Category Archives: Humour

Most of these short stories are based upon actual events. Most made me laugh at the time they took place. Most of the people made an impact upon my life in one way or another.
With luck, they’ll make you smile too…

Going Dutch

Enfield

“We want to give ourselves up..”

Was what the officer heard over the phone along with the name.

“What? Speak up please sir.”

The voice continued slightly crackly over the line.

“Yeah. We’ve been thinking about it and we want to hand ourselves in.”

There was a mental reshuffle from the policeman sat behind his desk in Bradford as the name registered. He stared into the air slightly slack-jawed for a moment with the phone pressed to his ear, knuckles whitening as he realized who was on the other end.

Right. Yes. Don’t move! I’ll send someone straight round!.”

Wellllll. That might be a bit hard.”

“It will, will it? Running off again are we sir. Oh ho ho ho.  Don’t make that mistake again my lad. Just stay put and I’ll have a unit come and collect you.”

“Ok. Er.. How long is it going to take?”

“How long. Not long at all.  For you,  we’ll have someone there in two shakes.”

“Only, well, have I got time to nip and have something to eat? I’m a bit hungry.”

“Now listen sir. This isn’t a bloody joke! You sit tight and don’t bugger off and I’ll have someone with you shortly.”

“You will? Have they got a boat?”

“A boat? A boat?? Think this is a laughing matter do you son?”

“Well no.”

“Right then just sit still and wait. Don’t make this any worse than it already is. You’re  already in a lot of trouble. Now. Where are you?”

“Well… Amsterdam.”

Let me backtrack somewhat.

I met Liam very recently and I’m not even sure how his story became part of the conversation. There was a general unhappiness on the job I was working on over people’s working hours being knocked by the powers that be. During this discussion people began swapping tales of other jobs. How bad they had been, how it had been difficult to get paid.

I have to say, Liam’s tale topped everything.

What I am about to relate to you happened. I can only hope I relay it in a way that does it and Liam justice.

Liam is a very genial, unassuming lad. You really wouldn’t look twice at him. Until you get talking to him.  Its only when you get into a conversation with  him that you see the hint of shy determination in him that hides behind a very easy going nature.

He was laboring on this site, basically lumping materials around for the trades and tidying up after they create their mess. No complaints, just cracks on with what he has to do always with a half smile that broadens as he talks.

He had begun out of the blue to relate  his own experience’s as we had all been moaning at the state of affairs on the current job – comparing hardships during our time on different  building sites..

“I was actually living in a squat at one point it was that bad.”

All eyes turned to Liam. The half smile still there.

“Christ mate. A squat? Really?”

“Yeah. Me mum wasn’t at home, she was up in Scotland. Just me and my dad. The day I turned 16 I left my old fellas house to move in with a mate. Had enough. Had to get out.”

I can  only assume on his circumstances at that point. For a 16 year old lad to leave home as soon as possible can only reflect on his living situation at his home.

“Yeah first chance. That was it. Boom. Gone.”

“What about work?”

“Odd jobs here and there.  I stayed with different mates on and off until eventually I got a job in a bingo hall.”

“Really? Good for you lad. Own place then or still sharing? How did the squat come about?”

“Like I say, I was working and earning, but my mate wasn’t paying his bills. So that was it. Evicted.”

“So what did you do?”

“We broke back  in. Got through a window each night and slept on the floor.”

“Jesus. What about heating? Water?”

“Nah. No heating, but yeah, water was still on. Just cold though. And I’m not kidding – it was a freezing winter.”

“Cold then. Christ no heating?”

“You get through it don’t you?”

That statement of the situation, the resignation that the living environment he was just in was the norm, a state of affairs to survive one day at a time. It was a bit sad really. What I mean is, for a person to be in that position and be resigned to it as part of normal life, well. Take a good look around your own home. Stripped of everything, just an empty shell. Can you imagine not having the luxury of heating? No hot water? No furniture? Sleeping on the floor?

And getting up and still trying to work in a job and survive? Get enough money together to make a difference to your existence and change those circumstances.

I have to say – credit to Liam. To still try and live a normal life in that situation, but also a little sad that it could be considered a normal existence.

Could you do it?

Anyway. Everyone has a tipping point.  The straw that broke the camels back arrived.

The flat had deteriorated with the lack of maintenance and there was a burst. The ceiling came down only adding to the living difficulties. The landlord found out they were squatting in the flat and they were evicted. Liam found himself with nowhere to stay still trying to raise enough money to sort the situation out.

He began sleeping rough in a local park, cleaning himself up at work, doing his day job then passing the time till he had to head back to the park for the night. A difficult circle.

This improved slightly when another friend offered him a bed to sleep on. Then another bombshell.

His weekly pay at the Bingo hall changed to monthly. And when payday finally arrived his wages were massively short.

“What they had done right, was anything over 30 hours was deducted and put aside as holiday pay. I had 60 hours in!”

“Didn’t you explain your situation?”

“Nah. Too much information. I was massively pissed off. Anyway I thought “Fuck it.” I’m sorting this.”

“So what happened?”

“Well I said I worked in the Bingo hall?”

“Yes?”

“Well I worked in the cash office.”

I think everyone shared a sidelong glance at this point.

“Yes?”

“Yeah. Long story short? Safe was open. Loose bag of cash and a box I knew had money in it. Under the coat and Off. Didn’t even look back.”

“Christ. I mean, you must have known they were going to come after you?”

“Well yes and no. At that point I didn’t give a fig about what was going to happen. What more could go wrong in my life really?”

He’d really caught every ones attention at this point.

“So what happened?”

“I got home – bit of a blur really – but straight into my room and emptied the bag and the box on the bed.”

“Much there?”

It was a sort of breathless question thrown in by one of the lads. All eyes fixed on Liam.

“Much there? Fuck me. There was money all over the bed!”

People started laughing, it was hard to take it seriously, this steady eyed young lad, relaying what had happened with a half smile, widening  with each hoot of laughter from the listening group. It was all told in such a matter-of-fact way.

“Christ almighty! How much?”

“Well there was around 28 fucking  grand stacked up when I managed to count it.”

28 Grand!”

“Yeah! Couldn’t believe it!”

“What did you do? Surely the police were on the way?”

“That’s what I thought. So I threw some things in a bag with the money and had it away!’

“Your kidding! Where did you go?”

“Well, first off I jumped a train to York. Then realized there were cameras everywhere. Then I remembered I had  a mate in Luton. So jumped back on the train and headed down there.”

“What? Then took cover down there?”

“No. When I showed my pal what I had he was all for partying. So he  drove us over to France through the tunnel.”

“Fuck. Me.”

“Then on to Amsterdam. Proper Party!”

“Your joking.”

“No. Really. It was in the papers and everything!’ Police were looking everywhere for me!”

“So what then?”

“Well, it never occurred to us to take any ID. So every hotel we went to wanted passports. Couldn’t get in anywhere. It hadn’t been a problem driving over – no borders these days!”

The group listening to all this had been descending into laughter as the tale unfolded.

“So all that money burning a hole and nowhere to stay? Jesus – its a home away from home!”

“Ha! Yeah!.We just kept trying places until we found somewhere that didn’t ask for ID.”

“How long were you there? What were the police doing?”

We were over there seven weeks all told. And the police were running round over here like headless chickens trying to find us.”

“What did you do?”

“Spend mate. And spend some more. I have to say, I remember the time there but its all a bit vague to be honest. We just spent every fucking penny.”

“28 grand in 7 fucking weeks ! Jesus!”

“I know!”

“You could have got a flat or something – no mither off the police and spread it out! It was like a years pay!”

“We did mean to do that. But by the end of the first week we were doing and trying everything –  we didn’t know what fucking day it was never mind organize the next year.”

The listening group was falling about itself.

“Anyway. After a couple of weeks we kept hearing bits from people at home. It was starting to sink in how serious it was.”

“Ah. Right. Give your selves up?”

“Well we tried to.”

Tried to?”

Plan A.

First of all they had gone to a local police station in an effort to hand  themselves in to the law. The first station they called into they were met by an officer  on the reception desk and greeted him with,

“Alright pal. We need  to give ourselves up.”

The officer stared at them. The policeman sat behind had stopped what he was doing and was looking on with interest.

“Give yourselves up?”

Asked the first.

“Yeah. That’s right lad. Hand ourselves in. We’re on the run. Like Bonnie and Clyde. He’s bonnie. I’ll be Clyde.”

Liams friend interrupted.

“Which one was Bonnie?”

“That was the bird.”

“Fuck off. I’m not being Bonnie. I’ll be Clyde.”

Liam sighed and turned back to the copper who was listening to their conversation along with his colleague, their heads going left and right following the exchange.

Liam sighed again and turned back to his sidekick.

“Right. Alright then. Like  Butch and Sundance.”

then adds,

“I’m Sundance. You’re Butch. He’s a fella.”

“Get in.”

Butch punches the air satisfied.

“Hand yourselves in….?”

The officer said raising his eyebrows inviting Liam to continue.

“Oh yeah. We need to go back to England. I nicked some money. I think we best go back and face the music mate.”

“Stole some money. Okay.  And How much did you take?”

“28 thousand pounds.”

The officer  stared at them for a moment then turned to his friend. There was a flurry of Dutch  between them, the side kick behind asking a question  while his compatriot on the reception nodded agreement and turning back to the two master criminals stood before him.

“Have you been visiting our Cafe’s in the city? Where you can smoke the interesting cigarettes?”

Weed

Liam confused admitted he had in fact visited those establishments. And yes, imbibed.

Heavily.

“Yes mate. Cracking places. Very impressed. Aren’t we Butch?’

“Ah. I see. You think this is a joke. You think the Dutch police are stupid. You wish to waste out time yes? I think you should go back to one of those places and slow down with what you smoke.”

“No mate. Seriously. We need to get home. What’s the best way?”

A flurry of Dutch was exchanged again with the officer on the desk nodding agreement again with his partner and turning back to Butch and Sundance.

“Swim.”

Time for plan B.

They were then forced to attempt to contact the UK police directly. Which takes us back to the conversation at the beginning.

Amsterdam! Do you think this is funny son? Do you think we’re fucking idiots?  Don’t you think your in enough trouble as it is? We know you were heading to Australia! Ha! Your mate’s have spilled the beans! They said you always wanted to go there!”

Liam looked at us and said in astonishment.

“It great isn’t it. It just goes to show how people don’t  listen to you. I always said I wanted to go to fucking Amsterdam!”

The officer in the mean time wouldn’t have any of it.

“Listen son. There’s no way your anywhere but in this country. Stop pissing about and either go to your local  cop shop or tell us where you are.”

Liam hung up and looked at his mate.

They went out and bought a camera. Then wandered all over Amsterdam over the next couple of weeks taking pictures of themselves at recognizable Dutch venues. Then, emailed the pictures back to Columbo in the UK.

columbo

The reaction was one of stunned silence. Then the wheels of justice spun into place with the boys receiving instructions to hand themselves in (again) while the UK police arranged to bring them back.

Plan C.

The next Dutch police station they visited had another two similar officers in the reception.

Liam rested his elbows on the desktop resigning himself to the coming conversation and began again.

“Hello pal. We need to hand ourselves in.”

The vacant stare, raised eyebrows  and invitation to continue from the officers.

“Yeah. Well. I stole 28 thousand pounds and need to go back to the UK and  face the police.”

The two officers exchanged long looks. Then a urgent conversation in Dutch followed.

“28? Thousand?”

“Yeah. That’s right.”

(Exchange looks again.)

“Have you boys visited our famous cafe’s yes?”

“Whoa whoa whoooooa cocker! We’ve had this conversation at the last place.”

“But, 28 thousand? Pounds?”

“Well yeah. But I’ve got to admit, its taken a right battering.”

Admitted Liam.

Another machine gun of Dutch conversation hammered out between the officers with the guy at the reception desk turning to Butch and Sundance.

“We don’t like British police here. They make – how do you say?”

(Turning and asking  his colleague)

“Ah. just so.”

(as he answered)

“As my friend says. They make too much paper work. You leave now. Stay in Amsterdam.”

He said, gesturing them to the door.

“Wha.. Stay?”

Asked Liam. He stood with his  friend  uncomprehending, mouths open.

“Yes. Your free to go. Stay.”

And I swear this is what they were told.

You’ll be good for the Dutch economy.”

Before they were pushed out the door.

There followed a couple more weeks where the lads took the Dutch at their word and spent and spent. And spent some more. Drugs and women mainly.

Oh.

And the camera they had to buy to prove they were in Holland. Seven week it took to organize their return to UK justice. Seven weeks of excessive spending. By the time the British police had got into fourth gear and organized their return, the money was all but gone.

“I spent the last of it on a bottle of water at the airport on our return.”

said Liam.

“And I had it confiscated at customs because it exceeded the fucking designated allowance.”

They returned to Blighty expecting the worst. They had liberally spent the 28 thousand. On nothing substantial really. Five star hotel, women and drugs do add up after all.

“We were picked up at the airport and pushed into a prison van, to be driven back up to Bradford.”

Liam continued.

“I have to say, we had a fantastic time with the money. Fucking fantastic. But were expecting the full force of the law to hit us. When the van pulled over in the middle of no-where and the back doors opened,  we were told to get out.”

Which they did, with some reluctance.

“Well, we thought we were in for a right fucking pasting after how stupid we’d made the police look. But the guys driving us gave us a ciggie each and began asking how the fuck we’d got away with it. It was brilliant.”

When they arrived back they were locked in a cell with another occupant.

“This guy, had murdered someone the night before. Proper murdered someone. We were shitting ourselves. But – honest to God – he was sound.”

added Liam slightly round eyed with surprise as he told us.

“Honest – he just laughed his head off when we told him what we had done.”

Yeah, cos he’s a fucking lunatic I’m thinking.

“So this guys laughing and suddenly says he’s going to put a word in with his Brief. Says he’s bang on. But, he doesn’t do Pro Bono work and can’t guarantee he’ll take the job. But – guess what?”

“He did?”

“He did! Said he’d never seen a case like it and had to take it. Just to see how it ended!”

During the preliminary hearing in court the prosecution demanded that they be refused bail. They were a flight risk. They couldn’t be trusted.

They had spent all the money!

But as their Brief argued, the lads had tried to hand themselves in several times. It wasn’t their fault they had had to spend the money to survive. It was all they had to live on. What else could they do but spend it on but a good shag and a big joint?

And after all, it had taken the British police force seven weeks to apprehend them. Even when they tried to hand themselves in after week 2…

So bail was granted but as Liam said,

“I went to stay with my mum up in Scotland. But It wasn’t ideal. I had to come back to Bradford and sleep on friends floors in the end.”

By the end of this situation he was back to square one, sleeping rough in a local park.

“I was actually looking forward to getting sent down.”

He said.

“I mean. I was sleeping rough. Again. Fucking freezing, no food – nothing. Scratching by. Being sent down was an answer to be honest. Got me a bed and food. In the warm”

He found himself passing the time sat around the park, just waiting to go to court to be sentenced.

“I was sat in this park right, smoking a joint. Only,  this copper wanders over, catches me napping so to speak. I’m thinking oh fuck – I’m in enough trouble at it is, and I’m trying to stub it out and act normal with the haze of weed  floating around me. Only this copper yeah, come’s up and pats me on the elbow and say “Good luck in court son.”…”

Its sad, this whole thing, when you think it through. Liam’s not a criminal. Not a die-hard law breaker. he was put in a situation by circumstances beyond his control. He made the wrong choice at the time but it was one under the duress of circumstances. At least tried to correct that choice and give himself up. I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to meet Liam, and, I have to say – I was impressed – at the impact this whole situation has had on the direction he wants to take now. How clearly he has defined what impact he wants to make on society himself. But more of that shortly.

“They tried to make us take the debt on board, you know? The 28 thousand. Pay it off when we got a job – after the sentence – like a mortgage. But our brief – he was a star – argued if they gave us the debt we would only turn to crime to find the money to pay it off!  And the judge agreed!”

He was quite gleeful as he described the situation. Laughing as he told it. Not out of maliciousness, not at all. But finding the humour in the ridiculousness of the whole situation. It was sheer slapstick.

“The judge warned us at the beginning, we were looking at a recommended  sentence of between 5 and 7 years. I have to say I shit myself at that point. But I had left a note when I took the cash.”

Liam had in fact left a note for his employers when he removed the money. Which he said was meant as a sarcastic note.

A “fuck you” to the man in charge.

“I wrote a note, just said “Sorry I had to take the money” with a big fuck off smiley face on it. You know? A two fingers to my bosses. Only, the judge decided that it showed remorse for what I had done. Remorse!”

He was laughing as he told us, and we laughed with him.

“When the  judge read out the sentence all I heard was 15. My arse fell out, I have to say. But what he actually said was 15 months. I couldn’t believe it! 15 months! I was out in 4 and a half!!”

Four and a half months for stealing and spending 28 thousand. What a result.

Speaking to Liam the other day, I have to admit I’ve tried to get down pat as much clear information as possible, to do the lad justice.

“So what are your plans these days lad?”

I asked him.

“Doing a foundation course for a year then Uni to do a degree, then a master’s. I want to help those people in unfortunate situations. I’ know how it feels to have no one care about you. What you need. The fact that you don’t actually matter. I want to work for the UN in war zones. Make a difference.”

And I have to say. Looking in his matter-of-fact eyes, I believe he will make an incredible difference if he gets the opportunity. See, Liam really knows what its like to sit at the bottom of the tree. To not matter to society. To be invisible.

But I had to ask him finally what happened to Butch, his side kick in Holland. And he filled in the final blank in the story.

“My mate – the lad who drove us over? He got away with community service as he wasn’t actually involved in the robbery. Hadn’t done the stealing of the money. Just helped me spend it.”

“Got off lightly really didn’t he Liam?”

“Well, not really. The thing was, he didn’t turn up for his community service  and was sent down instead.”

“That fucking idiot did more time than I did!”

Timmy’s Magic Box

magic box

Who’s there??”

I found myself actually flinching at the anonymous voice in the store room, literally clutching myself as I spun around looking in all directions trying to find the source of the sound that seemingly emanated from fresh air.

It was a breathless, asthmatic whispered question I had heard, was sure I had hear, but I couldn’t locate where the sound had come from. Jesus I must be hearing things I thought.

The small room I found myself in contained all the fixings and site equipment. This same room was also used as a lock-up for everyone’s tools at the end of the day with a large steel tool-box against one wall and surrounded by assorted shelves jammed with odds and ends. I say room, but it was just part of the larger external space that had been sectioned off by a temporary stud wall to give it a hint of security when everything was locked away each night.

I had only started on this job a couple of weeks previously, working in the center of Manchester. I had followed my normal routine of arrival which was to find somewhere to park in the city center, then walk my tools over to the job. This normally involved a painful 10-15 minute lug across town juggling whatever I needed to take with me. I would have a tool box on my shoulder rattling away against my ear, while I’d be holding a drill box in my free hand, my arm slowly extending with the suspended weight over the travelling distance.

Under the same arm, jammed against my ribs, I would have another smaller tool case held there by the weight of the drill box hanging off the end of my arm. By the time I’d reach the job I would have stopped half a dozen times or more to re-arrange every position and try to remain comfortable. Also to get some blood flowing back to my shoulder and try to stop my now, foot longer arm holding the drill box from scraping along the floor.

The arrival on site meant asking the first person you saw where the site office was. In this case I bumped into a joiner I’d worked with before.

“Hello Mike! How are you? Didn’t know you were starting on here.”

“Dave! Nice to see you. Still with Stuart?”

“For my sins! He’s upstairs running around unsupervised!”

“Better get back to him then! Christ my arms gone dead. Where can I dump this lot?”

Dave directed me to the stores first.

“Get down there first – get rid of that lot. Timmy’s the store-man – he’ll point you in the direction of the office.”

Which is what I did, working down the narrow stairs into the basement, to find somewhere I could drop the tools. Timmy, was sat perched on a stool in the small room reading a much folded newspaper through some truly magnificently sturdy looking bifocals. He had that owlish look some people have who wear really thick glasses. That looking-down-their-nose through the lenses stare, with that slightly open mouthed gape that made them seem a bit dense. That measure cadence he had when speaking didn’t help either.

glasses

He was surrounded by shelves stacked haphazardly with odds and ends.

“Hello mate. Room for this lot?”

“Hello son. Not seen your face before. New start? I’m Timmy – the Store-man”

Timmy was a sixty-something old boy who had retired and taken the job on a casual basis, all cash in hand, kept him busy and out from under his wife’s feet. He was responsible for making sure all the plant hire being used on site was signed for and came back to this small room each day. Also he took care of any deliveries that arrived and made sure they were locked away. The rest of his time involved hovering on his stool reading his daily paper that looked as though he was practicing origami with. Each time he stopped to do anything it would be slipped into his back pocket. It was usually reduced to a 4 inch square wad by the end of the day.

Now any new job you start on always involves a certain amount of trepidation. If you don’t know the employer the first two weeks meant sweating slightly, waiting to see if you actually got paid after working that week in hand. It wasn’t so bad if there were lads on there already working who you knew – that meant more often than not it must be fine. If there weren’t any familiar faces it meant that either everything was ok or, that as a new starter you were there to pick up the crap jobs they didn’t want to do. If nobody had any inclination to talk to you it tended to be another heads up. It could mean they were aware of how bad the work was that you would be asked to do, or knew you were going to have your money knocked and wouldn’t last long enough to make it worth getting to know you anyway. You would be leaving soon enough when you realized that your money had been cut. Because, if you discovered it was a cowboy employer, come pay-day, they could cut your agreed rate or just not pay you at all.

Don’t get me wrong. It still goes on. Every job I start on these days still involves that gut wrenching couple of weeks before I get my first pay cheque – especially if its a bad job from day one. The only thing that’s changed these days, is that some employers want to pay you monthly or every 2 weeks instead of weekly. It’s up to you whether or not you take that chance. Lets face it – that’s a lot of money to be owed to have worked a month for and not receive.

As it happened, I knew a number of lads on this site. So when I walked into the brew room there were a fair number of familiar faces. I didn’t have to try and establish myself with the lads on that job. But, I have to admit there was an element of slapstick running of the job. All the foremen were mates, a couple had started on the job and brought friends in to similar positions. This meant that it was a job for the boys. Men were running the job who didn’t actually know what they were doing.

This becomes painfully obvious when trying to overcome any problems and your asking for a decision on some issue. The foreman will be stood there looking at an up-side down site drawing pulling his lip mumbling,

“Mmmmm. Well, I can see that’s a problem. Yes. definitely. What do you think then…?”

And you would gently turn the drawing the right way and fold it up and just say,

“Leave it with me. I’ll sort something out ok?”

The lads running this job had come from other walks of life. Most of them nothing to do with the building trade at all. But one of their mates had told them there was nothing to it. Just point at things and let the lads sort it out. It was quite directionless at times.

Most of the guys on site I knew were all older. A good group who had all worked in the game a long time. Most partnered up over a number of years. Dave had worked with Stuart a long time, and I think it was just resigned patience from Dave that had kept them together. Dave was obviously the brains of the outfit.

“You’ll do ok on here Mike. Money’s fine – no problem. All cash too.”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. A cash job meant the employer was cutting corners somewhere. To be honest I wasn’t going to worry about what the employer was doing – I was just relieved I was going to be paid. The only thing you had to worry about was staying safe on this job. That slapstick way of running things had almost ended in tragedy a couple of weeks prior to me starting. We were sat in another one of those rooms that had been requisitioned out of obscurity and converted into a brew area for the lads. It was down in the basement of the building, badly lit with fold out benches and tables and permanent hint of dust in the air, which filtered down through the floor above. Dave turned to me one brew time and said,

“You missed all the fun a couple of weeks back Mike.”

“Fun? Why? What went on?”

Stuart sat next to him spat some tea back out as he snorted over a snigger.

“Fun? Christ we didn’t know what was going on!”

Apparently the guys running the job had decided in their wisdom to have a mini digger lifted up onto one of the floors to aid demolition.

“Yeah, they had this thing rolling around on the 2nd floor pushing all the crap into a big pile,” continued Dave. “Only these idiots just kept on piling it up in the same spot.”

“Much there?”

“Much there? Christ it was a pile of brick and rubble almost up to the ceiling.”

“Blimey. What happened?”

“Well, we’re all sat in this shit hole down here, when all of a sudden we could hear this rumble.”

“What? Like thunder?”

“Yeah, we thought the same at first.”

“I actually said – I did didn’t I Dave? I said “Is that thunder?””

threw in Stuart wide eyed. Dave looked heaven wards – it seemed he’d had this conversation a number of times with Stuart.

“Yes you did Stu. Spotted it straight away. You often say when it starts raining, “Looks like rain,” too. You also mention when the sun is shining how hot it is or isn’t. You should be reading the fucking weather on the telly – you’re wasted here thats for sure. Only It wasn’t thunder was it?”

What it was was the mound of rubble on the 2nd floor. The old flooring joists couldn’t take the weight and had collapsed. The rubble, digger and all and had come crashing down straight through the first floor, finally coming to a rest on the ground floor – directly on top of the brew room.

“Right on top of us!”

Continued Dave,

“Couldn’t see a fucking thing! Took all the lights out – what we actually have that is – a fucking mole with a torch would get lost in here! It was real panic stations to be honest.”

“Christ! What happened?”

I asked, peering up at the ceiling above me.

“Well, luckily they had fitted all the new steel supports under the floor above the week before, so when it hit this level everything held. If It hadn’t been for that, Michael Fish our resident weather expert over there would have been as flat as the rest of us!”

The cascading debris had knocked out all the lights. The noise of the descending rubble on the floor above had been frightening enough. When the lights went out they were plunged into pitch darkness with choking dust coming through. It had been a case of lighters flickering in the darkness to find their way out into the lobby, crawling or blundering blindly against one another, and up the narrow stairs to the exit. A real claustrophobic experience.

“I had Gammon sandwiches too that day,”

threw in Stuart wistfully, staring back into the past.

“Missus made them special.”

I looked from Stuart to Dave and could see him visibly grinding his teeth staring at the sky again. I don’t know how they managed to work together for so long. I think it was the approach of retirement that kept Dave with him after all that time. I think he made the most of knowing he wouldn’t have to put up with it on a daily basis much longer.. I settled into the job but have to say it was never one of my favourites. The bumbling management didn’t make anything easier and as they were getting bonus’ for saving money this began to extend to the quality of the materials.

I had been rebuilding the roof, a flat structure with rows of peaked atriums springing out of the structure. Some were designed to take glass skylights which were situated down the center of the roof in order to stream the natural light into the building, and down onto the ground floor far below that was covered with a beautiful mosaic tiling feature. I found out how poor the materials were at this point as I fixed one of the roofing rafters.

I had stepped onto the one already fixed to nail the one I was fitting. As it was I was straddling the roof members with a 4 floor drop below straight through the atrium. I don’t know what came first, the crack of the timber or the give as it snapped. I caught myself before I went too far through. Wedged between the rafters either side with legs dangling over the drop. I’ve never had a problem with heights and noticed them even less when actually working on a project. Its only when something suddenly goes wrong that you become aware of a impending – and possibly permanent – issue. It was a wake up call and one I took seriously after I climbed off the roof and stood with trembling knees checking through the timber I was using.

The first thing someone always suggests in those situations is a cup of tea. Sweet tea too. To calm you down. But I wouldn’t have trusted my hands to hold one steady at that moment as they were shaking that badly. Upon closer inspection the timber I was using was crap. Cheap and nasty really. Who-ever had ordered it had done so with an eye on his bonus regarding what he was saving in costs if he had bought better material.

I just took more care selecting what I was using from there on in.

The final straw came for me some weeks later when the DSS raided the Job.

This was a government body in charge of social services at the time. I had been oblivious to the fact that the wage payments had been in cash so that the employer hadn’t been deducting tax from certain people. They were given a false name so that nobody could trace them. The trouble was nobody working on site knew who was on the fiddle. People weren’t discussing it with work mates so nobody was any the wiser if a mate was using an assumed name or not. This particular morning there was sudden activity below me on the job. I had almost completed the roof and tilers had followed along behind me battening and slating the roof. I had heard some shouting below and looked through a skylight to see a flurry of activity and bodies rushing around the job.

“Dave! Dave!! Whats going on??”

“Its a fucking raid! The DSS are here!!”

swat

And he rushed past looking for a way out. (Obviously Dave was a Frank Smith on the wage slips) I’ll give Frank this. For a fella nearing retirement he couldn’t have shift when pushed.

“What about Stuart?”

“Fuck Stuart! The Bastard! He climbed out a window at the back and jumped in the skip before they could seal the building off!”

It was like someone had poked an ant hill and people were spilling out all over the place. The forefront of most peoples minds was escape. It was only at this point that I realized the scale of fiddling going on. There must have been 90 per-cent of the work force scrambling about looking for an exit. Bodies were flinging themselves across the roof looking for a fire escape to get down. Seeing no joy at one end they would run past people going the other way looking for the same thing, non actually getting anywhere. Looking over the roof edge I could see there were police stationed on the street at each exit from the building. It didn’t look good these people meant business.

“Frank! I mean Dave! The newsagents!”

“What?”

“The newsagents!!”

And the penny dropped. He waved his thanks and took off. I could hear “The Newsagents!” being shouted round the job as he descended the stairs. What I had noticed from the roof was that the only entrance not blocked by the police was the doorway to the shops inside the building on the ground floor.

We walked into the site that way each morning to buy a paper, then continued through the shop into the lift lobby where the lifts would be situated. This lobby ran the length of the building and would house the ground floor flats. It was this lobby that had the lovely mosaic as a floor finish that I could look down upon from the roof. From here you could enter the stairs that took you down to the basement, up into the site or out of the exit at the rear of the building. There were only two other exits, one on the front and one at the end of the building through two now unoccupied shops.

I rushed over to the side of the building where the newsagent was. It didn’t take long for bodies to begin sliding out, each clutching a paper or some other item as they left, so the copper outside assumed they were just leaving the shop not the job. There were various nods to the officer guarding that end of the building oblivious to the evacuation going on before him. Bodies drifted off in different directions into the busy city center with that slightly urgent quick step just shy of breaking into a run.

I made my way down through the building carrying my tools with me. I wasn’t leaving them lying around as it was obvious the working day was over. On the way down through the now abandoned site, littered with helmets and tools, I met one of the foremen heading the other way directing a rather officious DSS officer around the building. I was told in no uncertain terms to go straight to the room being used to check ID’s, immediately, without deviation.

On the way down I was met by various police officers eyeing me suspiciously, stationed at key points through out the building, guiding the few that remained to one of the empty shops on the ground floor. By the time they managed to search the job there must have been 9 of us out of a work force of 40 actually on site.

And 3 of those were arrested on the spot as their false ID’s were made obvious.

The rest had slipped out through the newsagents carrying various confectionaries. We were the only legit workers on the site. I had had an inkling that some had been using different names but never in my wildest dreams had I expected it on the scale it was being used.

The DSS officers were devastated. What had been a slick operation, surrounding the building like a finely oiled machine had turned into a farce. It was a quick identity check and back out on site.

I made my way to the basement store room to lock away my tools, reflecting on the number of people that were working under different ID’s. I realized I wasn’t sure if I had been calling people by the right names. It was as I was rattling the tool box lid trying to put my gear away that I heard the voice and jumped back looking around. Then I realized – It was coming from the box.

“Jesus! Who’s In there?”

Its me! Timmy!!”

came the guarded whisper.

“Timmy?? Wtf!”

I then noticed the tools scattered around the room, placed there in an obvious rush. Timmy was another assumed name working for his cash in hand. And as soon as the raid had begun he had dragged everything out of the chest and got one of the lads to lock him inside.

Where’s Terry?”

came the whisper.

Have the DSS fucked off yet?”

Nearly done mate,”

I found I was bent down whispering back.

They’re on they’re way off site now.”

Oh thank fucking Christ for that! I think I’m running out of air!”

Really? Ah. Well don’t go getting stressed. Your going to need to stay calm and use as little as possible mate.”

Stay calm? Stay Calm? Did you say “use as little air as possible?”???”

There was a slight hysterical edge to the whispered voice. Then,

I’ll be fine. Yeah fine. Just get Terry. With the key. Fetch him down. He can let me out.”

All the while the voice was raising slightly and the breathing had gained a slightly frantic gulping quality.

Yeah. Get Terry. He can unlock the box! He’ll have me out in no time!

I was stood staring at the blank front of the tool chest trying to pick my words, then whispered back,

Well, That’s the thing Tim. Terry’s not a Terry – he’s a John. And they’re just loading John into the back of the police van…”

cuffs

Pissing Up The Wrong Tree

ducks

“How was your weekend Tony?”

I was addressing the site laborer.

Each Monday I would ask the same question, fascinated to discover what had happened this weekend to have him reappear in the state he did each Monday morning. Tony was twenty-five or so, a one speed, easy going lad. Wasn’t-rushing-for-nobody-type-of-guy. Still shared a home with his parents and lived for the weekends.

He was a stocky build, surprisingly well toned  actually. But you tended to be distracted by the shaven head and missing front tooth. And as Tony wasn’t slow in smiling his easy-going smile, a real Yuk Yuk kind of grin, that always caught your attention before anything else.

I first met Tony at a job induction – something that has become a by-word on every site before entering it and actually starting to do any work. It would take anything from and hour to five to get through, sitting watching DVD’s and listening to list’s of instructions of do’s and don’ts of that particular on-site practice’s. Various people and trades sat jammed into a too-warm room, all either bored or dozing or both, trying to concentrate on the same monotonous messages that are being drummed at you. The time passed with the same comments from those in the room.

“Same old crap”

“Yeah. Bullshit. Must think we’re stupid.”

“Could be working by now.”

“Jesus. Seriously? What’s this got to do with us??”

“I know mate. Really? Would you dangle off a crane 90 foot up in the air like that?”

“Nahhhh. Wouldn’t get me 5 foot up it for a start. I’m a carpet fitter..”

At this particular induction there were five of us sat crammed around a table trying to watch an information DVD on this site’s rules. The screen is always in the middle at the end of the room, so you can’t sit facing it, and instead sit with your head turned at right angles from your body, so that by the time it’s finished you have a crick in you neck. Tony sat through the whole thing hardly saying a word, arms folded across his middle, slumped in his chair with half lidded eyes gradually closing until he napped through the majority of it.

I like liked him straight away.

After the induction we went onto site to begin working and as it turned out, Tony was our laborer, specifically starting the same day to work with us. He would load up areas for us and clear away the off-cuts of what we left behind for the skip. As the weeks progressed on this job we got to know Tony better, and all though he always worked at the same slow-to-steady speed, he’s always got done what was asked of him, and was always good natured.

The only thing with Toney though was he liked to smoke the weed.

I think this made him seem even more laconic on his daily basis. You’d be surprised how much drug use has become more apparent in daily working environments these days. Something that has grown over the years with de-classification of certain drugs. To the point of the people using them assuming that they’re legal and acceptable and can’t understand why others become upset at the open use of them. It seems its everybody else’s problem rather than the person flagrantly using them in your vicinity.

Don’t get me wrong, Tony wasn’t using them on site everyday, but he was of an evening and fairly heavily too. But talking to a user was always the same conversation.

“You ok Toney?”

“Ahh man I feel battered. Had some gear last night.”

“Jesus lad. You want to pack that crap in.”

“Ah it’s ok mate. Just relaxes me. Makes me chill man.”

And I’d be looking at this bleary eyed wreck, walking round with a faint aroma of weed, like his own personal invisible cloud, telling me how good it made him feel. When he could smoke it. During the day he’d be looking forward to getting home not just to wind down, but to smoke some gear to help him wind down..

And weekends, well. That was a 24/7 smoking weekend for him. But to him it was a normal existence. To him it was part of his life and any problems that came about during that time were never related to what he smoked or put in his system. It was just, what happened on the weekend. Its amazing when you’re listening to these exploits first hand, talking to these various people from all walks of life, what exactly some people take as a perfectly normal run-of-the-mill acceptable existence.

Anyhow a day came where he stated, that was it. He was packing the stuff in. Which he did. And I actually believe he was sincere. There was a difference in him. He just looked slightly more focused and cleaner somehow.

Only now, instead of smoking weed and drinking on a weekend, he drank most of that time and it turned out he was snorting cocaine instead. The whole weekend became a blur for him. This particular Monday morning found him looking more than the usual worse for wear.

“Alright Tone? Heavy weekend?”

“Aw man. I hit it hard this week. Feel rough as anything mate.”

“Yeah? Straight to bed when you get home then.”

“Yeah man. If I’ve got a home to go to.”

“Why What’ve have you done now? Thought you packed in smoking all that weed.”

“Yeah, I did. But I went out Friday hit the beer and was on the Charly.”

“Christ mate you must be bloody mad. What’s gone on?”

“Welllll,”

(Looking embarrassed)

“I went straight out from work with a mate on Friday.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Well, we hit the beer and coke and went through to Saturday night. Slept over at his gaff Friday then carried on Saturday day and on into Saturday night.”

“Jesus mate. Its a wonder your still upright.”

“I know mate. I still feel wankered – I’m not kidding. Any way I rolled in at me mams,  early doors – on Sunday morning. Must have been around 4 or 5. Proper tanked up.”

“So what’s gone on at your mums then?”

“Man. I got home right? Don’t know how I got through the door to be honest. Could’nt walk or see straight.”

“Christ Tony. Don’t you ever feel like a rest from living like that?”

“No mate! It’s all about the party man! Anyway – I got in the house right, and only went and moved all my mam’s ornaments round in the lounge right? She collects dogs and ducks. Hundreds of the fucking things! Anyway, I shifted them all over – and I mean all of them. Swapped them all over the gaff! Her pride and joy they are! Even moved the chairs round too – fuck knows what I was thinking!”

“Mate! You must have been in a real state!!”

“I know right? First I knew about it was my mam was dragging me out of bed next morning mate! Going fuck-ing spare! I’d only gone and left the front door wide open with the keys in the lock too!!”

“Oh my God Tone! You’ll be lucky if she lets you back in!”

“I Know mate! Wayyy to much beer and sniff! And then, then she showed me where I’d pissed alllll over the lounge. Over the floor, over the furniture. Man it was fucking everywhere!”

I have to note at this point, there was no embarrassment here. It was just a simple fact he was sharing of the events. Please. Just consider. If this was you who had staggered home in a similar state. Would you tell anyone you had methodically worked your way around your mothers front room pissing over every available surface?

I think not.

I’d have pulled my tongue out and hit it with a cricket bat first I think.

Fuck! Me! Tony. I’d kick you out myself mate! What were you thinking?? Your mum must be disgusted with you!”

And I’m looking at him, bleary eyed, looking terribly rough, and he’s obviously being sincere and sorry about what happened when he says,

“Yeah I got to agree there mate. Can’t believe it.  I mean. Seriously.”

And then he adds,

“What the fuck was I doing moving her ornaments all over the  place???”

Knock, Knock, Knocking On Someones BackDoor

pencil

I am a what was known as a time served joiner. I served a traditional apprenticeship that doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve worked in the building trade for coming on 30 years and have been involved in all areas of that industry. The reason I include this is, a number of these stories are based upon those experiences during that time. I’ve spoken to some people over the period I began writing this blog and they don’t actually seem to understand.

They’re all true stories.

All these stories, all those people and situations that I’ve written about, are folk I’ve come into contact with over the span of years I’ve been in this job. From fitting out bars and clubs, to shuttering foundations and sub structures of large industrial buildings, to manufacturing items on the bench or on site, there has always been a rich variety of characters involved in this area that I’ve wanted to remember by writing about them. Generally I change their name or the area where I worked more to protect their dignity. But on the whole, the aim of this blog is to share the ridiculous, and satirical situations that have arisen and the people involved I worked with or for.

And I found it was only as I started writing about those situations that I began remembering things that I had long forgotten, things that sprang back into my mind by pure association of each given story.

Because, as I was shocked to discover, the passage of time does funny things to your memory and incidents you could never imagine forgetting at the time, well, you do. So I decided to write them down.

Considering how my memory stands at the moment, if I go any further down this road I’ll have forgotten how to tie my own laces 10 minutes from now, never mind recall what happened 30 years ago.

This particular job that I worked on involved removing entrance doors and frames and replacing with new, in a renovation drive on a council estate. On the whole any job can be a mundane run of the mill routine. But every now and then things happen that you simply wish you couldn’t, recall.

In this instance I found myself looking down at my pencil lying in a puddle on the vinyl covered floor of this particular kitchen. The floor covering ended in a neat line across the threshold of the entrance to the outside step, bare concrete now exposed where minutes before the door-frame had sat. I’d only noticed the water after I had removed the frame and was now staring at it thinking it was a good job it was being replaced because the rain had obviously been driving in under the cill.

I had been working on this site for a coupe of months and generally it was a straight forward job. Go to the compound, prep a door and frame, have it sent out to the house in question, remove the existing door and frame and refit the new. Back to the compound and prep the door and frame for tomorrows address.

The only thing that varied was the type of house, or the attitude of the occupants that lived in them.

You would generally turn up and be met with a cheery cup of tea and be pestered every hour or so to see if you wanted a top up. After all, these people were having their house maintained and renovated for free. The sensible tenants recognized this and were welcoming and accommodating due to what they were gaining. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting a rapturous welcome. Any disruption or upheaval can be an irritant when you’re trying to live your life.

But there were always those that saw you as a target for their dissatisfaction or as an opportunity to benefit from the disruption and use it to abuse the system. It wasn’t beyond some tenants to claim you had damaged wall-paper as you carried tools through the property, or to take a finger to the mastic around the newly-fitted door-frame and rub it in the carpet. All aimed at getting the council to replace the damaged area with new.

So you tended to be wary all the time.

Then there was the sheer state of some homes.

Take the middle aged lady whose house I turned up at to change her back door. Seeing the curtains still drawn, I heaved a sigh and began some prolonged knocking. With the door and frame prepped and stood up outside the house, I went back to the van and made a call to the office.

“Yeah. S’me. Same again.”

Not answering?

“Yeah. They’re waving me in with a cup of tea. That’s why I’m phoning you…”

knock a bit more.

“Knock a bit more? My arms gone numb. They’re still in bloody bed mate!”

Just a bit more

“You did let them know I was coming?”

Yeah

“Yeah?”

Yeah. Give ’em 10 minutes

“Jesus. Bollocks to that. Bell ’em. Wake ’em up for fucks sake!”

Just hang around for 5 more

“Listen. Pal. If I hang around for 2 more, I’ll be doing it on my way home.”

Okaaaay. Calling now

“Thanks. At-fucking-last. I’m sat outside the house here mate – the door’s ready to go in. Just Like I will be, in one and a half and counting..”

Okokok..

There would then follow a call from the office to the residence in question, which I would be able to hear ringing from outside the house. The ringing would stop, the curtains would twitch and I would head back to the door to knock again because now, I knew, someone was finally up.

I would then hear the drumming of feet coming down the stairs. The carrying noise of steps and echoing ringing tone when the phone rang answered early questions about the house. It would give you an clue towards of the state of the interior then and there. Initally you had begun to draw conclusions of what the resident was like just by the fact that they were still in bed. The sound those steps made as they came down the stairs would help you draw another.

Bolts would slide, locks unlock and the door would be opened a crack, and a waft of weed proceeded a skinny face, as this lady peered out, squinting against the light like it was something she was unaccustomed to. Beyond through the small gap I could see an absence of carpet, bare boards enhancing the sound of steps and giving the ringing phone that echoey sound.

“You not s’posed to be here till tomorrow! Tuesday!! They said you were coming Tues-Day!!!”

The enunciation on the word Tuesday was becoming more pronounced.

Cheeky Bastard.

“This isn’t TUES-DAYYYY you know. Its MON-DAYYYYYY. Typical council.”

(It’s going to be fucking next week at this rate I’d be thinking)

Yes love I know. Today is, Tues-Day. I think you’ve gotten your dates mixed up. Your doors being done today. Could you open the back door so I can start taking it out? Cheers I’ll just head round there..”

What followed then would be The Moment Of Trepidation.

If the house had a dog, (if they did it was unusual if it wasn’t a Staffordshire Bull Terrier) the steps around to the back of the house were taken like dead-man-walking. Slowly walking round preparing for what the back garden may look like. If the house wasn’t well looked after, the dog was usually left to its own devices at the rear. And it was like walking through a mine field of dog deposits up to the back door. Then you would have to argue that you weren’t prepared to work at the address until it was cleaned up.

The other problem at some houses was the sheer smell as you walked in to plug into a power source. As I found out at this particular venue.

The woman opened the rear door and held it open for me, drawing deeply on a cigarette that visibly shrank as she did so and ash falling from the tip to the floor. She stood with the door in hand, ciggy hanging from her lips, eyebrows arched over her glasses in obvious distaste that I had disturbed her, while I thanked her and squeezed past into the kitchen, trying to ignore the dirty lino on the floor, the overloaded cat litter tray, the stack of unwashed pots, the un-eaten take-away food and boxes left lying around the kitchen work-tops, abandoned at different stages of consumption.

Placing the transformer on the floor I bent down to plug it into the socket. This took moments so that by the time I straightened I only then had an opportunity to take a deeper breath.

Its hard to describe really what happens in those situations. I’m not saying it smelt this way but the closest I can come to what hit me then is by comparing it to almost taking a mouthful of sour milk. You know? If you’ve actually gotten to the point where you have taken a bottle of milk, removed the lid and lifted it to your lips to take a swallow. And as you almost, almost tip the milk into your mouth you feel the lumpy bits of milk tumbling around the bottle an instant before the smell pours up your nostrils.

And the only thing you can do is turn, retching in any direction, trying to distance your self from that smell, holding it as far away from your body as possible but unable to stop retching long enough to put it down while frantically trying not to spill it.

Imagine that texture in your nose, with your stomach rolling and bucking, eyes watering while still bent over double, dry heaving, unable to get out of your mind the realization of how close you came to putting that cottagey-cheesy liquid- almost -solid, in your mouth and swallowing it..

Well.

As the smell in the kitchen hit me, I managed to stumble past the woman into the garden. Bent over heaving, then trying to stand straight only for another dry retch to roll out, and have me lurching forwards. And the woman stood there, in the doorway. Oblivious to the smell now rolling out from the entrance, the open door drawing it out into the garden, while she watched me, cigarette hanging from her lip forgotten, looking at me like I was a lunatic.

“You alright lovey?”

She threw out to me.

“Yeah – urrrrrgh! Yep just giz a – UUUUUUUUUUUrrrgggggg!! – minute! Not been – uuurrrrGGHHHH! – too well last couple of – UUURRRGGGGHHHHHHHH – days.”

I offered, heaving over my knees, trying not to embarrass her over the effect the state of her house had had on me.

Only to raise my head to see her clutching the door like a shield, and sputtering over her ciggie,

“Ere! We don’t want you passing the bloody lurgy in this house you know!!”

The only other house I came across a similar situation was sometime later when I became a bit wiser to the problem. When I arrived at that address with a work mate I first took note of the direction the wind was blowing. As there were two of us working on the property, one would refit the front and the other would fit the back. The wind would blow what smell there was straight through the house to which ever side it was heading. Being first to the door I automatically claimed the rear entrance for myself, as the wind was blowing from that side. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the property at first glance, it was just that you learned from experience then made damn sure you avoided being in the same situation again given half the chance.

Today was a good day to get that right.

An old man dressed in dirty sweat shirt and filthy saggy track-suit bottoms answered the door.

old man

“‘Allo son. You ‘ere to do the doors?”

“Aye mate. Can you open the back door up and I’ll pop round that side and this lad will stay and do the front.”

“Yep, no problem lad.”

During this the odor – particularly bad I might add – had been drifting out through the door-way so that I was gradually leaning off to one side to nonchalantly, to avoid the smell. All this had been noticed by my work-mate, unloading the van, who as I turned smugly back to face, let his head tip back and shoulders slump as he looked to the heavens in resignation.

It didn’t take long to remove the rear door and frame which only exposed the filthy kitchen area and enabled the wind to blow the odour with more conviction through the house to the open front door.

Where I could hear the dry heaves of my friend.

My happiness was momentarily disrupted by the appearance of the old man who said,

“Cuppa tea son?”

I took a second look around the kitchen and hurriedly replied,

“No! No. No-thanks mate. Not long had one and the clocks ticking. Need to get done and away. You Know what these gaffers are like.”

“Yeah. Bastards the lot of ’em! Well, don’t mind if I have one me-self.”

And he turned his back on me and began rummaging through the dirty work top, covered in stuff.

I watched him as he went through jars and cupboards – everything had a greasy dirty sheen – looking for what ever he was searching for. Until he finally opened a lower cupboard, pulling the door wide enough to see in. And he leant over, that slow old man gesture, hands on knees, arse up and bending slowly. It was as he lowered his head into the cupboard and stuck his arse end out, my eyes followed his stiff movements, that he exposed everything to me.

As he leaned into the cupboard and his be-hind pointed out towards me the huge hole in the rear end of his saggy track-suit bottoms became visible. And as he went lower a pair of saggy, old-man-balls, dropped out the split, followed by the over exposure of his narrow arse cheeks, spread, spread, spreading and…well. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Myeyes!Myeyes!MyEyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees!!!!

OhmysweetbabyJesus.

If ever, ever there could be a time to be struck blind, then that was it. I leapt away from the view sucking in deep breaths, marching round the small garden Hrumping, hands on hips, asking God what I’d done to deserve this job. And all I could hear in the back-ground was my work mate at the front door throwing out odd heaves, still dealing with the smell, while I tried to regain some composure, wishing I’d taken that fucking spot now.

As I turned back to the house the old fella leaning out of the back door with a cheery smile, two cups in hand saying,

“You sure you don’t want a nice cuppa of tea son?”

But finally, back to staring at the pencil lying in the wet patch.

Fortunately, the only way this house was similar to the other two was that it wasn’t clean.

Although it was dirty – every work surface was stacked with something in various states, plates, cups, oil cans(?) and I kid you not, car tyres – all taking up any available space so it was hard to imagine any food preparation taking place. The godsend was, it didn’t have the terrible smell that emanated from the previous two.

I’d picked the pencil up and was stood chewing it, contemplating where the rain had worked under the door-frame into the kitchen and wondering how people live this way.

I’ve had to have a day off for you to do this you know. From work!”

Was what was thrown at me as I stood there looking at the floor.

I looked into the kitchen to see a very short 5 foot nothing, block of a woman, hands on hip, a look of dissatisfaction on her jowly face.

“Oh yeah? (Chewchew) Well look at it this way love. (Chew) Your getting a brand-new back door for free! (Chewchew)Its a win-win situation when you think what it would have cost you if you had to pay for it. (Chew)Yes?(Chewchewchew)”

“Aye, well. It’s still a pain in the bloody arse. Look at the bloody mess on me floor.(!!)”

I took a long sidelong look at the kitchen, then raised my eyes back to the woman.

“Well, its happened at the right time surely? Look here.”

(Gesticulating with pencil)

“You can even see where the rain has been driving under the door frame. I’m fitting you a new door! So it’s going to solve that problem straight off!”

“No love. I doubt that’ll do any good for that problem.”

“Oh. You do?”

I asked, resting the pencil on my lip contemplating the implication and slightly offended that she was questioning my workmanship.

“Aye. I do.”

She said.

“Because that’s where the dog has a piss every morning.”

I spat the pencil at her.

Believe it or not, and this is Gods truth, it turned out the place she had taken a day off work from was the local hospital. I know this because I asked her. She worked on days on the same ward where my wife worked as a nurse.

She was a domestic.

Great Balls Of Fire

banjo

“Kevin! Get that rubbish together in the compound and burn it. Save some space in the skip.”

This instruction shouted to the site laborour. Kevin, was a 27 year old simple lad. Quite easy going, happy to help, and like I say, a bit simple.

Now I’m not saying he was stupid. No.  But there was an absence of focus. A distracted air about his personality that made you think he was never quite on the same page whenever you had a conversation with him. His mental approach to anything made you aware that very clear instructions were needed to prevent any misunderstanding.

His level of attention wasn’t brilliant either and if left alone too long you would find the concentrated brush strokes in the dust leading off, in one long, meandering sweeping line, to where you find him, nose pressed against a window steaming the glass up with each breath and staring out at the world going by with a vacant look.

He had this naivety about him and a goofy kind of grin that made him seem harmless, always leaving you expecting a kind of “Yuk Yuk” laugh to emanate any minute. He always took the mickey taking in good spirit never quite getting the joke, but laughing anyway.
Really, a pig under one arm and a banjo slung round his neck wouldn’t have looked out of place. That empty look that drew across his face like a curtain during mid conversation made you realize you were wasting your time trying to pass on a too complicated request.

There was nobody home.

The job we were working on was a car show room on the outskirts of Bolton town center and had had controversial moments from the beginning. Pat the machine fitter who repaired all the sites machinery, had called on the job to service some equipment. As he walked across the compound at the back of the job he came across a dumper that had been left, engine running, while the driver was fetching something from a container. It was a pet hate of Pats and, grumbling to himself, he leaned over the drivers seat to turn the key to switch the engine off.

As Pat leant strained towards the key, he caught his sleeve on the gear stick making the dumper jerk forward knocking him to the ground. The initial forward momentum of the dumper was enough that it ran up his leg as he fell, coming to a rest on top of it and pinning him to the ground.

“All I heard was the “Crack!” and then the pain!” said Pat.

“It was just a good job the ground was soft so that I actually sank into it somewhat. I was still lay there with a leg broken in two place mind, but the mud had save me from being crushed badly.”

It was a gas-and-air job while they reversed it off him to drag him out and ship him off to hospital. Ow.

But it happening to Pat, being as safety conscious as he was was a surprise. It kind of set the tone.

Another face at the time I remember was Austin.

He was a jet black, deeply lined Jamaican joiner, I always found difficult to put an age to. Somewhere in his late 50’s I always assumed. Austin worked on a number of the sites for this firm and was a familiar face. The secret to his success was that every time he was laid off, he just turned up on a new site the following day that the firm had running and the agent assumed he had been sent there and would put him to work… He would then disappear for a few months and go back to Jamaica until he ran out of money and would suddenly appear one Monday morning and the process would start again.

He had a bouncy relaxed way of walking, and this was reflected in his completely laid back approach to everything. He just never rushed and had one speed and approach that carried him through life and work. You never really got a laugh out of him or any extreme emotion to be honest. Just a gentle smile that always seem to linger. He hardly ever said anything, and when he did it was near impossible to understand the deep Jamaican accent. So conversation was limited – everybody knew him, but hardly anything about him. He was just always there or around. He answered most questions with a nod or a shake of the head and if there was any verbal answer you had to make damn well sure you listened carefully or you were on the other side of the conversation nodding dumbly and trying to work out how to reply.. In a way I think he was as conscious of this as much as we were and tended to be very quiet.

He drove an old – and I mean – an old, full of holes van. I had been making an effort to speak to him and get to know him, although this meant I did most of the talking and he did most of the nodding. Anyway, I was helping him load his tools into his van when I dropped his tool box in the back. The dense, unnatural solid sound that struck my ears when the box hit the van floor was completely out of place and made me look twice. As I stared hard I realized the rear end of the van had heavy plastic lining the perimeter and a piece of timber across the inside against the back doors.

What Austin had done when the holes had become too large in the back of the van floor was prepared it like a shutter.

For those of you who don’t know, a shutter on site is a pre-formed box that concrete is poured into until it goes hard then is stripped to expose the finished product. Like a column or a flight of stairs.

So, as the van gradually deteriorated Austin turn the rear into a shutter, lined it with plastic and poured 2″ of concrete into the back to form a new floor. It must have been like driving an oil tanker on the road with this slab sat in the back. He must have been floating around on his rear wheels trying to maintain traction. He was lucky any corner he took at any speed over 10 mph didn’t roll him over or put him through a shop front.

Braking to stop at traffic lights must have started as he left the previous set.

Eventually though Austin did his disappearing act and – I think -finally returned to and stayed in Jamaica. I assume this was the case because I never read about an accident involving a small van with 6 ton of concrete in the back ploughing through a set of lights, 17 cars and a retirement home and only came to a stop when the axle collapsed.

Kevin on the other hand was a walking accident waiting to happen. The only time he became animated was when he was talking about his Thai Boxing. Apparently he was quite a high graded belt which inevitably decided how far we would go winding him up. I mean, as one of the lads said, if you were going to aggravate someone who could kick your cup of tea up your fucking arse hole then you got what you deserved.

But like I said Kevin was good nature personified.

Friday was pay day and our wages were paid out in cheque form. We would then rush off to the nearest bank that would allow it and cash them. On this rainy miserable Friday, Kevin offered to drive myself and a couple of the lads into Bolton town center to cash the cheques in his pride and joy. His white Ford Capri.

capri

Not the roomiest of cars in the back but we squeezed in and headed into Bolton to collect the money. It was on the way back to the job as we were driving down a suburban street peering through the fogged windows, into the miserable weather outside, that Kevin suddenly said,

“‘Ah used ta do my paper round around ‘ere.”

“Did you Kev?”

“Aye. Weather was shit then too.”

“Bet you wore short pants then eh kev? Haha.”

“Sometimes. If weather were alright.”

“So when was this Kev? 10 – 12 years ago then?”

“Nah lad. It were last year.”

There was a pregnant pause momentarily as we looked at each other.

“What? Last year? Do you mean last year – the year before this one??”

“Aye lad.”

said Kevin concentration still fixed on the road.

Last year? How old were you Kev?”

“26.”

“You were a 26 year old paper boy? Did you have a bike??”

“Noooo. I did in in t’car.”

“You did the paper round in a fucking Ford Capri?”

“Aye lad.”

This car now?”

“Aye.”

The silence was further strung out as we stared into the past, trying to absorb the image of kevin, stop starting his Ford capri along this road, jumping out every 10 yards to run up a drive and deliver a paper.

“Mind you,” he continued, “Ah didn’t last too long.”

Really Kevin? And why was that?”

And he said,

“Ah couldn’t earn enough to pay for the petrol…”

Back on site he was generally daft on an everyday basis. The building had been clad in a corrugated tin and was some 3 stories high. Some snagging work had taken place after the initial job and rather than erect a full scaffold, an 8 foot wide, 12m high quick erect scaffold had been used to do the moving repairs.

“Kevin! Over here!”

Kevin had dropped his brush and jogged over.

“Yes Mick?” He had asked my dad who was running the job.

“See this scaffold? Its being off-hired today. They’re coming to collect it in a couple of hours. So I need to get it down. Drop it and get it ready for pick up.”

“Ok Mick.”

My dad said he had just reached the end of the building before there was and almighty crash of aluminium tubes and frames behind him. Jumping against the wall at the crescendo of noise, he turned to find the scaffold flat on the floor, running the length of the building behind him.

“Kevin! Jesus Christ Kevin! What the fuck are you doing!!??”

“Well, you said to drop it..”

You had to be quite literal when speaking to Kevin at times. He had just physically got a grip of the base of the scaffold, lifted it onto its front edge, staggered around with the top of the structure waving madly around above him, until one eye closed and tongue stuck out he had managed to line it up sufficiently to tip it over.
My dad was just lucky he was out of range of the line of fall before it hit the floor.

It could have gone anywhere to be honest.

But I have to say through it all Kevin was a lovely natured man. Nothing really ever upset him and he just laughed about everything that we threw at him. He wasn’t bothered what he did as long as he plodded through his day. So when he got the shout to burn the rubbish in the compound he plodded off to sort it out.

At the back of the car showroom was a large compound that was being used to keep the site cabins on. The site office, brew cabins and storage container were spread out back there. It was a large plot that would later be used to store the new cars coming in to be sold. But in the mean time it was still an undeveloped area ideal for burning any waste we didn’t need that didn’t have to go in the skip.

This day we came out of the main building heading over for our brew, to see Kevin in the middle of the compound just finishing off piling up rubbish to burn. As we entered the brew cabin one of the lads gave him a shout.

“Kev! Tea up mate!”

“Aye! A’ll be in inna minute. Ah’s just getting this going!”

And he turned back to light his pile.

We in the mean time go in and fill mugs and get sandwiches out sitting down around the brew table.

“What the fuck is he doing?” said one of the lads staring out of the window tea forgotten.

We all turned to look out of the window to see Kevin trying to light the fire. But the problem he had was he was attempting to light a fire in the middle of a large open compound, mid winter, in Bolton with a gale blowing through it.

Every time he struck a match, no matter how well he shielded it, it blew out before he could offer the light to the pile. The frustration was obvious to watch.

“Kevin!! Tea up lad!!!”

He just waved distractedly more focused on lighting the fire.

And then – I see it now – he had an actual light bulb moment. His posture stiffened as an idea struck him. I swear to God you could hear the “Plink” of the bulb lighting up.

It caught everybody’s attention immediately.

“Aye, aye. He’s off.” said someone as Kevin stood up, a mission in mind.

Kevin trotted off to the container and disappeared inside. He was but moments though and re-appeared holding the gallon tank of petrol we kept on site to run the petrol saw.

“This should be interesting.”

Murmured one of the lads, as around the cabin, sandwiches and brews were forgotten, held mid-air, as all eyes following Kevin.

Kevin trotted up and began to liberally shake petrol from the can onto the fire, working his way around it making sure he got enough on his prepared pile.

“He does know he’s throwing that lot into the wind doesn’t he? It’s going all over the bloody place!”

Then taking great care to place the can well away from the fire, Kevin turned back and picked up his matches. He took one out, crouched down shielding his match, and struck it.

You could hear the air being sucked out of the room as we watched him light that match.

Kevin’s hands went up like flares. He leapt to his feet waving his hands in the air then did the only thing he could do to put them out.

He slapped them on his thighs.

Instantly, his thighs were on fire, and Kevin took off around the compound thighs and hands trailing flames, possibly hoping that sheer speed would put the fire out.

Finally, he spotted the plasterers drum, a large steel barrel kept full of water for the plasterer to use to mix his plaster with. He didn’t hesitate but rushed to it and dived in head first in a move that would have warmed Jonny Weissmuller’s heart to see it. Then after some moments under water, falling back spitting dirty water every where, he began to scoop as much water over himself as possible.

It did the trick and the flames were quenched, leaving Kevin dropping onto his behind panting, wet through, holding a hand to his head and gently smoking in the chill air.

The open mouthed silence in the cabin had shattered as soon as Kevin lit himself up like Guy Fawkes. There was tea and bits of sandwiches all over the places as people had fell about howling with laughter while still attempting to keep Kevin in eye-line as he hurtled backwards and forwards around the compound trailing flames. No one could stop laughing long enough to go out and check he was alright even when he managed to finally put himself out.

He eventually staggered in dripping water everywhere, still smoking. But I have to say, the expression was still that same vacant, empty headed look he carried around all the time. It just never seemed to penetrate Kevin’s blank demeanor, regardless of how-ever dramatic or ridiculous the events were. The first thing he did when he realised everyone was laughing was smile and look around the room and say,

“What? What’s happened? What you all laughing at…?”

fire balls 1

Like he hadn’t just been running round with his balls on fire.

The Karate Kid And The Ginger.

traffic warden 1

As a kid, it wasn’t uncommon to find myself spending a Saturday or a Sunday, accompanying my dad to a job he was working on. He would spend the day working while my brother and I would run around a building site until we discovered a pile of sand, roll around in it, dig holes in it, and found where every cat that lived within a 3 mile radius took a shit.

“Sean, what’s this? Its like playdo! Oh. Shit.”

This, I have to add, was before the modern day health-and-safety rules that so swamp society today. But I have to say I loved it.

Working in the same trade as my dad did, I don’t think he would quite believe the changes and ridiculous amount of rules there are governing how you get through a working day now. I had to attend a recent health-and-safety induction one Monday morning upon starting on a new job and one lad hit the nail right on the head.

After being retina scanned and finger-printed, sitting through a 2 hour video showing fall’s, crushes, fires, impaling’s and other bloody and terminal endings. Being shown an assortment of coloured identification and information cards showing do’s and don’ts signs. Warnings of the implications of not wearing your protective glasses, boots, helmets, gloves, high viz vests if any of the dramatic video accidents happened to you. Rules on where to answer your phone with out getting (again) run-over or crushed or walking off a building. What permits you needed and where for. Given a written test on the above. And finally, the threat, of being excluded and black-listed from the contractors sites in the future for breaking any of the above rules or dying.

In the almost exhausted silence that followed the end of the induction, one lad put his hand up to catch George, the induction managers attention, and said,

“George, I’ve got to be honest with you fella, but I don’t think I’m going to be in this week.”

“And George slightly taken back by the new employee’s attitude said,

“Really? It’s your first day and you’re ducking the rest of the week??”

“Well,”

said the lad,

“This induction has really opened my eyes to the life-threatening dangers presented on a daily, hour-by-hour basis. And I have to say, I don’t think I’m going to get out of bed in the morning George.”

“You’re not even going to get out of bed??” Goggled George.

“No I don’t think I will. I don’t think I’ll risk the stairs. Because, I have to say I’m worried. Actually, if I’m being honest, very concerned, I’ll be fucking dead or sacked before I reach the bottom..”

Summed it up really.

I have unforgettable memories as a kid of different characters that I was lucky enough to come into contact with while accompanying my dad to these jobs. Because in that world back then, those distinctive people made that environment enjoyable. Unforgettable even.

There just aren’t many of those people around any more in the building trade. Because like most areas of life it’s become sanitized. Cleansed. Non confrontational. Bland.

I first met Nick one Saturday when I had gone with my dad, to “help” him at work. I say “help” in the most liberal sense. It was more a case of getting me out of the house from under my mothers feet. I must have uttered the immortal words,

“I’m bored..”

And before I knew it was sat next to my dad en-route to where-ever it was he was working at the time.

So, I met Big Nick on one of these jobs as a 14 year old. He was a 6 foot odd, ginger haired and bearded, west country lad, still with that slight west country twang on the edge of his accent, who had moved up to Manchester years before while he was still a young man of 19. He had gotten his then younger girlfriend pregnant and done a runner after finding the situation nothing like he had imagined before she actually gave birth.

Why he ended up in Manchester I don’t know, but not just Manchester. He landed in Moss Side. A large black community and moved in with a much older woman and her 17 year old son.

“I honestly don’t know how I ended up moving in with her to be honest. I met her on a night out, she offered, and as a young lad being propositioned by an older woman, well, it seemed like I had landed on my feet.”

So he did. He did have to put up with the niggling, slightly younger, mixed race son with a big hair. It must have presented some image, the woman walking out with the two lads – both young enough to be her sons, one half-caste big afro’d lad and the other a gangly, bright ginger nut.

In the mean time relations between the two lads were strained to say the least. It was a case of logger heads over the attention each received off the mother. The son must have understandably resented the attention the new face in the house was receiving off his mum, while Nick resented the time she gave up for her son. It must have been like a crèche for nearly-adults. From Nicks young point of view, he was the man of the house being in a relationship with the mother. The son saw it differently though and it was a constant battle.

When I met Nick he was in his late 30’s and was probably one of the most laid back, dryly funny, self defacing men I have ever come across. The distinctive memory I have of him was of a laconic, relaxed body posture that never seemed to change regardless of the situation. This also carried into the outward nature of the man. It was like he would weigh up the pro’s and cons of exerting energy be it in a physical or emotional situation and always use only what was essentially required to maximum efficient effect.. It was these attributes and the white high-lights that had grown into the ginger beard that stick in the memory.

Nick was an incurable romantic who was never happier unless he was in the throes of an initial relationship. That point where everything is fresh and new and its all roses and chocolates. He loved that part of a new love-life.

He was married 4 times and each time was the same routine of frantic romance at the beginning, where he would flood the relationship with romantic gestures. This was unsustainable obviously, and the woman he was with would eventually be exhausted by the sheer volume of what he displayed and inevitably the romantic gestures from her gradually petered out into the normality of a everyday relationship.

By which point Nick would begin to lose interest, become disillusioned or the pressure of his constant romantic attentions would wear thin with his new wife.

A common situation presented in the brew cabin at the beginning of a new marriage, would be Nick opening up his neatly packed sandwich box and lay out his luxurious edible contents. He would discover secreted at the bottom of it all and sit twirling them on a fore-finger, a pair of his wife’s frilliest knickers.

It brightened up his brew no-end.

As the relationship went on the knickers gradually gave way to a loved up romantic note full of hearts and kisses.

As time progressed further, the note and kissed eventually spiraled down to Nick making his own shoddy wedge-like sandwich that would choke a donkey and a stale one at that. The knickers and notes fell by the way-side as each relationship deteriorated, all amid bitterness and financial demands from each wife.

“Never again!” Nick would declare. Only to meet someone new and the lure of the pure romance of the beginning of a relationship would draw him in again..

4 time’s Nick was married and each time ended badly. In between each relationship he continued to work as a joiner on sites around the north-west. My dad got on enormously well with Nick and spent a number of good times with him. In the building trade you tend to move around a lot. Jobs end and new contracts start taking you to a variety of places. Nick though, always stayed at the same company, being firmly embedded within it.

One job my dad and he worked on was down in central Manchester, a refurbishment on a beautiful listed building. On a Saturday the lads would walk over to Chorlton-street bus station for a cooked breakfast. One of the young apprentices never told anyone until they got back to the job, that while he was in the toilet a set of hands took a grip of the top of the cubicle wall and a face appeared of an older man leering down at him.

The young lad completely shook up, struggled to get his trousers up with this man watching him and obviously enjoying the situation. Apparently upon investigation this was a common occurrence by the noted pervert. The lads on site were outraged and decided to remedy the situation. Another young lad was dispatched to the toilet this time ready for the intrusion. As the same fingers crept over the cubicle wall and took a grip as the man drew himself up to look over, the young man in question took the lump hammer he had taken in with him and,

Bam! Bam!

That put a stop to that particular problem.

The same site suffered from a particularly enthusiastic traffic warden. A little Hitler who relished slapping a ticket on a car given half a chance and would smile while doing so. Even more so if the unwary driver returned in time to catch her doing it and a smug little grin often accompanied the deliberate action.

Nick had noted this and a plan was set in place.

In those days plasterers used to used a steel drum, taken to a floor they were working on and filled with water. This would then be used to mix a batch of plaster where the lads were working, then moved to the next area and re-filled. The lads waited for the traffic warden to proceed along the street below, happily booking cars with cheerful glee and the smug flourish. As she approached a pre-ordained point some 8 gallons of plaster-filled water was poured from the 3rd floor onto her unsuspecting head and landed on her like a small car. I have to say it made her jump.

When she managed to get up off the floor and stagger to her feet spluttering water mind.

Long story short. Mini-volcanic eruption. Very colourful conversation and police called.

What could they do? Who poured the water? How could they prove who was responsible.

Our traffic warden disappeared shortly after to another route.

It was Nicks type of humour.

I don’t think he was ever far away from his next romantic dalliance though. I don’t think he could ever resist feeling as loved as he was at the start of each relationship and couldn’t help himself. Each marriage ended in acrimony and unhappily. more so for Nick because I think he loved being in love. I just don’t think the day-to-day normality of a relationship ever enamored itself to him. He was never happier than when he was getting love letters in his sandwich box and being met at the door by a wife who wanted to kiss him. Once this died down I think he swamped his wife with a romance that was unsustainable and unrealistic.

I think the final straw came after the final marriage and he had begun another relationship, this time with a woman who left her husband for him. He always bounced back as soon as he fell in love again. But I think this time it broke him.

In retrospect it seems quite calculated what this particular woman did to him. Not that I defend him for his actions, just that it was quite cold-hearted what she did and how she walked away.

She moved in with him and brought her two children. What she also brought was 10 grand’s worth of debt too. What did Nick do with his moment of ultimate romantic gesture? Took the debt onboard on a credit card and bought her a car.

Not long after, she moved back in with her husband, took the kids and the car and left the debt.

In an effort to cheer up the completely devastated Nick, the lads arranged a fishing trip to north Wales. An over-night trip, drinking a few beers, Fishing off a beach head by lantern-light. To get Nick in the mood they surprised him at the end of the working day just before departing with a stack of beer, pre-made food and a blow-up doll dressed in camisole and French nickers called Doris.

There were a lot of laughs as they drove off on their trip, jammed in a Granada estate, back filled with a couple of tents, fishing gear, food and beer.

And Doris sat in the middle of the back seat perma-shock all over her face.

She probably didn’t expect to be going to Wales.

They arrived and pitched the tents, finding it not the best spot, but managing to get them up for later when they finished fishing and had had enough beer. The night progressed and booze and food flowed, with them fishing off a rocky beach head, awkward in the dark but managing – to their surprise – to actually catch some fish. Scattered over a short distance as they were, with the noise of the waves in the background, conversation was shouted between them.

As it grew darker a couple of lanterns were lit to help them navigate from the edge of oily darkness that was the shore edge, to the stacked up beer and food. Each taking turns to give Doris a lucky pat on the head in passing on their way back to their casting point. Gradually, as you can imagine the laughter grew as the did the unsteady staggering as they made their way to and thro.

They were caught up in a haze of good camaraderie with each other.

What finally caught theit attention was the Whup Whup Whup in the black sky above them. Like Nick said,

“It shit us right up. Everyone staggered over the rocks, pissed up, back to where the tents were – all looking up trying to see what the hell it was.”

“Then,” he continued, “The biggest, brightest spot light landed smack on us, and this voce boomed out “Are You All OK?””

ARE YOU ALL OK? – WHATS THAT NAKED…OH

They had inadvertently camped up on a quite notorious point and the lanterns had been noticed out at sea. Someone had phoned Air-Sea-Rescue and a helicopter had leapt into the sky to rescue the possible ship-wrecked sailors in distress.

It had rumbled in from the sea to discover 4 grown men, blind drunk, huddled round a stack of beer and a blow up doll called Doris, who was looking more stunned by the minute.

I think the helicopter erred on the side of discretion and left them to it.

The story went round the site like wild fire on the Monday and made for an entertaining brew time, although Doris had been abandoned..

But I don’t think Nick ever got over the final embarrassment of that last relationship. Not long after, the man who never left that firm, did just that. And completely disappeared.

I really think the end of the final relationship hurt him more than he felt he could recover from and didn’t want to face so many people who were aware of what had happened in his life, so he abandoned it and left.

I have to say, Nick made me laugh more times than I can count. He was just one of those people you never forget.

Finally, I had to ask him what ever happened to the relationship he found himself in when he first came to Manchester and the sheer tension each day brought living with the son and mother.

“So, what happened in the end Nick?”

“Well, I have to say I was getting really pissed off with the shit I was getting off this young kid. Constant attitude. Listen to me! I say he was a young kid! Ha! And me being 19!! No wonder he was narked! And He had me looking down on him while he’s listening to me banging his mam of a night!”

And he went on,

“Anyway, we were giving each other stick most days. So when his mother went out one Friday night I though, “I’ll sort this Nobhead out – let him know who’s top dog in the house“”

“And did you? Did you put him in his place?”

“Well, I pulled him that night, and just said, “Come on then dickhead, Lets sort this out once and for all.”

“Anyway. I didn’t know the little bastard did karate. He knocked seven shades of shit out of me. Threw me all over the fucking flat. Absolutely battered me all over the place. I didn’t even wait for her to come home. I just packed my bag and buggered off….”

And I supposed that that, is the undying memory I have of Big Nick, the ginger joiner. Being karate – kicked all over by his girlfriends son with the big afro.

karate

Catching My Breath

I haven’t been writing a great deal of late as I’ve been making the most of the lighter nights (sadly on the wane) to concentrate on my cycling. So really this is just an update and excuse why the blogs have ground to a halt over the last couple of months.

These are a number of images I took when I gambled that I had enough energy in my legs to continue my ride after doing so. Usually at the top of something high. So after sucking in enough oxygen to steady my shaky legs, I did so.

Plenty of blogs in draft and on the way covering a number of memories and musings. From “Tex, The Amazing Memory Dancing Man”, “Barrow In furnace” and “The Karate Kid And The Ginger” amongst others.

All, I might add, at the loss of a good evenings cycling..

SUNDAY RIDE TRAMLINE 002

Iphone Skiaphos 084

(The Todmedon – Bacup road)

cragg vale to hebdon veiw 001

(Top of Cragg Vale)

croma and rammsbottom 003

(The Helmshore Road panoramic view L-R Rawtenstall to Edenfield)

Ramsbottom sunday24.8.14 001
(View form Helmshore Road across to Edenfield)

Tour De France 003
(View up to Holme Moss from brew stop on Tour De France day)

Tour De France 005
(Tram-Line Dave)

Tour De France 021
(Me Up on Holme Moss looking back down route Tour would come from)

Tour De France 023
(Panoramic from Holme Moss)

Christies 100km 004
(Just Finished Christies Hospital 100km sportive)

Crown Point 001
(Crown Point)

Grane Road 004
(Top of Crane Road)

Grane Road 005
(Crane road Back To Helmshore)

Grane Road 006
(Jackson Heights just off Crane Road)

The next hill’s in sight..

Tramline Dave And Banana Man

Tour De France 013

I have to say rediscovering time to ride my bike again has been like a breath of fresh air. I’ve more-or-less always had a bike and ridden since being a kid. But having a family and running the kids around on a constant basis (I’m sure many of you are familiar with this situation) became an all encompassing past-time, and kept me from riding as much as I would have liked.

Now, they’ve all reached a more adult age, while I still more-or-less run them where-ever and when-ever, its at more sociable hours to me. Meaning I can get out and ride again. (Woohoo)

So over the last 12 months I’ve been fairly consistent in my rides. Which meant I’ve gradually built up my average basic ride from a 10 miler to a more rewarding 30 miler. My big ride of the week has now gone from a 30 miler to a 50 miler and increasing all the time. It’ll be no surprise therefore to know, my enthusiasm for the recent Tour De France visiting these shores was at optimum.

For all of you confirmed road cyclist haters, the upheaval caused by the Tour de France episode across Britain must have created an incredible amount simmering aggravation in a number of households. From having to clear the surrounding roads to ensure the route was clear hours, nay, days in some places, prior to it taking place, the upheaval in general must have seemed not just an inconvenience but an incredibly unfair situation.

A real feather-spitting, steam-out-of-ears moment for a lot of people in fact.

And when I say – and I have to pick my words with care – I Don’t care!! (Ha!!) I do so from a vantage point that was Holme Moss in Yorkshire.

Wait, wait, wait!

Hear me out.

I have to tell you when I finally reached my viewing point up on Holme Moss, to find Banana-Boy sat opposite me waiting patiently arms folded, well, it was just an incredible bonus..

And I can only include that because I was one of the rapturous many sat near the summit, spying some 3 miles of route descending away from me, some of England’s finest patch-work green, dry-stone-walled hills arrayed before us, and be able to soak in the biggest party atmosphere I have EVER been to.

And I have 60,000 people strung along that route to back me up.

And when I say people, I mean men, women, children and Banana-Boy(!) The generation spread on display sat up there supporting this event was phenomenal. Breathtaking even.

I only have to think of what I experienced up there and even now it literally chokes me up.

I sympathise with those inconvenienced people for the upheaval it caused, I do. But only slightly, if I’m being honest.

Really, I don’t mean this was some wild, drunken party, where you wake up the next day bleary-eyed to slip you feet into your favourite boots.

Only to find guest No 34,435 peed in your shoe cupboard..

Or that guest No 12,487 (heaven forbid) was caught in a compromising situation in the kids room with guest No 29,812 and the only moment you became aware of the rumpus was when a lump of plaster fell off the ceiling as the bed collapsed. And when you rushed up the stairs and into the room to find out what had just happened, only to discover said guests, mercifully backs to you, stood staring down at said bed with its legs sticking out in four different directions. And the Barbie headboard snapped in half.

Both with shirts, shoes and socks on, but minus any trousers..

Or, even that guest No 51,972 didn’t so much shave a friends eyebrow, but in fact, sheared the cat. (Dust Motes)

cat

No, this, party was the best feel-good event I have ever – and I have to say – ever, experienced.

It was with a sense of excitement out of all proportion that I readied my gear for my early morning start. I was cycling over to Holme Moss with my very good friend Tramline dave. I’ve known Dave for some 10 years or so, having come to know him through football. Our boys played together in the same junior team and we then set up our own and had some utterly fantastic experiences together along the way. (See A Starfish On Snowdon)
Since then we had always stayed close and I introduced Dave to road cycling.

Now Dave is a complete obsessional perfectionist. Anything he does he has to do just right. He has to research it to the point of exhaustion until he knows it inside out. When something catches his imagination he completely sinks himself in it. Not a passing fad. I mean, he just lives and breathes it. Submersion. So when I introduced him to road cycling and the bug bit, well, I knew I had my hands full keeping up.

He bought himself a hybrid first, swiftly moving onto a road bike as he recognized the massive differences in the riding styles of each bike. He got a great deal on his bike which he has ridden faithfully for the last 8 months or so just to confirm he loves the sport enough to spend some serious money on a serious bike. Which he did.

Only to have delivery delayed by two weeks which meant he never received it in time for our ride over to Holme Moss to watch The Tour De France pass by. In fact he only took ownership of it a day before he was due away on holiday. A week later. He was, gutted.

I was relieved. I don’t know how I would have kept up otherwise..

I love riding with Dave because he’s such good company. The miles tick by when your travelling with someone you can talk to. And when that person is someone you know well, who is enthusiastic just being there, then there isn’t really any quiet time, unless your climbing a really bad hill. And Dave fills the silence non-stop.

Dave, on the other hand still can. And he fills the one-sided conversation effortlessly. Mainly with encouragement to me to climb the next hill while he’s literally doing press-ups and star-jumps on his bike to make it more entertaining.

And, I know he’s not struggling, but he tells me he is – even puffing and panting a bit to demonstrate a level of suffering. Then he forgets he’s supposed to be exhausted and begins to gallop away up a hill, realizes he’s left me behind sucking in air like a broken hoover and drops back beside me saying something like,

(Pant pant) “Fuckin hell pal! This hills a killer!! Nearly there though! Keep going your doing fantastic!” (Puff pant puff)

See, I also know that he knows that I know, he could drop me like a stone and be up that hill in no time. But he never says anything and I daren’t mention it in case he actually does disappear into the sunset. Its a bit of a pantomime.

So its a kind of happy meeting of non-equals. The cripple panting on one bike laboring away hippo, while on the next bike Tramline’s spinning effortlessly away like a fucking gazelle and pretending he’s a hippo…

Jesus I hate the bastard sometimes..

What makes it entertaining also is the fact that Tramline just can’t judge stopping distances sometimes. There isn’t a ride out I’ve had with him where he hasn’t bumped or nudged my back wheel because he’s been too close to stop. Fortunately more-often-than not, we’re going slow enough where it didn’t matter or he falls off without any help from me.

Our ride up to Holme Moss was planned to initially take us on the flattest route possible through Royton and Oldam (a feat on its own) until we hit Dove Stones, a road that climbs non-stop for some 6km and doesn’t level out.

But I had left Dave in charge of the route as I knew with his normal dogged determination it would be as flat as he could make it. The ride from his house took in an awful lot of although winding back streets, they remained (blessedly) flat for the large part of our early journey.

“Not bad this pal! Few side-streets but it’s cutting corners all over the place!”

But at the back of our minds was Dove Stones.

We both knew we had to ride this route and had both stayed quiet about it, thinking if we didn’t mention it it wouldn’t be as bad as we thought.

And actually it wasn’t.

What helped was the sheer amount of cyclists on the road that morning. All ages, all abilities, all trying to reach their own personal vantage points to catch the Tour as it whistled past. And as we climbed we could see these people strung out along the Dove Stones route, laboring to reach the top.

Dave as ultra positive as ever would be saying,

“It levels out up here a bit pal! Probably just around the next bend…”

And we would take the next corner to view another 1000 miles or so of un-interrupted ascending tarmac hugging the hillside with a breathtaking view of the valley below us to our right. And all the while I’m trying to suck air in with big gasping breaths with my tongue hanging out.

And Dave sounding initially surprised would say,

“I could have sworn it levelled out round here pal! Never mind! We’ll be reet! Keep spinning those legs! Look! We’re gaining on everyone in front! This is brilliant!! Hooray!!!”

See, he’s always kind enough to include me in the description, and it is a lift so that I end up thinking,

“Yeah, I’m not doing to bad at all really.”

Till I realized while I’m draped over the handle-bars like a wet towel, he’s still as sprightly as ever.

I didn’t think anyone could paint a picture of themselves clicking their heels while riding a bike, but its the image at the fore front of my mind when Tramline gets excited about something. His natural positive outlook just makes it seem that he talks in exclamation marks. (!!!) So if I ever speak to Dave and he’s down about something I know it must be bad because I’d have been tying and re-tying the knot to the noose weeks ago.

He also has a quite touching ability of explaining something like its a brand new, never-before-seen discovery.

“This In-ter-net. For getting on-the-line! Its fantastic pal! Click a button and it can do anything!!! You can talk to people AND see their faces at the same time!! Un-fucking-believable!!!!”

(BTW, if you read this one David, that’s an on-line sex chat room. That’s why the nice lady takes her clothes off.)

Seriously though, Dave has enormous amounts of enthusiasm for things that catch his imagination and he’s one of those rare people that makes things happen with the sheer passion he feels about which ever subject he’s caught up with. He cant help himself. Its the nature of the man that makes it so entertaining to witness.

We did make it over Dove Stones with Dave bursting with indignity that there wasn’t a level point, because he was sure there were a couple of places where we should have been able to have a breather and recover.

(The lying bastard.)

But the amazement or surprise he demonstrates is always short-lived. Always overtaken by the enthusiasm.

“I can’t believe it pal! I could have sworn it levelled just round this bit! Ah well. It must be just round that bend just up there. See it? Not looking? Yeah, your probably reet! Looks about 60 miles away from here! Hahaha! – But don’t you think about that pal! Its not that far at all! Look, we’re passing someone else again – Hellooooo there!!! Goes on forever doesn’t it!! We thought it levelled out a bit round here…!!!”

All the time I’m gulping in lumps of air while he’s rambling on and on and on.. And in between Dave was yo-yoing between incessant encouragement to me and disappointment that the level point wasn’t where he thought it would be and all the while not stopping for a breath.

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(Tramline just waiting for another opportunity to click his heels…)

While I’m trying to co-ordinate pedaling and seeing through the little black specs appearing before my eyes, and attempting to string together one oxygen-depleted wish.

“Dear god, Please, please, just make one of his lungs collapse for 5 minutes, give the bastard taste of what it really feels like..”

Finally we did make Holme Moss, meeting more and more cyclists as we got nearer. Anyone walking was doing so from miles away, having made their way from all corners, walking on the empty roads or over the moors, rambling across the hill-tops to reach what was turning into a cycling mecca for the day.

What struck me first of all was the amount of people arriving. At the bottom it was becoming crowded but becoming stretched out as we began our ascent of Holme Moss. The ebullient, almost euphoric feeling emanating from the people along that route was almost tangible around us. From the easy going nature of the police to the crowds walking or lining the tarmac to the top.

Applause and cheers and bells were meeting riders climbing that road at various points as we journeyed up it. The amount of people in fancy dress catching the spirit of the event were numerous. The feeling of being a part of that huge body of people, all with the same idea in mind – to experience and enjoy to the full this event and witness these fabulous athletes climb the same route we were fighting to ride ourselves.

When we did finally reach the summit it was to have our picture taken by the sign, just to prove we were there. I don’t think we quite believed it ourselves. We didn’t linger as there was a constant stream of folk arriving at the same point, all trying to have their picture taken then stand back and soak up the atmosphere.

We decided to drop back down the hill side some 200m and climb up on the embankment with a view above the crowd at road-side, looking over their heads, and down the entirety of the valley.

There were people passing us all day, on bikes, all ages all shapes. From the middle-aged chap wearing his lyrcra that seriously must have last fitted him 30 years ago. With the 30 years of hard-earned tyre hanging out of it, determined to live that moment and reach that place, laboring from left to right across the road.

Down to the electric bike ridden by the lady, legs spinning on fresh air, zipping up that hill, still, got a cheer.

Even though she cheated.

She was there.

The tandems ridden up there. I lost count of the laboring couples. Or the Kids, pedaling furiously to reach the summit, the seriousness and determination plain on their faces..

And each time some worthy rode up needing support the crowd would rise, again and again. Every time. The kids especially received fantastic support. Young boys and girls from around 6/7 upwards were riding this road with their parents and friends. And as they passed the crowd would rush forward and envelope them in a tunnel of humanity, cheering them on, ringing their cow bells and blowing their whistles..

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(Click on to spot Banana-boy)

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Then after all the hype of people passing to reach the top, to find a place and view the event. After the Mexican wave that kept sweeping up the full length of the hillside during our 5 hour wait. After the fancy dress, all the different lycra on display, all the various bikes of every shape and size. After the Police motorcycles, with various sirens, sounds from across the continent adding the flavor to the moment, after the Caravan passed, all the various floats and cars, throwing caps, drinks, sweets and bric-a-brac from vehicles swept past,

The Peloton arrived.

We first became aware of the imminent arrival as the 5 helicopters swept into view down the valley, hovering around the riders still out of view. Only for a couple to fly up the valley along the road to film crowd arrayed along the route.

I’m not ashamed to say I was one of the many bouncing up and down waving both arms in the air as it swept past us.

Then in the distance the riders appeared at the bottom of the valley and the crowd seemed to hold its breath around us and then the cheering began to grow as they began their ascent, and you could feel and hear the crowd at the bottom roaring them on up towards us, the cheers progressing in volume up the hill with the riders..

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I have to say watching those men ride past, at the pace they did, was heroic. Inspiring. Their determination was of draining proportions. The energy they were using to overcome the obstacle that was Holme Moss was quite phenomenal to see. The sheer emotion emanating from the crowd, well if it didn’t touch you on that day at that place I don’t know what will. The support of the crowd was a physical thing, willing those men up that hill. And only one of many, incredibly touching experiences I was lucky to witness that day.

What was the highest point of that day with so many high points though?

Was it the amount of sheer goodwill on display from every person there watching, for the youngest and oldest of people travelling that road on that day? It was unbelievable.

Was it the crowd rushing to form a tunnel and cheer, whistle and ring cow-bells for each martyr who needed lifting in their attempt at climbing to the summit? The experience of the atmosphere carrying them along the route and upwards.

Well, all those witness’ there didn’t disappoint. And I lost count of the amount of times the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I was covered in goose-bumps, each time the crowd found someone who needed that lift, to rush forward and roar on up the hill.

Or was it seeing Banana-Boy idling away the time opposite me, only to spot Banana-MAN, running up the hill, the crowd cheering him on as he did. Only for Banana-MAN to do a double take when he spotted Banana-BOY in a moment of recognition and to rush forwards and High-Five Banana-Boy, then continue on his route leaving Banana-Boy staring after him open-mouthed like he couldn’t believe what just happened..

Or was it just the day of out and out smiles, where ever you looked. The pleasure every person got from seeing all those other people there making the same effort to witness what was coming, as brief a moment as it would be?

I’d have to say, it was having to walk most of the Holme Moss route down, pushing my bike, along a road choked with cyclists and walkers making their way good-naturedly down to the bottom and home. Until we could finally mount our bikes and trickle along the route through the village at the base. Out toward Holme Firth on a road still packed with cyclist’s to feel the familiar bump on my back wheel.

This time I was taking no chances. I was too aware of how crowded it was.

“Oi! Your going to bring us down! Get in front! You’re not putting me on the deck here!!”

I received an apologetic and embarrassed look as Tramline moved in front of me, leaving me in a more relieved position watching his hesitant progress amongst the hundreds of cyclists around us, filling the road from left to right, back to front.

Until the guy in front of Dave had to pull up short and Tramline as-ever not on the ball about his stopping distance, ran straight up the back of him. He had a moment of frantic pedal wrenching trying to clear his cleats from his pedals, then toppled over sideways and had a domino effect across the road. It was halted 3rd man along who managed to hold up the fallen riders and prevent it sweeping across the rest of the road.

Dave was already leaping to his feet trying to get his bike back up, apologize to those he had knocked over and check if he had done any damage, all at the same time.

I could only drape over the handlebars and laugh.

The good nature of the crowd however again took precedent and there weren’t any bad words had.

The only thing damaged was Dave’s pride.

“Just pull over here pal! Just check me bike’s ok!!”

He said some moments later after remounting.

And in between laughing all I could said was

“No point worrying now pal! Everyone you almost killed are long gone..”

Yeah. That was the best part.

I had to make the most of it.

Dave would have the last laugh watching me try climbing those hills back home..

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Nikos And His Cocktail Shaker…Part 2…

lancaster 2

As I said in the previous post Part 1, a week or so after returning from Skiathos I found myself donating blood for the first time.

I had a nurse fiddling with the needle in my arm in order to get the blood flowing, which stopped every time she released it. She had me tensing my legs and then squeezing a ball to encourage the flow, but all this achieved was for the blood to progress three inches or so with each compression.

Lets face it.

A first time donor shouldn’t have to pump his own blood out. So, in the end I had the constant company of three cheerful nurses, rotating in turns, twisting the needle to a just-so position and holding it there, so the blood continued uninterrupted to the bag below me.

And people were lapping me.

New faces were sitting down and having a needle inserted, filling their bags with gusto. Then they were off to my right having a brew and a biscuit and leaving, shaking their heads and casting disapproving glances at me, still reclined, taking up manpower, stubbornly refusing to complete my donation.

I think some 40 people filed past me have successfully donated, transferred to the brew area, then left. Jane having put up with the “I’m obviously a special blood Type” conversation earlier, was sat frowning in my direction (I noticed she didn’t hesitate to have 3 brews and a table of biscuits) while I sat in my chair being siphoned off.

She was mouthing things at me across the room, while holding a coffee in one hand and (another) biscuit in the other.

Are you taking the piss?

No.

Are you going to be long?

(Lean over to look at the bag of half empty blood after 3 hours pumping)

(sigh)

Could be a while.

(Rolls eyes)

Your taking so LONG.

Its because I’m special.

(catty smile from Jane)

Special. Yes. A special dickhead.

(me, roll eyes)

Its not like your starving. Have another pack of biscuits. Fatty Bum-Bum.

It degenerated from there

The only redeeming factor, I have to say, is that the nurses were very pleasant, and the chairs you find yourself seated in while donating are very comfortable. Plenty of room to swing your legs in those.

Unlike the seat I found myself sitting in for my holiday flight.

As a kid, seeing a WW2 Lancaster bomber flying over  en-route to an air show seemed common place. That and the beautiful Spitfires and Hurricanes with their distinctive Rolls Royce engines. There was always a “Whoooooooaaa!” round-eyed open-mouthed moment as they flew with that deep drone, overhead. I was born at a time where I was young enough to take on board that the effects of WW2, still held a distinctive memory to the generation that took part in that conflict. And to see the planes of that era rumbling overhead, flying in formation, always touched some deep inside me..

I don’t even know how I could impress upon anyone what seeing those aircraft did to me. My grandad had fought in that conflict and been one of the fortunate few to come out the other side unscathed. And stories he impressed upon me were always of what people had had to overcome with sheer determination and stoic heroism.

Those bone shaking aircraft had always seemed an iconic reflection of that traumatic time to me.

What dragged my train of thought down this path was the holiday flight. It was the images of the Lancaster Bombers that initially came into my mind, as they flew on their legendary low level bombing raid on the Mohne,  Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany, using Barnes Wallis’s “bouncing bomb”.

That low level bombing raid, rocked by flak and turbulence,  struggling to maintain control long enough to deliver the pay-loads and get back home safe. It sounds an extreme comparison but bear with me.

The old lady in front was adamant she was going to stretch all 4 foot of her self in a prone position, in an effort to avoid a blood clot in those vein riddled legs. So having spent an uncomfortably cramped flight, with said woman, reclining her seat luxuriously so her kindly smiling head sat almost in my lap, I was aching to get off the aircraft and stretch my legs.

The clot making its way to my heart, on the other hand, would confirm what the old lady knew. That a leg free trip was the best way to travel.

Looking out of the window of the plane as we began our descent, I spotted a tiny Island off to our right and as we cruised past it I pointed it out to Jane.

“Blimey, look at that tiny place down there. Have you seen the size of that airport? Its dinky!”

The tail end of the island had a narrow strip of tarmac that looked like a thin, very short brush stroke from this distance. The lack of run-way was exaggerated  by the view of  the rocks that tumbled away from the run-way at either end,  disappearing into the sea.

“Christ almighty.  Bet that would be a hairy landing.”

“I know, I wouldn’t fancy that place! It looks like you would run straight off the end!” added Jane.

Just then the Captain broke in.

“For those of you with the splendid view to our right, I’m sure your all aware of Skiathos on that side. If you look carefully you can actually see the run-way!  We’re just going to go past it then swing back round to lose enough height so we can come in to  land. The runway is a trifle short. It may be a touch bumpy landing..”

I was already fastening my seat belt in a complicated knot, and frantically punching the seat of the old lady in front trying to get enough room to get my head between my knees.

The little old lady in front obviously aware of my discomfort slowly adjusted her seat to an upright position and turned around to look over her glasses, and said with a gentle, and more importantly, completely relaxed smile and said,

“Don’t worry dear, You’ll be fine. I’ve been here lots of times and the trick is to make sure your body has been rested during the flight here….”

At this point mind, the sudden shift in the old lady’s seat had returned circulation to my legs and they were cramping and spasming so one leg was kicking out like I had a neurotic goose step.

“Omg  Jane! OMFG!! Where’s my life jacket! I can’t find my life jacket!!  Old lady move your seat!! Move your fucking seat!! Don’t smile at me you old bastard!!! DON’T FUCKING SMILE AT ME!! Its alright for you – you’re half-way dead anyway you old witch!!”

I should have remembered from the previous two visits I had made to the island about the run way. But I had forgotten.

We circled away, with the island sliding from our view as we turned, preparing to land. The pilot must have began to reverse his thrusters as we descended because the noise of the engines increased as we dropped lower. Out of the window the Island appeared much closer and passing by much faster. Then with the nose still tipped up the tarmac appeared below us and it was as if the pilot was aware of how little runway was available to him, because it suddenly seemed as though he slammed the undercarriage of the aircraft onto the ground in an effort to get it down quickly.

It actually felt as though we bounced along several times, the nose still up in the air, before he managed to lower the front end of the plane onto the tarmac which was hurtling past, and begin applying the brake. I was acutely aware of how short the runway was and the fact that to over-run it meant landing in the sea. The sheer noise of the plane trying to stop before we shot off the end only heightened in my mind how little runway there had looked to be from our fly-past.

It was the noise of the plane thundering and rattling along trying to slow down that put the Lancasters in my mind. Looking wide eyed to my left across the aisle with the noise of the aircraft trying to stop filling my ears, I spotted a lady gripping the handle on the headrest of the seat in front of her, legs braced on the floor and a rictus-teeth-baring- grin on her face. Then I noticed almost everyone else in similar states around me.

It was only as we continued to judder and bounce along the runway, with the Airport buildings fast sliding by on our right, that I reflected, at times like this seeing an anchor tied to a rope, appear flung from the front of the aircraft, bouncing along until it snatched a hold on the ground could only reassure me.

Gradually though we were slowing down and as we did I realized I was in the same posture. Probably with slightly more sweat involved though, with possibly whiter knuckles.

We had seemingly reached the end of the runway, and I mean the end of the runway because the only place available to us at this point was the turning circle which separated us from the sea. Any further and we would be sliding down inflated slides, pulling cords on life jackets and blowing whistles.

And trampling old lady’s to death with no remorse what-so-ever.

We boarded our coach outside which was slightly late. And as it arrived – this always amazes me – homeward bound people are trying to get off to claim their luggage, their flip-flops making sad, slow, slap-slap noises, as they made their way slowly to remove their cases. While the new-arrivals are literally bustling them out of the way in a rush to force their luggage on board and start their holiday.

It’s like a collision of moods. A wide spectrum ranging from bustling, hyper excitement and impatience from the new arrivals clashing with the misery, dragging feet of the departees, with impatience – being the only common denominator.

The rest of the journey to the apartments was uneventful bar one point. I sadly realized I would never recognize a boyhood dream and become a member of Thunderbirds and fly Thunderbirds 2.

It was as we finally boarded the coach and were on our way that my Thunderbirds epiphany struck. There was a hand rest situated at the side of the seat, tucked down out of the way to allow passengers to enter the seat un-encumbered.

We were instructed to lift this into place as we left the airport to help secure passengers and stop them rolling into the aisle. Could I get this thing up? No. No chance at all. I yanked, I pulled, I twisted, all under the watchful eye of the young man opposite me. I became more flustered as I tugged at it, becoming aware of other people – who had successfully lifted their arm rests into place – watching me with the look of pity reserved for suffering half-wits. And all the time I had Jane whispering smugly over my shoulder,

Window-licker“.

In the end, the young man opposite could take no more. He leaned over and took hold of the handle and rolled it out into the aisle in a curling motion so that it rolled up and back in towards me, coming to rest with a “click” in its final position.

I muttered my thanks and turned to look out of the window on my side, and brusquely began pointing out to Jane, leaves, sky, the sun, a limping dog, a cat and all the time avoiding eye-contact with her.

As I sat glaring out of the window I finally had to face facts.

thunderbirds2

In the time it would take for Thunderbirds 1 and 3 pilots to race down secret subterranean tunnels, to be deposited in their aircraft, to fire up the thrusters and flick an array of switches, adjust head sets as they took off in a burst of noise and flame, rocketing off to rescue who-ever, I would be sat in my underground enclosure, listening to the comms of the departing Thunderbird 1 and 3.

“Thunderbird 1 is a GO!”

“Thunderbird 3 is a GO!”

While inside Thunderbird 2 I would be revving the engine, spinning the steering wheel and finally shouting,

“Where the fuck, is the GO button?”

I would still be where they left me, as those distant heroic pin-pricks rapidly re-grew in size as they returned, dropping down on landing pads, suspensions compressing as they absorbed the weight of the aircraft, mission accomplished, lives saved.

Driven by two dummies, all square-jawed and dimpled chinned..

While I would be attaching jump leads to a door-nob just for the look of the thing.

The bastards.

thunderbirds

It was obvious, I just didn’t have the right stuff to be a Thunderbird 2 pilot…

Jane and I had been looking forward to eating out at a variety of good food venues during our stay. The area where we were staying on the island was called Troulos, and there’s no real center to the place. Its kind of scattered over an area which adds to the lovely quiet about the place. There is a main road that runs the length of the island travelling from the airport, skirting the islands modern capital Skiathos town, then running along the coast with tributaries of various roads leading in-land, over the tops of the hills to other parts of the island.

You could only get to these points if you hired a car or moped really. Any minor road that feeds off the long coast road goes almost vertical within 25 yards of leaving the main drag. These roads would be too inaccessible and those places on the other side of the island too far to walk otherwise.

A regular bus service travels along the main coastal road, stopping at the small venues along the way. It runs from the bus station in Skiathos town, terminating at the opposite side of the island at koukounaries, a curving beach about a mile long of pure fine sand and crystal clear aqua-marine water.

Its an incredibly beautiful spot, if a little crowded with sun loungers, as you can imagine, it attracts a lot of visitors.

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Our main aim during our stay was not to stress over our son, Callum, who was home alone looking after Ben, our rescue dog. I initially had had many reservations about taking on board a pet and only did so after hurrying along the holding pens at the dogs home and seizing upon Ben because,

A. He was huddled up in a corner completely silent, very skinny and sad looking, and surrounded by manic, bouncing yappers,

and

B. The cone around his head and sticky-out teeth really made me laugh.

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So when we took him home with said cone round his noggin, and (we discovered shortly after) he had a kennel cough that left him hacking and firing flem all over the shop. At this point I was very (alone in being) concerned we had made a huge mistake. But as his health improved, the cough and flem cleared, the cone of shame came off and licking his balls must have had a cheering effect because he settled in no time and became a very pleasant dog indeed..

I have to admit, his border terrier cross looks, prominent bottom jaw and him often being the first member of the house to be genuinely pleased to see me, touched a nerve, and I gradually felt it wasn’t such a mistake after all.

I now feel that although he is – undoubtedly – a retard at heart, (You wouldn’t want to be stuck down a well looking up and seeing his furry face silhouetted against the sky and discover he was your only chance of a rescue)

(Get help Ben! Help Ben! GET HELP – Ahaha. Oh Jesus – I can’t take those sticky out teeth seriously – Get help you stupid dog!!)

(vacant look)

I have come to accept he is a part of the family.

So we were relieved that our daughter Holly stayed the first week, then my sister Kerry who I have frequently written about (See all the French blogs Ostrich heaven, Bush Trimmer, Vive Le Garlic and many more) stayed the second week that we were away.

So we could relax without fear of coming home to a canine equivalent of a new gold-fish, and just concentrate on lazing around, eating out and visiting old haunts from our previous visits to the island.

One of those places was Nectar and Ambrosia and its lovely proprietor Aspa.

Last time we came to the island some 5 years earlier we had read reviews about the restaurant, set up on the hill side with views across the valley. We only visited it on the final part of the holiday and regretted not going sooner immediately.

Aspa is a bubbly, urgent lady, constantly bustling round her restaurant checking up on her customers. There’s a slightly breathless anxious edge to her as she hovers around each table, with a flurry of queries, checking everything is ok with your meal. Which is incredibly sweet when you finally have the opportunity to tell her just how fantastic the food is and see how much it means to her. The end of your meal is often accompanied by Aspa bringing over her latest creamy concoction of a desert, which she would place between Jane and I with two spoons to accompany it.

For all my protestations that I was full, I wouldn’t be able to resist it for long, and as I would watch Jane savouring each mouthful I would have to snatch up a spoon and a race would then follow to make sure we each had a fare share.

Obviously Jane always won.

But what also added to Aspa’s restaurant were the sweeping views of the valley across the area of Troulos. The 50 steps that led up to the dining area were well worth the effort, when you sat down and began to take the rewarding panorama of the clear blue sky against the verdant green of the hills, which seemed to become more prominent as the sun set beyond them.

I can only say out of the 14 days we spent there I think we ate there some 7 times. And only a hand full of times at other places scattered around the area. Highly recommended.

Our holiday I have to admit was spent either lazing around on Troulos beach, doing next to nothing, or we were in Skiathos town sat at our favourate crepes bar on the high street or wandering the surrounding narrow alleys that had signs scattered around warning that all mopeds and other vehicles were banned from the narrow streets.

Only, in a fabulously quirky way, we discovered almost a herd of those very vehicles weaving through the crowds of people in those narrow areas in a fabulous two-fingered salute to bureaucracy.

From there we would head back to Troulos and the beach situated there to sunbathe, snorkel, and people watch..

There was an extremely large lady who was staying at our accommodation with her friend who had tried to latch onto Jane and I some days earlier. I have to admit I’m not the most sociable person on holiday. I like to relax and observe people and see what they get up to, but not actually get involved very often. I like to watch life and little pockets of it happening around me, from the life guards chatting up the young women, mum’s and dad’s trying to occupy the kids, to the Germans who sunbathe stood up talking at the edge of the sea.

While all us lazy Brits are lay flat out all over the sand like so many sea-lions.

What I became aware of was that the really seriously organized German actually strikes a pose, stands stiffly to attention, chest out, with knuckles on hips, eyes closed, soaking in the sun.

Its quite impressive.

I do enjoy observing people. Its why I write these blogs.

It was as I was fishing that I caught sight of these two ladies entering the center of the beach, then recognized the larger of the two as the lady from our apartment, walking puffing and panting, with obvious difficulty due to her size. She was wearing a large pair of shorts and enormous baggy tee-shirt. A hat sat on her head protecting her short back and sides from the sun.

I am kind-of ashamed to say I hoped she didn’t recognize us. I was happy casting away in the sea, trying to avoid getting a bite and I really didn’t wanted any company and polite conversation.

I have to admit I was surprised she had managed the walk to the beach from the apartment at all, as it is a reasonable distance. My heart fell somewhat when I realized she had spotted Jane and I, and was making a bee-line for us. I chose to continue fishing and not notice her arrival, or her placing her towels next to ours, or engaging Jane in conversation or her making her way behind me, or, lighting up a cigarette and blowing the smoke across me.

It was only as I went to recast that I turned and found her sat ensconced directly behind me perched on the rocks.

“Am I in your way?” She asked, balancing herself on the rocks behind me, gesturing at the space with her cigarette.

Well. Actually. Yes! I’d say 3 foot behind someone blowing smoke over them as they try to fish IS a mite fucking close..

Was what I wanted to say, but Jane is always telling me to be more tolerant with people so I looked to her for reassurance only to see her abandoning me and swimming out to sea.

“I have to sit down, see? I can’t lie down because I can’t get back up..”

I resigned myself to small talk, realizing she wouldn’t last long on the beach as she wouldn’t be able to stand up for long either. In the end I excused my self and went over to my towel to lie down and read, keeping an eye out on jane now some 300 yards out to sea treading water.

I think the lady finally got the message and left me to read, while she changed positions on the rock smoking away. Her friend kept inquiring if she was ok in a resigned voice to be told “I don’t know why we came to the beach, You know I can’t lie down. It’s hot too..”

In the end even her friend had enough and went off to wade along the shore weaving in and out of vertically static Germans.

I just continued to fix my eyes on my book focusing my attention determinedly, while keeping one eye on and Jane wishing she’d head back in and help me pass the strained moments. Which she finally did and I watched her progress with anticipation until she came within 50 yards of the beach and swiftly turned and swam briskly back out to the 400 yards mark like Johnny Weissmuller.

I just thought “come onnnnnn” until a movement from my new large friend caught my eye and I turned to look. Only to find she had stripped down to a huge pair of speedo-like bottoms and now stood with her back to me, with no top on and two huge pancake like breasts like burst air-bags, hanging from under her arms.

It took a matter of moments for Jane to find me frantically treading water alongside, wailing to her,

My eyes Jane! Are they Bleeding??? I think they’re fucking bleeding!!!!”

Our evenings were spent at either Aspa’s restaurant or at various others, tending to head down to Christakis’ bar where I met Nikos.

Nikos was the bar tender.

King of the cocktails, the bar he worked being situated outside by the pool.

Its the perfect place to be on those hot nights. Out in the fresh air as the evening gradually cools down. I love the low lighting and slight breeze that creeps across the pool area. And as I’ve found almost all over Skiathos, there are always a contingent of cats, wandering in and around the place.

But back to Nikos. Talking to him I discovered the holiday season was a non-stop work routine for him from the initial start of the break time to its end. It was a 24/7 existence.

Once it was over he would spend the winter months himself either travelling or on his fishing boat just enjoying himself.

Not a bad existence you have to agree.

“Mike what are you drinking?”

He would ask as I settled at his bar outside.

“Tonight Nikos, a Cocktail I think! Mojito! That’s the one for me!”

And he would set to mixing a number of items to form my drink.

Crushed Ice in a glass, sugar, lime juice, lemon juice, chilled club soda, light rum and the all important sprigs of fresh mint leaves.

He would set to mixing then wander along the flowers poolside, fish out the mint, chop and drop into the drink. A quick shake and it was served with a flourish, that always putting me in mind of a Flamenco dancer, as he finishes the routine with a foot stamp and click of fingers.

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It was first name terms early on, and a friendly shout during the day if you were passing by.

In the mean time it was full on work, late nights at the bar dealing with this weeks tourists. And I have to say you never felt like you were part of a temporary visiting group, there to be milked for your money.

It was always a lovely warm personal greeting from Christakis – who owned the bar and apartments behind. He would make his way around the bar and pool area during the night greeting the people there. I happened to mention to him my daughter Emily had visited his bar regularly a couple of years earlier with her boyfriend Vinny.

“Ah! Emily! Vinny! He didn’t drink? Yes? Come with me, see over here!”

And he led me off to his computer by the bar. Switching it on he turned it to his website.

“There! See? Emily!! Ha! Your Emily yes?”

And it was. It was the sincerity of Chris that sold me. To have remembered my daughter two years on made me realize how much each person that came to his bar meant to him.

Back at the bar I discovered a liking for Mojitos. And even though there was an awful lot of effort in mixing the drink I had a acquired a taste for, Nikos was backwards and forwards uncomplainingly over the next few nights, plucking mint and mixing drinks, while they went down like lemonade.

It was only towards the final few nights that I was again sat pool side with Jane, slumped in my chair contentment marred by the fact we were due to leave in a matter of days.

Nikos caught my eye with a quiet moment at the bar. The raised eyebrows asked silent question.

Another Mojito?

Why not.

And he set off to pluck the mint.

As I sat watching him mix it, another movement caught my eye. It was one of the cats wandering over by the mint plants, that slow snaking movement, tail erect, back arching as it rubbed itself up against anything and everything. It was with dawning comprehension that I realized what was happening over at the mint pot.

I think it was Nikos placing my drink down with his usual flourish that snapped me out of the opened mouthed stare as I witnessed what the cat was doing.

“For you Mike! Your favourate drink! Cheers!!”

There was nothing for it. I took hold of the straw and took a good pull on my drink and had to admit, what the hell it was as good as ever.

Because I didn’t have the heart to turn it away after watching the enthusiasm he put into the mixing of those drinks for me personally. I must admit it still tasted good.

After all, I hadn’t tasted the cat piss in any of the others..

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I must admit I took a particular shine to Nikos, he was just such good company. The hug I got off him when we called in to say farewell really touched me. He was just such a nice sincere person.

So if you read this Nikos, please, have a Mojito and think of me.

But for Christ’s sake, wash the mint mate.

Finally in this epic blog, I come towards the end.

I have to say, it was just so nice being alone with Jane, having the opportunity to just spend time with each other. Its something that makes me a little sad the more distant the occasion becomes and the normal rush-around existence of being home reasserts itself.

She often complains that I don’t paint her in a good light in these blogs.

“You always call me “The Wife” ” she informs me.

But I love jane very much.

Very much.

And think we have been fortunate in having developed a wonderful relationship over the passing years. I just happen to believe she’s only happy when she’s wagging a finger under my nose and telling me off for:

having too much to drink/saying something I shouldn’t/not giving blood fast enough/breathing

Laughing in her face as she berates me only fans the flames and then she discovers she can’t walk and talk and wag her finger all at the same time and she grinds to a halt in the middle of a street to really impart some abuse.

It makes me smile just to think of it.

I have to admit I antagonize her to breaking point just so she has to stop and frantically finger wag and make me listen to her..

But, she’s my Jane. And I wouldn’t be without her.

You won’t be surprised to know, she dictated most of these last few lines.

You’ll also be interested to find out that I received the results back from my blood donation a week or so after giving my arm-full. All the effort I went through to fill up that bag, literally pumping my own blood from my arm was worth it. The 3 nurses who hovered over me taking turns to hold the needle just so, to ensure that it continued to flow, must have sensed how special I was.

I began the Nikos blog initially talking about my status as a new blood donor. I know Jane had been determinedly derogatory about my firm conviction that I was “special”, with the possibility of my having a rare “Z” blood group.

I think she had been waiting with anticipation of the moment she could turn to me and say,

“See! You dickhead! Your not special! I told you “Z” doesn’t exist!! You’re just a common “O” group. You couldn’t be more common!!!”

Unfortunately to her surprise (and mine actually) I’m an “A-” which makes me if not completely verging on the endangered list, a damn site more special than Janes blood group. Part of the 6% of the population who is “A-” actually.

Instead I have discovered I am verging on being Spiderman.

It hasn’t gone down well with Jane.

My debit card ID and official letter (to be laminated) declaring my special status, especially catches in her throat.

Jane on the other hand is part of the huge 36% of the population with the same, throw-away-paper-ID, very ordinary, very common, blood group.

Ben has since discovered he has a rarer blood group than Jane.

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I have to end this here as I fear any further comments will only lead to my special blood group being spilled.

All over.

And I’m not sure there are enough matching special donors out there willing to share theirs…

Nikos and His Cocktail Shaker…Part one..

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Its amazing just how quickly something can become a distant memory when you actually return from a great experience. It seemed but moments ago that I was floating on the edge of the sea on Troulos beach in Skiathos, making the most of my final opportunity to soak up the view before I had to return to my accommodation and pack.

Now, slightly more than a week later, I was sat with a nurse who was fiddling with a needle in my arm, trying to draw blood.

This was my first visit to donate blood, having accompanied my wife several times just to keep her company. I had never had any inclination to donate mainly out of laziness I suppose. I think my wife believed that when I passed out in hospital after knee surgery, it had had a lasting effect.

But I have to admit needles don’t bother me, its the effort involved in donating that does. (And that’s bad, considering I’d be lay down through-out with a cup of tea and all you can eat biscuit pile to go at upon completion)

There’ll be women out there who will recognize immediately the syndrome. It’s the terrible “I’m a man” malady.

In an effort at avoiding possible life-threatening energy loss, I would reason it out with Jane whenever she tried to encourage me to donate.

“I can’t. Its because I’m special Jane. My blood is important.”

Why? Whys it so important?”

“Because its mine. (Der) Its probably rare. I’m probably one of those whaddya call it? Rare blood groups, like a Z or something.”

What are you talking about you idiot? There isn’t a Z blood group. You don’t know what blood group you are!!! Your just lazy! Your probably the most common, common blood group – O positive! Anyway if its rare, you should donate!”

“All the more reason to keep hold of it Jane. What if there’s only two of us with a Z blood group? What if they won’t donate theirs? What if they won’t share?? I’ll bet he’ll be happy to take mine though! I’m not giving some bastard all my blood if he won’t give me any of his! I need all I can get for Christ’s sake! I can’t just be handing it out willy-nilly!!!”

Jane’s snort of disgust would be the end of the conversation.

As it was, I had years ago committed myself to The Anthony Nolan trust after hearing about a young child at my sons school who was suffering from Fanconi’s Anaemia – A genetic disorder that tends to lead to suffers developing cancer, often acute myelogenous leukemia, 90% leading to bone marrow failure – she was 5 and they were searching for possible matches in order to help her.

What would you do?

I was happy to go along with everyone else and give blood samples and register with the trust, in order to give this child an opportunity at a possible cure. After all, I only had to look at my own 3 young children and imagine being in the position that this child’s parents found themselves in. As it was I wasn’t a match. Fortunately though, they did eventually find one and last I heard she was recovering after a successful bone marrow transplant.

After that I never thought anything of it. I think deep down the thought of someone drilling away at me for marrow wasn’t over appealing, and in some ways I was relieved to forget about it. So it was with some surprise I received a letter from the trust telling me I was a possible match for some poor bugger.

I went through the pro’s and cons involved in the procedure and I have to say, the last thing I had expected (and secretly fervently hoped I would never be) was to be discovered as a match for someone suffering with such a serious disease.

It meant a couple of days away in London where I would – most likely – be attached to a machine that would draw Stem Cells from my blood to be donated to the recipient. The other procedure would mean being anaesthetized while they drew marrow from me.

What finally sold it for me was I would be in a nice hotel and be paid to do it.

Result.

Until I stopped fooling around and seriously thought about the implications for the desperate person hanging on at the other side of this requirement.

I had to say yes. There was no other option. It was a case of waiting to see if they needed me after I sent confirmation samples of blood off.

After some weeks the answer came back as a “thank you but you’re no longer required”.

I have to admit I was relieved. I also have to admit I spent a good while thinking about the person who had needed the donation.

See, I never discovered if they found a donor for this person so I don’t know if they survived. I don’t know how old they were, or whether they were a man or a woman or a child. But I think the implications of what I was asked to donate, the implications it meant to some desperate anonymous life, finally hit home.

It wasn’t just stem cells, or marrow that you donate to the trust.

It was a chance at staying alive for the person who needs it.

Finding out it was no longer required and not knowing if they had found someone more suitable to donate or whether the person who needed it survived or not, touched a nerve. It was the anonymity I think, that did it.

Knowing that there was someone out there seriously suffering while I and most of the population went about our business without that dread and worry hanging over our lives. What it meant to those families supporting this person, completely powerless to do anything about their illness unless a donor could be found. If it was a child? A wife or a Husband? A brother, a sister, a father a mother..?

Simply forced to watch them travel that road and support them along it until they received the help they required.

Or they didn’t.

Implications that some unknowing healthy person out there could change. For someone.

Anyway, it was due to this that I finally decided to donate blood. And had the conversation with Jane about how special I must be…

We had just returned from our first holiday abroad in 6 years. And I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some three weeks prior to sitting where I was now I was preparing to journey to Greece. Skiathos. A small, very green Island in the Aegean sea. Its some 7 miles long and 4 miles wide and its quiet. Its my third visit and the peace and quiet never fails to envelope me.

Iphone Skiaphos 009

We had spent a busy weekend before travelling visiting both our daughters, Emily and Holly before we went away. Both were at university at either side of the country so it meant a bit of travelling on a bank holiday weekend. We wanted to make sure we spent some time with them before we went, making sure they were both ok and see if either could pop home at some point and check up on Callum.

Also, the reasoning being that if the plane went down at least they both got a hug and a sandwich before we went, and would be aware that Cal was in charge of Ben the dog at home, and he may need feeding by then..

We had had some reservations going, as it meant our first holiday away alone would mean leaving our son Callum home-alone. Now Cal is 17, almost 18, but I think him cooking anything is a recently acquired ability that has plenty of room for improvement. Walking into waves of heat in a swelteringly hot kitchen, with the oxygen all but gone, to find the oven still on and the gas on the hob in the process of melting the extractor, created some reservations.

Him also asking if the dog needed feeding “Everyday?” and being mildly surprised to find this was the case, didn’t inspire confidence

So I had taken to trying to show him how to cook some meals, just so that I would know he would eat something reasonably healthy. And not move into a Pizza shop.

I prepared a Bolognese sauce for him, reasoning that him cooking the spaghetti wasn’t much of an ask and would encourage him to see how easy it would be to prepare something nourishing.

“Ok with this Cal?”

“Yep no problem dad.”

“Spaghetti in pan, add hot water….”

“Dad. I’m not an idiot.”

Fair play son, I thought, and left him to it.

Sat in the other room, I became aware of some frenzied activity coming from the kitchen, a clatter and a banging I wouldn’t normally associate with cooking spaghetti. I mean, Spaghetti in pan, add hot water, boil, drain…How hard can it be? But I was still hesitant about intruding, thinking he just needed the opportunity to organize himself. Lets face it, The sauce was done, ready and waiting, all he had to do was cook the spaghetti.

Finally he was finished and I edged into the kitchen.

“Ok Cal?”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine Dad.”

“Lets see it then?”

He edged over to quickly flourish the plate then began to turn away. I caught a glimpse of a mountain of pure sauce and briefly noticed that poking from under it, were an alarming number blackened, charcoal like strands.

“Jesus Cal! You only had to boil the spaghetti! How did you burn it??”

“It wasn’t my fault! The pan was too small!”

“Too small! It was the biggest bloody pan! Did you leave the spaghetti hanging out? You bloody did didn’t you!”

It didn’t occur to him that the gas didn’t need to be on full, nor that the spaghetti hanging over the lip of the pan ready for the hot water, needed to be encouraged to fold into the pot as he added it. Instead he poured the water in, turned the gas up full, then stood back and began sorting his plate out.

The spaghetti, left unattended, did fold over, over the lip of the pan where it was licked by the flames from the high gas. Finally, over the shoulder of Gordon Ramsay – picking out his favourate fork, it caught fire and went up like so many fuses.. Eventually the smoke or the smell caught his attention. The clatter and banging had been him trying to run the tap on a Tee towel so he could flog the flames out.

He had then broken off the really badly burnt strands and tried to stretch the remainder into a meal.

I had done everything bar stand there and watch it boil. I had Loaded the actual amount of spaghetti in the pan, boiled the water in the kettle, and left him with simple, step-by-step cooking instructions. I was left with the dreadful realization that he was going to be home alone for 2 weeks fending for himself.

Jesus. He was going to burn the fucking house down and kill the dog.

We arrived at the airport ready to forget about everything and just enjoy our break alone. 2 weeks stress-free. Doing, what-ever we wanted to. It had been a long time coming and we were both determined to make the most of it.

The best start to my holiday has always been – for me- arriving early at the airport and getting rid of our bags and just relaxing in the knowledge that we were on our way. We had worked our way through the airport in a snaking queue that I hadn’t encountered before. It led from check-in to security where our hand luggage would be checked prior to entering the departure lounge and duty free area. It was just before we reached the security area that a dawning realization hit me.

I tried to quietly get Jane’s attention before we moved forward and placed our bags on the conveyor belt that would draw our hand luggage into the X-ray machine. Mumbling out of the side of my mouth,

“Jane. Jane!”

“What?”

I’ve got a knife in my bag!”

“What! What are you doing with a knife here?? Who carries a bloody knife in an airport!!!”

“I’ll say its a bottle opener! I have a bottle opener in there too!”

A fucking bottle opener??? Why have you brought a knife you idiot????”

Its only a little knife!!!”

Not the best answer you may agree. But it was. A little knife. A pen-knife in fact. It was the knife I peeled my apple with everyday. But lets face it, in this climate, you’re not going to do yourself any favours by flourishing a blade – big or small – at an airport.

And here I was, stood looking apprehensively at the serious faces of security, their eyes scanning people as they approached the conveyor belt, each person placing a bag on the belt to be x-rayed, and emptying pockets and removing hats and belts. Whilst security hovered, eagle-eyed, looking for potential problems. Just waiting for an alarm to go off so they could leap into action and quietly taser and frog march someone off to a subterranean room where they would be professionally beaten…

In this case me, with my shorts round my ankles, because another thing had occurred to me to heighten my stress levels to nails-drawn-across-blackboard levels.

I was wearing a pair of favourate shorts. The only problem being with them was they had metal buttons. These continuously sheered off and had to be re-sewn on. I had lost the top button from the shorts and had asked Jane a couple of days earlier to sew it back on for me and she had forgotten. So I removed the belt and the shorts automatically began to fall down and I was left clutching them to my waist as I waited to place my bag on the conveyor belt and for my knife to be spotted.

I knew I would be seized, and undoubtedly thrashed in a tiny room until I confessed.

And I would have.

To anything.

And believe me I’d have sold my mother down the river on the way to that subterranean room, never mind admit to the knife. She has no idea how close she came to having MI5 kicking her back door in and hauling her off some where. These people had no idea how much information they would have had out of me over the first 20 feet of assisted shuffled steps. I’d have leaked like a sprinkler, I’d have dropped anyone in it as long as it wasn’t me that ended up in chokey…

I’m too pretty for jail.

So I walked through trying to be pleasant and smiley, hoping I wouldn’t be asked any questions or be searched. Because if I was, I would undoubtedly crack and say the first, most stupid thing that came to mind.

“Ahahaha. I’m not a bloody terrorist you know! I haven’t got a bomb under my jumper! I’ve only got a knife..”

My God, this wasn’t going to end well at all.

Jane obviously thought the same thing because as the guard beckoned me forward, she skipped past me to place her bag on the conveyor belt and hissed,

“Just shut up. They may not notice it. Ican’tbelieveyoubroughtabloodyknife!!!”

I was left goggling at her back as she stepped away and abandoned me, creating some distance between herself and me. It was obvious she didn’t want to impede the security guards when they realized I was armed and charged in to take me down.

My turn followed and I stepped forward to place my bag on the belt, watching it head into the X-ray machine, all the while hanging onto my shorts..

I looked at Jane and mouthed,

My pants are falling down

Jane, further along the conveyor belt, by now removing her bag, just rolled her eyes and visibly stepped further away, then turned to watch with interest.

My imagination was running away with me. All I could picture was myself being restrained with my shorts round my ankles, with security shouting,

“He’s tried to hide it up his arse! Get the gloves on!!”

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My wife having created her bubble of safety, was obviously rehearsing expressions and reply’s. I believe she was prepared to be tearful and state she was forced along at knife-point and could they please save her from the bad man….

I moved through to wait for my bag to come out of the machine and make its way towards my waiting arms. Which it did and just as I reached for it, it slid sideways and down another shoot to a waiting security guard, who beckoned me around everybody else who had successfully navigated their way past the X-ray machine. Have you ever noticed how quickly you become a point of interest to all those who are safely through? I approached her side trying to act like this happened everyday.

Sweat was beading my brow at this point and I was absently wondering if she’d let me remove my inhaler and have a blast on it, letting her know I was asthmatic. My reasoning being she may possible go more gently with her approach before slapping the cuffs on and knocking the crap out of me.

Instead she greeted me with a bright and airy,

“Hello sir! Is this your bag? Is there anything in there that you want to disclose to me?”

“Yes! Yes I do!! I have a knife! Its only a little knife for peeling apples! I’m not going to stab you!! My pants are falling down!! Please God don’t stick anything up my bum!!! There’s nothing up there!! I had a camera up it once! A nurse said it was like a flute!! My wife knew I had the knife!! She’s over there!!!”

Fuck it. If I was going down I’d take Jane with me.

That was the initial jumble of words ready to spill from my mouth. But as she asked me so gently and apologetically, it took the wind from my sails somewhat. Instead I said,

“I have to say, I think my penknife is in there. I’m so sorry I forgot to remove it. I use it at work for peeling my apple everyday!”

(Nudge nudge)

I had Jane poking me, trying to shut me up before my mouth completely ran away with me.

“Ok Sir that’s fine, but I’m really sorry I’m going to have to remove it. You can’t travel on board with this in your bag I’m afraid.”

She said looking up at me.

“What? Is that it? Jesus take the bloody thing! That’s Fine!! Thank you – your so kind…”

(Nudge nudge nudge)

“Phew. I won’t make that mistake again. I’ll buy one over there. Not that I’ll bring it back mind!!”

(Nudgenudgenudge)

“…ah..yes.. ok I’ll just move on then..?”

And finally we made it through to the departure lounge.

Next step, after Jane finished telling me off, all I had to do was get on the plane, fly 4 hours and land at the incredibly short run-way that was Skiathos airport..

The Broad View..Part 3

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We continued our stately progression around the Broads with Captain Pugwash (Nick) at the helm, nursing a blistered armpit and a near death experience from his exploits a couple of days earlier. He had finally ditched his Life jacket after coming close to drowning in it believing – and rightly so – that he could achieve that feat much more efficiently without all the effort involved in having to put it on in the first place.

This meant he could now hold onto the steering wheel without having to get first one handhold, then compress the huge preserver across his chest as he launched his opposing hand onto wheel obtaining a dual grip with the both hands.

Unfortunately it left him perched on the steering seat struggling to maintain a hold with what was in effect a loaded spring across his middle..

It gave the impression of him striking a pose, straining his muscles to maintain his death-grip, leaving him looking like a short, padded orange Arnold Schwarzenegger, but with a much lower center of gravity. The slightly pop-eyed look that accompanied the straining had gone too and normality – or as near to it as we ever managed – returned.

Without the huge life jacket that had surrounded Nick at the helm, there was instantly breathable room on board. You could now pass him with-out having your face pressed against a window.

The other members of the Good Ship Lollypop now simply took to relaxing and watching Nick nod at the wheel as he drove at the regulated snails pace along the river. On board were Winny, Nasher, caddy barny and yours truly.

Everyone occupied themselves as well as they could during what was really a monotonous time during the day until we reached a town we could moor up at, then wander off and find a pub.

I was sharing a room and bed with Caddy as all the single bunks had been claimed which left only this tiny room and built-in bed for Caddy and I. I must admit that I felt a little hard done by as Winny and Nasher were the two smallest in the group and they could have lay like starfish and not touched each other.

Caddy and I on the other hand were forced to drink extra beer in order to go to sleep quickly and avoid coming into contact as little as possible. What I will add is that (from my point of view – Caddy may disagree) each morning we woke up I found Caddy’s arm over my shoulder and him spooning me..

As awareness spread and we both woke up it led to us jumping from bed and coughing with loud manly “Coughs!” and both trying to squeeze past each other into the main cabin through the narrow door, all the time trying not to actually touch and avoiding eye contact.

Uuha! Uuuurrhhhaah!! I think I’ll go do some manly press ups!”

I would say loudly.

“Yes! Press ups! And star jumps or something!”

Caddy would add.

“Yes I’m all for a star jump or two! Like men! Anyone else for star jumps? Anyone?? No? You must be all gay!!!”

“Yes I agree! Gayboys the lot of you!! Can’t do manly press-ups and star jumps? Poofters!!”

Caddy would confirm.

Barny, leaning in the door-way of his and Nicks cabin watching this pantomime, licked the edge of his liquorice paper to complete his morning roll-up, would look over his glasses and ask,

“Caddy been cuddling up to you again Mike?”

“Yes! The big poof! Had his arms all over me! Uuuuurrr!!!”

“I fucking Didn’t!! It was him! He was cuddling me!! He was nudging me in the back!! The Poof!!!!”

“You lying fucker!!! You had a big boner!!”

“I haven’t got a big boner!! No! Wait!! I DO have a big boner!”

Yes! Me too!! Mines a massive boner!!”

And on, until Barny interrupted,

“Yeah, yeah. Calm down girls you’ve both got big boners. Now go do your press-ups.”

flicking the lid off his zippo to light his ciggie in that laconic way he had, like it really wasn’t worth the effort getting worked up over.

So we would, “Harrumph” our way to opposite ends of the boat and stretch manfully avoiding each others eye-line. Which was hard on a 40 foot boat.

But, it was Caddy was spooning me.

The rest of the trip rolled along in what would have been a pleasant way if not for the rain. So we ended up lounging around the main cabin or napping in our own until we could land somewhere and go and have a pint.

Barny as organized as ever, spent his time plotting our route through the broads. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone else to do that until we were eventually so far into the water-ways that we would have had no idea how to get back. What would have ensued then would have been a chaotic abandonment of out craft and a brisk walk across dry land until we struck a road. Then hitch a ride to where-ever to then make our way somehow to our starting point at the boat yard. Only to there inform the harbor master when asked, that,

“No we have no idea where we left your boat mister. On the river near a bend? It definately wasn’t near a road.”

So Mr. Efficient personified took matters into his own hands and was the only one with enough patience to keep coming back to Nick and inform him, 1. Where he was, 2. Which way to go, and 3. Tell him when he could have a toilet break.

Everything had a time-table.

Precise instructions were drafted on paper and ticked off as we reached each way-point. He probably could have guided Nick with his eyes shut and by tasting the water at intervals. He was that organized. He just drifted up behind us while we were at some task and either “Tsk’ed” to let you know you were doing it wrong and could do better, or silently ghosted off to inspect someone else.

It just showed how disorganized the rest of us were really. I’m sure if we had lined up of a morning, after his first coffee and roll-up, he would have tied each of our laces.

It was sickening.

The other two members of the crew were Winny and Nasher.

Now, up until a few years previously both lads had been a similar size. Which was short. Nearly waist high as I recall but I may just remember leaning on someone’s head once. Anyway, Winny managed to have a growth spurt which brought him into the heady hieghts of normality or at least eye-level. Nasher though maintained the status-quo and never quite hit the height burst that Winny did. Staying around the five-and-a-half foot point – but that may be my memory being generous.

Winny must have been drilled by Barny who was probably handing out jobs at the time, because every time we stopped he was first off and tying the boat off or dropping the anchor. You just had to make sure whichever you were using was tied on. The importance of this was highlighted when we stopped to have a pint one lunchtime.

Nick, in his Captain Pugwash role had scraped us to a stand-still alongside a mooring point, allowing Winny to leap into action. He dropped off the boat and tied us off on a mooring point then dashed back onto the deck and dropped the stone anchor over the side.

mooring
The day was gently streaming with rain and Caddy, Nasher and I huddled together on the deck at our pre-ordained exit point, waiting for Winny to complete his tasks and have Barny allow us to evacuate the boat in an orderly fashion.

As we stood watching Winny drop the anchor over the side, I sleepily watched the anchor rope snake over the side, the coil – expertly rolled by Barny – unwrapping with a satisfying zip away across the wet deck. I had about as much time to say

“Uuuh – Uuuuuuhhhh!”

While frantically eye-balling Winny and pointing at the rope slipping away, but unable to actually form the words.

Winny immediately looked back to the rope to see the remaining 6 foot-or-so disappear into the water.

Ohhhhhhhhh sheeeeeeeeeeit!”

“Awwwwwwww Christ Winny! there goes the deposit!”

Justaminute!Justaminute!!”

And he grabbed the boat hook and began fishing frantically in the water trying to catch the end of the rope.

“I can’t feel it! Hang on lets see how deep it is!!”

And with out further a-do he speared the 8 foot boat hook into the water after the anchor, fully expecting to see the remainder of the boat hook protruding from the water. It disappeared without any fuss into the depths with barely a splash, accompanied by the chorous of,

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!”

Winny stood for a few moments, hands on hips staring at the water where it had gone, then started stripping off.

“I can probably reach it with my feet.”

He stripped to his underpants and slid into the water sucking in breaths in the chilly water. Taking care to keep a grip on the side of the boat, he began working his feet around in the water below him, trying to regain contact with the lost hook. Finally, he resorted to pushing himself under the water, extending his body to arms-length below the surface but still unable to reach the hook.

Which when you think about it was sticking 8 foot out of the river bottom, and Winny was stretched six-and-a-half feet into the water with his feet waving around trying to touch it.

It didn’t take long to decide the risk of diving down for it wasn’t worth it.

The following day we finally reached our turning point and began heading home. We had motored through Great Yarmouth swinging away from the foot of the River Yule that ran under a bridge continuing down to the sea. The flood water by now having risen so much that there was little of the arched supports to see. We had left the River Bure and entered the River Yare at its bottom end turning to work across what was a lake-like appearance at this point, until as you reached the far side, it narrowed back down into the more familiar river shape.

We continued on that day and spent the night – as I recall – moored up in Norwich.

The next morning we began to retrace our steps and headed back towards Great Yarmouth. The river had risen noticeably with a fast flowing current carrying us along.

As we steamed back across the lake and headed towards our turning back onto the River Bure, Nick shouted us from our sleepy stupor.

“Theres a boat in trouble! Over there heading towards the bridge!!”

Indeed there was. Another cruiser had developed an engine problem and had lost all power. The occupants were frantically waving and shouting as their boat was dragged towards an inevitable collision with the bridge. You could actually see the current in the water we were on, streaming away down the River Yure and on to the sea.

Pugwash leapt into action and steamed towards them having to finally swing the boat into reverse so we could position our-selves to throw a rope to the other boat. We were all stationed across the back of the boat waiting to get close enough and the opportunity to throw a life-line. Lookinbg down I had a moments unease looking at the water and seeing the powerful current flying past.

As we stood there mentally urging our boat closer Captain Pugwash (Nick) was up front blindly reversing it while we shouted directions to him. At the back of the boat we suddenly became aware of a drumming noise from inside, rapidly heading our way.

As we parted and turned to look, Nasher bulleted out of the rear doors and managed to get a foot on the rear gunwale, before hurling his short frame into the air and flying like a miniature torpedo towards the opposite boat some 20 foot away with a rope between his teeth.

Now Nasher was a passionate rugby player, powerful and unafraid of any opponent, size doesn’t daunt him. He showed he had the heart of a lion as he streaked from the cabin clutching the rope – and carrying salvation.

He’s not the tallest person and had often taken some serious ribbing.

He was a doppelganger of Tattoo from Fantasy Island, but, undoubtedly braver than the rest of us.

Tattoo

Personally, I’d have let the boat sink and fished them from the water – if they survived.

It was magnificent. He gained height like a falcon, streaking across the space like some modern day short Errol Finn, the rope streaming away behind him.
We watched slack-jawed and followed his progress as he rose into the air like rocket – almost – leaving a vapor trail as he as he passed through the fine rain drops driving on towards the stricken barge.

Only to fall short and bounce off the other boats gunwale and into the water.

The gentleman on the other boat lurched forward as he struck the side of their boat and caught him by the collar as he dropped into the water. he dangled there for a moment as the man fought to drag him on board finally with the help of another person on the opposite boat, Nasher was forcibly drawn from the water.

I honestly have no doubt to this day, that if he hadn’t been caught and dragged on board then we wouldn’t have seen him again. So strong was the current ripping past us.

As it was we spent some breathless moments watching until he was pulled to safety.

The gasps of relief were interrupted by Barny, who, as ever, was the first to take stock.

“You’d have thought,”

He began, clicking open his zippo with that distinctive “K’ting!” and lighting his roll-up, pausing only to take a contemplative look at the run up area and the distance between the boats,

“That he’d have tied the rope off on our side first.”

We turned as one following Barny’s gaze, to look at Nasher who was now triumphantly stood on the other deck waving the rope back at us.

We did manage to drag the boat to safety despite Nasher risking his life.

It was the most entertaining thing we’d seen all week.

The final night found us exhausted but drunk with Nasher still high on his heroic rescue. the subject only changed when we heard a galloping thumping on the boats outside. Someone was running across the boats in the immediate vicinity – heading our way.

There was a solid “Thump!” as someone landed on the rear of our boat, then the door crashed open and Winny struggled in with his arms full.

“Sorted! Got one!!”

“What! Got what??”

“An anchor!!”

He had seen a similar stone anchor on a boat further along and done no more but clambered on board and made off with it.

“So we’ll keep the deposit! Sorted!!”

It sobered us up quite quickly. I don’t think we slept that night, expecting someone to come angrily banging on the door demanding satisfaction.

Instead on our final day, of all days after a week of rain, the sun actually rose, to find us with it, slinking off down the river.

broads2

And home.

The Broad View…Part 2

ship steering wheel

What made us decide to go to the Norfolk Broads on holiday?

We had been sold on an image of lazy days. Of sunning ourselves and stopping at a pub every 1/2 mile or so. Soft sounds of warbling bird song, rustling reeds, whispering their music and water lapping against the hull, as we made our way through the river by-ways, lulling us to doze on the deck under blue sky’s framed by greenery and warmed by the heat of the summer sun. Returning home with a new perspective and completely relaxed.

What we were actually faced with as we descended from our final train after an epic journey into Norfolk was, rain.

And lots of it.

All varieties of rain too. From big droplets landing heavily, to fine drifting spray that drifted where it would as there wasn’t any real wind to carry it.

There was more water in the air than there was in the river.

And this was just the prelude to what was to come during that weeks holiday.

We had been fitted with our life preservers and set free upon the river, scrambling aboard in a rush of bodies for the tiller, dropping ruck-sacks willy-nilly in order to fight for the right to drive our new toy.

Captain Ahab (Nick) took to his role with a vengeance. He had barged through the mass of fighting bodies and commandeered the wheel by forcing his oversized life preserver that encompassed his frame through the brawl and landing a hand on the steering column.

Awareness spread that someone had gained control on the driving seat as he sat revving the engine with its deep throated rumble. We were forced to cluster, grumbling around him in a tight knot of eyes, trying to follow what controls he used and understand how the boat was driven. We were in a group tightly surrounding him, all still clad in our regulation life jackets, like a group of tangerine Meer-cats, eyes following his every move, just waiting for the opportunity to force him from the steering pedestal and replace him at the helm.

Instead, Nick in his previously described only-one-that-would-fit over-sized life jacket, had sat on the seat and literally inhaled the supporting chair inside his preserver so his legs dangled from an invisible support.

It was like having an orange barrel envelope the seat with only a pair of stumpy legs swinging either side. What portions of his arms that could protrude, he was using to force the spongy jacket together across the chest like a concertina to allow him to get a death-grip on the steering wheel. He sat straining to maintain his hold like a loaded spring just waiting to go off.

I think it was gradually sinking in that now, he simply daren’t release his clutch on the wheel. If he had been forced to let go suddenly, the resounding action would have exploded him into a spin that would have drilled him through the hull. At some point he would have to let go and there was a crowd of bodies around him just waiting for the opportunity to take his place.

Willpower forced him to put on a cheery grin, although he was looking slightly desperate and beads of nervous sweat were popping on his brow as he made the engine give a low growl and offered,

“Lets see what this baby can do!”

And he revved the engine to max and forced it into gear. All eyes turned to the fore-deck and the view beyond as he gunned the throttle forward. We all braced ourselves expecting the front of the boat to rear out of the water as we sped away up the river. But what we were actually faced with was a placid paced 5 mph putter along the water-way, and eyes strained towards the river disappearing around a bend in the distance.

We all stood for a few moments staring ahead as it suddenly dawned on the group that the bend was some 70 yards in front and it was coming towards us at the speed of growing grass.

The silence grew.

“Does er, does anyone else want a go?”

Queried Nick.

“Well, Nick and I have the room at the front.” Came Barnys voice into the contemplative silence.

Typically, Barny, with his normal view of the bigger picture and immediate comfort, had slid away from the fighting and claimed prime bunks for himself and Nick.

There then followed a rush of bodies around the boat trying to claim they’re sleeping positions on board. It ended with Winnie and Nasher at the rear on single bunks, Barny and Nick at the front in an enclosed room again, with single bunks and Caddy and I stood leaning into the narrow doorway of a tiny room on the side of the craft peering at a small double bed crammed into the claustrophobic space.

“I’m not being funny here, and I know your not gay, and you know I’m not gay, but I’m putting a pillow between us tonight.” I said eyeing Caddy.

“That’s Fine! Gayboy! I was going to use 2!!”

“Good!”

“Anyone fancy a go at this driving malarkey?”

Nicks voice called hopefully from the front to anyone prepared to listen.

A quick look through the fore window showed the bend 3 yards closer 25 minutes since we last looked.

“Really. Its great fun! Anyone? Anyone?? I really need to let go of this wheel! Hello?? I need to pee! Fuckit you bastards! I’m peeing here!”

“Pee-away pal! Its a boat! Its meant to get wet!”

His wails fell on deaf ears. We simply abandoned him at the wheel. Sooner or later his white-knuckle grip would give way, and he’d explode from his position. Of course we’d carefully pick him up from where he landed then reload his exhausted body back onto the seat and gaffer tape his hands to the helm..

Nick

The idyllic holiday we planned never really arose. The rain dictated what we could and couldn’t do. And it wasn’t much. By the second day we became aware that the surrounding water levels were rising significantly. So-much so that each time we pulled into a wooden docking station, we realized that the actual boardwalk was under a couple of inches of water. What followed were long days closeted on board the boat, whose space gradually became more and more confining. And any distraction became all encompassing.

The first time we pulled into a station to fill up with water and empty the soil tanks, Nick, after docking the boat, managed to release his grip on the wheel with out too much drama and rub life back into his eyeballs. He struggled to un-insert himself from the seat, still clad in his life-jacket which he had worn ever since boarding. In fact taking the instructions about wearing it to new levels and actually sleeping in it.

He walked stiffly into the rain to watch us tie-up in preparation of pumping the tanks clean, then waddled to the edge of the boat to inspect the water level dockside, his movements completely restricted by the over-large orange jacket. The preserver made him look like he only had stumpy little arms and legs so out of proportion was it to his frame. Which he did anyway but this made it look stumpier.

I could see him weighing up the distance from the edge of the boat to the dock then held my breath as he hopped off the boat with the intention of dropping cat-like to the quay-side.

Winny had finally secured the rope and turned as Nick decided to drop onto the decking. He stood dumb-founded as Nick landed like a canon-ball, his flip-flops aquaplaning from under his body and he skidded off along the boardwalk toward Winny some 700 feet away, gradually going over backwards, his declining torso accompanied by the sound of his flesh making a tearing zipping noise along the mooring rope.

This was the only thing near enough to him to prevent his fall, and he had scrabbled at it for purchase as he slid and only managed to lock it under his armpit against his body in his desperate attempt to stay up-right.

All he managed to do was water-ski along like a large Jaffa orange, achieving a ripping, zip-wire noise and accompanied by the smell of cooking bacon.

Unfortunately the result was inevitable and he landed flat on his back in 6 inches of water looking like a stranded turtle as he rolled either-way yelping in the over size life jacket trying to get himself up-right. There was a sizzling hiss and dispersing smoke from his armpit as the water put out the beginnings of a fire.

“Me arm! Aiiii!! Jesus Christ Me armmmmm!!”

We simply stood by and laughed.

Sympathy in such situations is a commodity in short supply where boredom rules the day. And we were very bored. It hadn’t stopped raining and cabin fever was starting to set in. Any diversion was welcomed. So it was with some enjoyment we gathered on the edge of the boat, rolling around against each other, to watch him thrash his way to his feet, and alternate between splashing water on the smouldering armpit and sucking on his fingers in an attempt to relieve the pain.

There was nothing else for it. We hauled him aboard and re-installed him back at the helm.

As the trip went on we were resigned to the fact that it just wasn’t going to stop raining. So being already wet decided to have a swim anyway.

This was decided upon returning from having a liquid lunch.

All the best ideas arise at such times.

We returned to the boat and quickly changed, climbing onto the roof of the cabin preparing to jump into the river. Captain Pugwash (Nick) clambered topside clad in his ever present life jacket and after rolling around a few times managed to find his feet. Then it was a case of goading each other to see who would go in first. This was finally decided when Nick simply rammed me off the boat and into the water. I sank like a stone into inky darkness and hit the bottom. I had a slightly panicky moment when I discovered that my feet had sunk up to the calves in thick mud. Some frantic wrenching brought me free and I popped to the surface and swam round the boat to clamber out of the river and onto the deck.

Nick now pre-occupied watching everyone else in the water didn’t even see me coming as I ran up behind him and launched him into the water and he was swallowed into the depths with a shout and a “Splosh!”

I stood above where he had disappeared laughing. This finally trailed away to some concern when he didn’t surface and all I could think of was my momentary predicament on the bottom in the mud. I was just preparing to jump in after him when he rocketed to the surface and bob up and down several times like a huge orange float, sucking in desperate lungful’s of air. He spluttered out a short staccato of words each time he popped up like it a broken telegraph message,

Mudddddddddddd! Jesussssssssssssss!”

Fuckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk-”

Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-”

Jackettttttttt!”

“-tofuckinbiggggggg!!!-”

Ican’tget-”

Ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut!!!!!!!!!”

Until it finally became apparent that the Life jacket was so big – as he finally stopped bouncing up and down and settled in the water – that as he came to a rest he sank into it.

He was forced to clutch at the collar which had done its job and floated. But With Nick too short to fit it he was left with his head under water and his arms waving around above trying to clutch at the collar and drag it far enough down so that his head could reach the surface.

Finally, there was no other alternative, we had to drag him on board again.

The good thing was it did finally convince him he could take off the jacket and actually drive, sleep and drink in the pub without it on.

He has though always maintained his preference for the colour orange. I think its subliminal. I’m not sure he’s aware he likes it so much.

After he recently got run over cycling to work, looking like a small sun, wearing, the brightest, orangest jacket on the planet, he may at last rethink his colour choices.

Nick in Orange
(Nick prior to being flattened by a Stevie Wonder driver)

After all, Illuminous green is IN.

Unfortunately this story has gone on longer than I expected.

I haven’t managed to cover Nashers heroics saving a fellow traveller, or Winny and the anchor, and the less I say about waking up to finding Caddy spooning me the better.

Part 3 to follow..

The Broad View..Part 1

manchester

There are moments in our lives when a smell or a sound or a place can bring memories flooding back. You just have to take some time out to think of what they may be and it opens all kinds of doors. I was fortunate to have a group of friends that I grew up with, went through school with and basically all we experienced or discovered early on in our lives, we did in one or the others company. We shared our highs and lows and laughed an awful lot together.

I try to remember the good parts in my life, the points where I found humour in a situation. The times where back then may not have been too funny but looking back now, are, just because it was so unbelievable. I find some things much funnier now than they ever were then. I think that comes with growing through life and realizing that the stresses and strains of yesterday were never, in retrospect, as great as I feared. But that realization is only reached with age and experiencing things that truly are difficult to deal with.

I think as time passes its easy to remember good times as great, and the not so good moments, the actual severity of those situations actually fade somewhat. It has to – or you’d never move on.

Whether that’s down to a personal view of past situations or not I can’t say. But on the whole I prefer to look at the things that have made me laugh when I reminisce or find a shiny thread of point in a memory that I can look back on and think

“Well, really, that unbelievable situation was funny when you look at it now..”

Most things are if you get the right spin on it.

One of my first “grown up” holidays, one I went on with friends rather than family took place some 27 years ago, 1987 with a group of lads I had known through-out my early years.

afflecks1

It was the time of Afflecks Palace on the corner of Church street when a bargain really did exist. 501’s were the rage, worn with a turn up on the leg. Long overcoats. The Cave shoe shop on Cross street that was mostly goth gear but sold some fabulously suede winklepickers. Corbierres Wine Bar off St. Anns square, down a little side alley and some winding stairs to a cave-like bar. Sitting and rolling Old Holborn ciggies in liquorice paper that had an aroma all its own. Then spending the next 10 minutes first smoking it, then picking bits of tobacco out of your teeth.

Loved it.

U2 in their pomp, with The Joshua Tree tour in full flow. Manchester was THE place to be with bands breaking onto the scene all the time. The Smiths had “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” and “The World Won’t Listen” out, The Stone Roses “Sally Cinnamon” and “I Wanna Be Adored” to name but a few, were in all our thoughts. Billy Bragg with political ideals and raw music that was like a sugar rush to idealistic teens. The Housemartins were in the charts. It was a band I had seen not long before at The International club in Manchester with the same friends arriving late and catching only the last few tracks of the then little known support band, The Proclaimers.

Who were unbelievable live.

The twins came to stand on the balcony where we were watching the set after their stint on stage and we took turns to go over and say

“Fantastic music lads! Whats the name of the band?”

And have one of them turn and look at us through their heavy black framed glasses, and say something completely unintelligible in that heavy Scottish accent of theirs.

“Aw great! Thanks lads! Fantastic! Did I say that already? Superb then!” and wander dazed like back to our waiting friends who would ask,

“Well? What did they say? Whats the name of the band??”

“No fucking idea. Couldn’t understand a word he said.”

Dickhead. You just heard them singing! How hard can it be to ask a question? Did you ask??”

“Dickhead yourself! You have a go then.”

And the next person would wander over slap them on the back and nearly knock their glasses off with their enthusiasm and have the same conversation.

“Well?” when they came back,

“I not sure, but I think it sounded like he just threatened to kick the shit out of me or something.”

Caddy rolled his eyes.

“Jesus. Wait here ffs.” And off he went.

A few minutes later he was back looking smug.

“The Proclaimers.”

He just stood and basked in the admiration thrown his way.

“You understood what they said?”

And we turned as one to look at the granite faced twins then back to Caddy.

Woooow

“Nope. No fucking idea what he was blathering on about. I asked the girl stood next to them who they were.”

Ah. Why didn’t any of us idiots think of that.

He went far in life Caddy.

I had gone through school with all of them and we were still close enough then to be arranging holidays and have regular nights out together so-much-so that really it was part of our fabric of growing up. Most of what we experienced at the time we did mostly together. This was before University or working life changed some of those relationships due to distance or responsibilities that came with the impact of either. Most of those friendships still exist today, some still close, others tied together with the strands of what we experienced together growing up. Changed, but still there.

So when someone came up with the idea of going on a boat and sailing it round the Norfolk Broads water-ways for a week, stopping only to drink beer at lunch and evenings, well, it sounded like the perfect holiday. Previous holidays together had involved walking up and down remote hills in the Lakes in all weather, carrying everything you needed on your back. Mainly it was wet 90% of the time, with only blisters and banter (when you could catch your breath) to distract you from the weather or the miles, stretching away in front of you,(vertically mostly) to where that nights bed, and nearest pub beckoned. I can’t say those were my favourate holiday venues, the only thing making them worth-while for me, was the company and belly-aching moments of laughter with my friends.

So. It was decided and week of swash-buckling on the Broads beckoned..

pirate flag2

There were 6 of us on this trip. Which involved travelling down to Norfolk to the staging point where we were to pick up our boat and given the do’s and don’ts of life on the river by-ways. Then we would fight over who was going to be Captain and actually drive the boat.

What actually happened was a monumental journey by train that seemed to go on forever. Norfolk wasn’t the easiest place to get to even by road back then. All motorways ended on what felt like the west coast of the country and the journey into Norfolk went via back roads and country lanes involving mules and camels.

With people when asked for directions, rolling a piece of straw between their teeth and saying,

“Arrr? Thee Arr. Thy oo-arr? Arrrrrrrrrrr.”

A lot.

Lots and lots of “Arrrrrrrr’s” and “Oo-arrrrrr’s”.

Our journey into Norfolk was British rails equivalent to the road version.

As I recall it took some 500 trains and changes to complete the journey to I-don’t-know-where-the-fuck-I-am boat yard to collect our boat and begin our own personal Amazons and Swallows moment. The only good points about the journey was the beginning when we were excited, and then the final part where we joined the last train and found it was all private carriages, echoes of another age. It probably was. Stuck in time in the middle of no-where. What I can say is it added a bit of romance to the trip and raised spirits somewhat after a soul destroying journey.

When we finally reached our destination we were shown our new nautical vehicle then given the list of what not to do while on the water. The man giving us the talk was obviously eyeing the 6 young lads he was about to had over a part of his fleet to and was at great pains to impart his rules.

“Thee ‘av ‘an achor. Oo-arr?”

6 heads nod.

“Arrr lads? Life jackets? All times! Oo-arrr? Speeding? 5 to 7 mph. No speeding! Banks washed away! Arrrr??”

Nod.

“Toilet? Needs emptying. Tha’ll all sink if ship’s not emptied but shit’ll float! Oo-arrrr?”

Distracted nods as eye each other and weigh up who’s going to do that job.

“Emptyin’ station”s. All over damn place. Use ’em. Arrr? Arr.”

I of course took no notice what’s-so-ever as there were more responsible members of the group like Barny and Caddy who would look after that sort of thing. Good, sensible lads. Could empty all the shit they wanted for me. I had more urgent things occupying my mind. I was going to be Captain , strike a heroic pose at the helm and issue orders no one would take any notice of.

In the mean time our “Oo-arrr” instructor continued.

“Life-Jackets? Over there. Arr? Try ’em on and get ship shape lads. Arr? Off you go then.”

So we moved like a small herd and clustered round a room rammed full of worn, orange life-preservers and began trying on what this chap passed out as he sized us up. We gradually began to line up, each standing ready to be inspected, each clad in their own personal buoyancy jackets with bits of string dangling in all the wrong places.

Until he finally came to Nick, and eyeballed him while holding a jacket in either hand, looking from either one trying to decide which would best fit.

See, Nick was short and stocky, carrying a bit of weight, all shoulders and no neck, and neither jacket quite fit. The right size for his height was meant for a tall child, but wasn’t wide enough to incorporate both shoulders in the jacket normally. To be able to fit both in meant his arms were clenched back from his torso while his shoulder blades met in the center making him look like he was impersonating a giant chicken. It looked as if a tension spring had given way in his back and yanked his arms behind him and pushed his chest out.
leaving Nick spluttering somewhat.

“Whaaaa.. Whaaa the…??”

There was no way it would fasten and it yawned wide open across the middle, so that a 12 inch gap was displayed across the chest and stomach, and the tie’s wouldn’t stretch across the space to fasten. And the next size life preserver swamped him.

So it was decided in the spirit of health and safety, that the best course of action was to choose the large one because it would actually fasten and it was funny. The collar rose above his head and the jacket encompassed his torso with plenty to spare. So that only his arms from the elbows and legs from the knees down were visible. At least in an emergency he could put it on and we could throw him over board and 3 or 4 clamber on top of him and paddle for the river bank, “Ahoying!” all the way.

preservers2
(Nick center stage)

He’d have been better off with arm bands and a swimming cap.

Finally we scrambled aboard our boat and there was an immediate rush for the steering wheel. Lets just say a scuffle took place over control, but Nick clad in a life preserver that would fit 5 men, barged his way in and created enough space to get concrete grip on the wheel. It was him who took charge of our departure, bouncing it off the dock a dozen times before finally reaching open water and then with a wicked grin and a,

Fuck the rules!”

With a glint in the eye, Nick revved the engine to full throttle, rammed it in gear, and found out just how fast 5 mph was.

Each bend in the river suddenly took on a vastly different perspective and looked a very long-way-away. The first bend alone seemed to have somehow been stretched further away from us all of a sudden.

I think we all stood along side him, gazing ahead for some time, trying to draw the first turn closer by sheer willpower, then exhaustion set in and one-by-one we wilted and wandered off, leaving Nick to it.

It was decided there and then.

Nick was now our Captain and he could drive all he wanted.

ship steering wheel

Part 2 to follow…