel better, so if – for example – a couple saw you hiking across the countryside and you stopped to ask them how far it was to the nearest town, the husband would be ready to tell you ‘ten miles’ when his wife would tap him on the arm and says ‘oh, bless the poor feller, he’s walking: tell him it’s five.’

Drinking puts a stop to that sort of consideration, by magnifying the thoughts you’d gladly keep to yourself when you’re sober.

My nan welcomed the sorcery that strong drink cast upon her, and she welcomed the opportunity to strike at all the people she felt had lived better or loved longer than she had, and each time she got truly drunk she would always talk about how much she missed my granddad, usually in heart-wrenching sobs. In many ways, she was the saddest person I knew…

…but she was an incredible defender of the ‘family’. She wouldn’t hear a word said against the Minters, and she screamed louder and for longer than anyone else when her favourite nephew (my godfather) Alan won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship from Vito Antuofermo at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Perhaps because of this event, my own Christening – the following year – was like Ben Hur. Roads were closed down in Ramsgate so that Alan and a bunch of family members could play golf out of the back of his Rolls Royce. I’ve never seen my nan enjoy herself more, before or since. She also loved her great-grandchildren, and never seemed happier than when she was with them.

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So this is a final goodbye to my nan. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, she left behind not just an awful lot of papers, journals and letters but also a wealth of audio recordings and Youtube clips for us to enjoy. In that sense, she will merrily haunt the corridors of the internet forever: something that would make her very, very happy.

In the meantime, my mum and I will take her ashes to Beckenham Cemetery so that she can rest beside my granddad, a trip she had – in her heart of hearts – wanted to make for the best part of 50 years.

It will be my nan’s last ride.

[Related posts in this series: The Cupboard of Utter Guff, The Savage Land]

 

 

The Flipsider Fallout

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I’ve come to the Harris & Hoole coffee shop in order to teach my son a valuable lesson: I’m here to teach him how to lose.

As a father, I know how important it is to be a good loser as well as a good winner. I’m a great winner and an even better loser, but that’s because I have no competitive edge….and that makes me an incredibly boring person to play games against.

My son is a wonderful little dude, and I worship the ground he walks on. He’s a cute, kind, dreamy little guy who is hugely thoughtful, regularly affectionate and loves everything from dancing and acting to football and roleplaying games. Despite the fact that he’s only six, he’s already pretty well-rounded….

…apart from the fact that hates – absolutely hates – to lose. A sort of rage starts to inflame his face if things begin to go south during any sort of contest, and this can quickly develop into a kind of muted explosion where his face contorts in anger and he turns into a tiny and slightly less offensive version of The Hulk.

I could have brought along an iPad, but I’m already furious about my growing addiction to Pet Rescue and, to be honest, if it wasn’t for Neil Rennison, Tin Man Games and the gang from Inkle Studios, I would actually refuse to acknowledge that iPads even exist.

So, in order to teach Bast how to be a good loser, I have taken a time machine to my favourite era and come back with….drum roll……a flipsider!

Oh, come on: FLIPSIDERS! Flipsiders?

What: really? You don’t remember Flipsiders?

Well, fair enough….I’m pretty sure they flopped right over and sank without a trace, even back in the late 80s. Flipsiders were little cassette-shaped games that sat in your pocket until they were needed, and could be played quite literally on the go, in a playground, on a train, in a car, on a plane or even a boat (as the playing pieces were magnetic).

You just ‘shuffled’ the cassette and out flipped the ‘sider: a ready-made board-game.

Sadly, they were pretty sh*t.

I’m sorry, but they were…..

….all except THIS little bad boy:

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This is called Dragon Master and, basically, it’s a sort of abridged Dungeons & Dragons in a tiny package. You travel across three dungeons in order to reach the dragon’s lair, fighting giant spiders, dwarfs, goblins, zombies, trolls and demons along the way. There’s even an experience point grid: it’s epic.

Sure, it’s not massively complicated…but what do you want for a couple of quid?

I knew it would do the job to test Bast’s temper, because it’s a very even game and relies heavily on the spin of the wheel (which generates numbers in place of the standard, six-sided dice).

So….we start to play….and Bast is LOVING it:

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He thrives on complexity, and loves the fact that he can build up his hero with experience. Plus, he’s winning: I flunk my first few spins and end up getting owned by a giant spider. However, Level 2 proves a bit more challenging, and he starts to concentrate, fully immersing himself in the challenge:

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It’s around the beginning of Level 3 that things start to take a turn for the worse. He has a struggle with a goblin that loses him an experience point, but he takes a deep breath and soldiers on:

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The mood is darkening, and I’m attempting to lighten it up with some great advice about winning and losing and how it’s the taking part in any game that really matters. Bast isn’t listening: he’s flicking the spinner and then mumbling some sort of muttering chant designed to help him get a good score. I’m quite nervous at this point, because the coffee shop is filling up with elderly patrons who all look like they might be union reps from the National Society of Instant Judgment.

Then it happens….the eyeball flicks up.

I have learned to fear the eyeball. If you look carefully at this picture, you’ll see it:

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The eyeball is like a smoke-alarm, an ultimately safe but still quite unnerving early warning system for the sort of nuclear meltdown I like to refer to, in wrestling terms, as The Public Powerslam. This is the moment I’m waiting for. I lean back, fold my arms and say ‘Now, Basty: you seem to be getting cross.’ It’s a calm, measured observation, but for some reason it triggers Level 2, The Chair Grab. Both arms descend to the chair he’s sitting on, and he begins to direct all that anger outwards:

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I’m determined not to stand for any of this nonsense, but I know how important it is to install the right sort of anger management techniques. I smile at him, lean forward and say: ‘Listen to me very carefully, young man: we’re in a public place and most of the people sitting here know your headmaster. That woman behind you is his sister. I strongly suggest you take a few deep breaths and count backwards from ten.’

He peers around to confirm this, then returns his attention to the game before closing his eyes and counting out loud. When he reaches the end of his count, he opens his eyes, smiles and – to my complete delight – says: ‘Okay dad: let’s finish the game.’

I lean over, give him a kiss and ruffle his hair.

I’m so proud of the little guy.

He’s six years old, and he’s so mature.

He’s just my little ray of sunshine.

I look down at the board, flip my own spinner and lose three experience points to a troll…

…and then I go completely ballistic.

It’s an instant reaction, but my hand comes down on the table and the magnetised playing pieces fly in all directions. I actually have to go across to one of the other tables and apologetically fish around beside an old woman’s legs in order to find them.

When I get back to the table, Bast says ‘Dad, what if she tells Mr-‘

‘She won’t,’ I whisper. ‘They hate each other.’

 

 

 

 

The Bad Husband’s Guide to Mother’s Day

Follow these instructions very, very carefully.

1. Get up early: it will really shock your wife and show her the incredible effort you’re prepared to put in order to stay that one step ahead of the herd.

NOTE: I always get up early, and I always get the kids breakfast….so my wife didn’t notice.

2. Rally the troops, and inspect them. Mine look like this:

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NOTE: I’m not massively impressed. The one in the frog-suit (I forget his name) hasn’t bothered to get dressed and the shorter one (Eric?) is covered in her own snot. This isn’t a great start, but you have to do the best with what you’ve got.

3. Get them to salute.

NOTE: You have to get a proper feeling of respect for the day, and for the massive importance we quite rightly place on the person upstairs in the bed that does 90% of all the useful stuff in the house.

4. Make them salute each other. They have to work as a TEAM…especially as they’ll be handling hot kitchen appliances and cutlery with sharp edges.

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NOTE: At this one, one of them hurt itself by making the salute too low and hurting an eye. It’s best to explain this stuff beforehand, but life is a learning curve and they will usually get it right on the second attempt…

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….though, admittedly, this one didn’t.

5. Get everything dangerous out of the way. Sadly, this usually means you end up cooking the breakfast yourself, as the two most dangerous things in my kitchen are, quite obviously, the children.

6. As a punishment for having to serve your wife breakfast in bed, burn absolutely everything (even the tea: it can be done) as – technically speaking – it should be the children doing the work.

7. Put everything together on a presentation tray and serve to your wife for full congratulations.

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NOTE: Make sure you take pictures and post them onto a public gallery of some sort, as the lack of make-up will conspire with the state of the house to give you a 50% chance of getting more help on the following Mother’s Day.

Good luck, guys….and remember where you heard the advice. I do private consultations on Wednesday afternoons (or even just a bit of cleaning, if the money is right).