Oh Brother, Why Art Thou So Bleedin’ Useless ?


How’s your home printer ? Ok is it? What is it? Dell? HP? Epsom? Canon? Brother ?? no, no of course it’s not a Brother. What sort of complete mug would buy one of those ??

Hello, my name’s Mike, pleased to meet you. I bought a Brother and I am that mug.

My tale is far from short or indeed sweet. An elderly couple contacted me and wanted me to restore an old print of theirs. They wanted a nice tear-free cleaned-up version of their photo, which they would present to a family member as a present. They brought it round for me, avoiding the dangers of Provisional Wing of the Post Office. It was a nice print, had a few tears here and then, would take a little work but would be well within my capabilities as a photo touch-up artist (quiet at the back).

There was one problem however, the print was A3 in size and my kit was A4. I could neither scan the nor print it. Bugger. No matter, my incumbent Hewlett Packard A4 printer was less than brilliant, and more than a little expensive and had been living on death row for some time now. My folks had offered to buy me one for my birthday (October 18th, cheques accepted only with a bankers card) but that was over a month away so I unilaterally decided to go out and buy an A3 printer. Well, if my fledgling business was gonna go anywhere, I needed the kit. It’d be a good investment.

Fuck me ! Have you seen the prices of printers ?

Trawling through the Amazons, the Maplins, the PcWorld sites etc it became clear to me that the Epson Hokey-Kokey 390 was the machine for me. All the reviewers gave it the thumbs-up for performance, stamina and technical merit, only letting itself down in the Dressage. Unfortunately, ever since the global economic crisis hit the world of home inkjet printers, they no longer offer 100% mortgages on the Epsom Hokey-Cokey 390. To get back the money I spent on the printer, I’d have to charge clients, £75.50 per print and work flat-out for 17 hours-a-day for 37 years. As I am averaging one £15 pound job every third winter equinox, I wasn’t looking to spend the equivalent of the Greek National Debt  just yet.

The more I looked for a suitable machine the more I realised that this printing lark was a bit bleedin toppy! If you have the spare £450 laying around (not to mention 80 quid for a drop of ink) then you’re in business. Otherwise, go back to Picture Editing, you lazy fat git. Perhaps I should wait for mumsie to stump-up the cash ? But I have this work to do and it has to be done this week. I made a phonecall:

“Hello, Snappy Snaps ?”
“Allo” a charmless young bloke answered
“I have an A3 print I need scanning in. Do you have a flatbed scanner?”
“Yeah, we can do that, mate”. Honestly, he said ‘mate’.
“Ah good. How much mate ?” I asked my hitherto unknown friend, fearing the worst.
“£10” came the reply. It took me by surprise.
“£10 ? That’s not too bad, I’m surprised” (told you I was surprised)

“Yes” he came again “£10 to scan it in, £4.99 to put it on a disc”
“Ah, so it’s really £14.99 then ?” (Is it me?)
“Wot ?” quoth he.
“Well, Manuel”  (cos that’s how it felt) “If you scan it in you’d have to scan it onto disc for me, wouldn’t you? Unless I pop up and look at in your office every now and then ? Would you email it to me?”
“No”
“Right, so fifteen quid it is then”

I left him to remove his socks and work out this latest of applied mathematics puzzles. With several other local outlets charging the same price, and NO-ONE offering same-day service, I sat back in my underpants, huffed and resumed browsing the web, with little expectation of finding the answer to my dilemma.

But wait… what’s this? Where did all these reviews come from?:

Oh Brother, you’re good!! (Ron Onions, Redditch);  How do they Do it for the Money ?!? (Mr R Saltpeter, Penge); and If You’re Going to buy a A3 all-in-one printer, this is the one!!! (Mrs D.G.W Chegwin, Salford)

These reviews were too good to be true. A cheap, brilliant printer and scanner which can do anything and everything and everything an Epsom or Canon machine can do at half the price. This had been lauded throughout the land by real, genuine satisfied customers who’s only connections with each other are their enthusiasm for Brother printers, their love of the explanation mark, and their rather doubtful and dubious surnames.

With all haste, I contacted my local PcWorld to have them reserve for me in their store one of these marvels of modern science. This they did, and so it was with  an unbridled and unfounded air of optimism that The Incumbent and I strolled into the local branch to pick up my purchase.

They didn’t have the item. Yes I know they said online they did, but they didn’t, ok? Give them a break, won’t you ? They didn’t have the printer I wanted but their sister store five miles down the road did. I would pay for the purchase here, take the box of ink (the machine comes with a small amount of ‘tester ink’, a pack of the full amount is a snip at £50, it being a Value-Pack) down to the other shop to collect the printer.

We took our pack of ink and our receipt for the Brother MFCJXYZ3470P (beware of imitations) down to the good burghers at Bluewater Shopping Centre. There, after only a 30 minute wait, we picked up the printer a soon I was zooming up the A2, on my way home, then asking the resident 20 year old student indoors how the hell this bloody machine worked.

It seemed no more than two-and-a-half hours later that the box started whirring and whizzing into action and the first print was glacially edging it’s way out the front of the black plastic box in the corner. It was everything I didn’t want: It was slow, the colours were awful, the prints grainy and out of focus. All that for just £199.00 plus VAT (not forgetting the £50+VAT pack of ink). For the following four hours I sat at the screen trying all sorts of combinations of paper, ink, dots-per-inches, inputs and outputs. I must have got through 30 quid’s worth of paper in the hope of finding the right combination and computation to ensure a half-decent image.Slowly, albeit expensively, I was getting there.

Then, like Kaiser Soze, or the Welsh hope of a Rugby World Cup victory the ink disappeared. Buzzers sounded and warning lights flashed to say the ‘tester’ ink had run out.  No matter, I’d had the foresight to buy some in the first store earlier, remember?

It was the wrong ink.

They had sold me the wrong ink. I had paid for a printer they (or I) didn’t have and some ink I didn’t need.  I sat down and popped a couple of Ramipril. Remembering what me doctor told me, I refused to get angry. I went to bed and cried.

Today, from about 9am I have been searching for the correct ink. First stop was PcWorld. They refunded me for the erroneous ink, but didn’t carry the type I required. Nor did their sister shop in Bluewater, even though they sold me the printer. Ryman’s didn’t carry what I needed either, and the girl in WHSmith had never even heard of that kind of ink. I observed she too was a stranger to the bathroom and diets.

The local computer shop carried every kind of Brother ink, just not the one I wanted. A girl at John Lewis, when called, confidently informed me that they did carry the correct pack. When we arrived at the shop a boy confidently told me that they…er…didn’t. Staples had a similar difference of opinion between themselves, before agreeing they didn’t have anything for me.

As for Brother customer services, after I’d regaled them with my tale of ink shortages, a young man wondered if I’d been printing out A3 prints on my A3 printer, thus explaining why my ink ran out so quickly. I asked him which size he recommended I print out on my A3 printer.

So here I am blogging, not printing. Ink is on order from an online source . Please don’t ask me the price, but I’ve had cheaper marriages. It won’t arrive until at least tomorrow, a day after I need it. So my one job of the month thus far will be late, and probably sub-standard. I will charge the client fifteen quid for a job that has so far cost me 300. I am millimeters away from inserting my new toy into a shop assistant in Crayford.

If you’re in Tescos and see a pack of Brother ink LC1280XL for sale, do me a favour and jog on by. Don’t buy it for me. I won’t be able to afford it anyway.

The Blair Peach Project


So after all that, I thought it was about time you took a little breath and took in some considered thought. Honestly.

The Police (we are told by the BBC’s very impartial Nick Robinson) have been telling MPs that the only reason they were stand-offish during London riots the other night was because the last time there was a major disturbance on the streets of London, one of their member ended up on a manslaughter charge for acting too robustly.

So let me get this right: They are saying that the only alternative to killing middle-aged innocent newspaper vendors is to stand idly by and let teenagers burn down shops and houses and flats. Nothing in-between those two tactics ? Death or indolence.

It’s not been a great week or three for Pc Plod. They keep having to roll-up, and maybe sober-up, another Deputy Assistant Acting Commissioner, as the Met scurry to find a replacement for those top cops who have either been arrested, or have merely resigned in the belief they’re about to be arrested due to their culpability in the Murdoch/News International scandal.

Please, please let their new guvnor not be Sir Hugh Orde. Even by Police standards he has a face only a mother could love. He makes Ian Blair and Andy Hayman positively trustworthy.

Then three coppers show up to a riot only to find they’re slightly outnumbered. Not their fault, I know, (yes, you’re right, it’s the fault of holiday-loving George Osborne again) but nevertheless it seems a pretty poor show. Not that this is my main reason for putting pen to teller today.

If I had a grievance against the Old Bill (note the word if) I’d like to think I’d go and kick one or two of them in the goolies. If my beef was with the government (heaven forfend) I’d like to think me and my hoodie mates would attack Downing Street. Or maybe, just maybe I’d use my vote at the ballot box and vote the bastards out next time (I told you I’d mellowed).

If anyone can tell me what looting and torching, among other places, a party novelties shop in Clapham, poor and sheltered housing in Tottenham and a sandwich shop in Manchester has to do with some idiot coppers shooting a father you are a better man than me. That was a disgrace and heads should roll. They have a long and shameful track record of murdering people and it’s gotta stop. But what rent-a-mob have been up to since then has nothing to do with it. Anyone who says different is talking a load of old bollocks.

The Beeb are forever calling it “copycat violence”, or my favourite word of the week “thuggery” (which is still illegal in some states). Sadly I can’t find myself in a position to disagree with that. I’ve seen too many crying council house tenants who’ve fled their houses to think any other way at the moment. Maybe I’m just going pink.

You can see the despair and the shame on the faces of the poor community workers, people who have worked so hard with these kids (cos that’s what the majority are) to put them on the straight and narrow, only for them to set light to a furniture shop in Croydon and a Miss Selfridge in Salford in some bafflingly justified act of defiance against the man and the machine.

Do me a favour. Can you all fuck off home to your X-Boxes or PS3s, children?

I have decided that The Shovel can wait for a bit. I’ve had a particularly wobbly week: Too many dizzy spells and headaches for me to deal with for some reason, after making pretty good progress last week, so a trip up to the pub will have to be put on hold for a while.

I’m very happy that the NHS has provided me with a nice hard walking stick which, not only do I need to stand upright at the moment, will be deployed in a testicular-direction should any hood-wearing, leisure-suit donning little prick attempts to interfere with my or The Incumbent’s passage around the streets of Dartford.

Now I have to stop cos my new GP says I shouldn’t get would up. She reckons I have high blood-pressure (who’d a thunk it?).  I asked for a second opinion: She told me I was fat as well.

Walking back to Happiness (woopah oh yeah yeah)


It’s ten days after suffering a Stroke. I must be getting better cos I’m becoming bored shitless.

In the words of the ever-popular french pharmacist Émile Coué, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”. I think he said that just before he topped himself.

Anyway, it’s true that my face is still numb, I have a dividing line running down the middle of my head and face and to the right of it my face feels like it’s just received several novacane injections. The Docs are not sure when or even if it’ll return to its normal self, which is worrying I admit. But it hasn’t drooped or dropped. It’s still as ugly or as beautiful as it’s always been. Many people after an attack of, say, palsy or after a botched operation suffer much worse than I have, So let’s say I have had a result.

It’s also true that I have to have daily blood tests. My blood samples are sent back-and-forward between my house and the hospital. A different nurse each day takes turns to extract a pint (that’s nearly an armful) of blood from me. I have the arms of a Jewish soul singer.

I then have to take Warfarin to to ensure that my blood is thin enough to bypass the blockages and clots in by brain. My blood is as thin as a James Murdoch testimony.

My legs are not working how they should be, but today is better than yesterday and I’ll be even better tomorrow. I’m cruising around the house like a toddler at the moment. The NHS has given me a walking stick, which I am using less and less each day. I used a Sainsbury’s shopping trolley the other day as a Zimmer frame. In the heart of Crayford, I didn’t stand out at all. I reckon I was still fitter than most in there.

I still have trouble writing. This paragraph will take me several attempts to weedle out the misspelled or erroneous words. And you’ll still find typos in it, cos my brain’s just not working that way at the moment. But it’s only a fortnight after the event and I reckon I’m doing just fine thankyouverymuch!

People look almost shocked when they see me and I don’t have tubes up my nose or am not wearing an iron lung. I’m better than I could have possibly imagined a week ago and I am sure a lot of it is in no small part to the many many cards, messages and gift expressing their concern and love from so many of my friends out there. Thank you so much for all your heart-felt well-wishes.

But I have to draw the line somewhere.

Monty and Clive are two people who not only consider themselves friends of mine but also, presumably, humerous.  I’m sorry but I fail to see the funny side of delivering a pair of pink size nine roller-skates to a bloke who’s just had a stroke. What the fuck am I supposed to do with them. ? The Incumbent has refused to push me up to the pub in them, and pink is just not my colour. Please let me know their cost so I have some idea what price I can start them off on eBay.

Funny fuckers.

What’s the Bleeding Time ?*


“If you give us the name of your GP, Mr Bealing, we’ll write directly to him”
“I don’t have a GP.”  That was on Tuesday.

Wednesday: “What we’ll do is release you from hospital into the hands of your GP. Let us have his name and we’ll pass on your notes to him.”
“I don’t have a GP.”

Thursday: “What’s the name of your GP, Mr Bealing ?”
“I don’t have a GP.”
“What do you mean you don’t have a GP? General Practitioner ? Your local doctor ?”
“I’m a bloke: I don’t have a GP. I’ve never needed a GP”

Just three of several conversations had with doctors and nurses at both Darenth Valley and Kings College Hospitals last week. Most of them with female members of staff, all of them with an incredulous look on their face. “What do you meeeeaaaaan ??  You don’t have a GP ???” I might as well said I didn’t have a cellphone.


GPs, as any bloke will tell you, are a last resort. We don’t go to the GP unless something really ‘orrid ‘appens which prevents you from either a) going to work; b) going down the pub; c) playing sport or: d) all 3 of the above. For women, a GP is like a hairdresser – someone to go see once a fortnight for a chat. Blokes just aren’t made that way.

Boots the chemist is very much the same. Ever popped into Boots or Superdrug  and bumped into a bloke ? No, of course you haven’t. And if you have he’s either waiting at the door for his missus, or has been sent down for a packet of tampons or one of those individual, gender-specific packets of tissues for his wife while she’s at the hairdressers or the GP. Blokes don’t go to the chemist on their own accord. We buy our toothpaste at the supermarket and our headache tablets from the garage. Our deodorant at Millets

I’ve had GPs in the past but only when I needed them. Last one I had was in Blackheath when I needed to get my back and knee fixed (my poorly knee stopped me playing cricket and my bad back prevented me standing at the bar). So I registered with the GP with the sole intention of being referred to someone else.

When I moved to Dartford, finding a new GP wasn’t on top of my list. It was down there with finding a local french polisher and a nearby locksmith. But having been stuck down at the tender age of 46 by some ‘heart attack of the brain’, it’s clear I needed to find my own local doc. And if I didn’t realise that, there were hundreds of doctors and nurses on hand at the hospital to remind me I did.


But let’s get things into perspective: I can have no complaints whatsoever about the NHS. They were quite brilliant to me. During the week I spent with them the service and treatment was first class. Now at home (though still technically under their care) they have followed it up with regular visits, calls, prescriptions and injections. Pop over to The States and ask for free regular home health visits and see how far you get before being labelled a communist. And they don’t even mean it as a compliment.

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have a row now and then while I was up there. The main one was with the consultant who wondered why I was so aggressive and angsty: it only being 3am and I’d had my stroke 2 days ago. Silly me, I should have known better than to worry. However, her apart, the medical staff were wonderful, wonderful, people and fit to marry my sister any day. If I had one.However the less said about yer average auxiliary staff:- the jobsworths on the front desk, the sub-contractors slopping out the …er…slop, the better.

The Doctor and the Medics sent me home probably 3 days sooner than I would have done so, given that I could neither walk, write or constantly open my…erm…parts, but it now seems to have been not just some cynical ploy just to get their bed back (as some of your rotters have suggested) but a measure which would see my health improve daily. And that has proven to be the case. Progress is good, the balance/walking seems to be coming along wonderfully, largely due to the “Standing Up Straight” lessons I’m receiving as part of the home visits. I tried to crack a couple of Kenneth More jokes buy my physio is far to young to understand.

The successful function of my lower regions seems to improve when I take a weighty tome into trap one with me to take my mind off it. Only the typing is still troublesome. I seem to have emerged from my medical traumas with dyslexic fingers. Every paragraph gives me problems, sometimes misspelling every other word, sometimes typing in completely the wrong washing machine. Only an avid re-reading of that which I’ve last typed prevents me publishing complete lawnmowers.

So onward and upwards. Time for another course of the 53 pills I need to take three times-a-day, just before The Incumbent injects me with some blood-thinner or other.  Or at least that’s what she says it is. The minute she reaches for the ‘saline solution’ I shall limp down the road as fast as my wobbly legs will take me.

*  “Ten past ten sir”

Making Lists


(Written with numb thumbs on a blackberry. Please excuse the typos)

Ok, time for a re-think. God has bowled me a bouncer which I managed, for the most part to swerve out of the way of. Ok, it clipped me round the back of the head and I’m being patched up in the pavillioin, ready to be re-introduced into the action.

But it’s not as if I’m like those other poor sods I’ve seen over the last few days on the boundary’s edge, who’ve clearly taken a pearler straight between the eyes, or Brian Close-like straight under the heart.

I’ve had a touch. A stroke of luck, you might say.

So the list is looking like this:
Item 2. Learn to Walk.
Item 3. Cheer up you miserable bastard

Item 1. was dealt with at 6.07 this morning, as those in the Thames Estuary area who were woken by the “All Clear” siren this morning will understand.

Was moved in comedy fashion last night from Kings College to Darenth Valley Hospital. 2 young men doing poor ambulance-driver impressions turned up 4 hours late, then all but preformed 3 drive-by dumpings using me and 2 others as cadavers, throwing us from the back of their van. (I say “ambulance” drivers but on closer inspection it was a Ford Transit with the word AMBULENCE (sic) written on it in crayon.

Spruce Ward & Adam Waste

I’m now in Spruce Ward (named, I think, after a character from Batman)
But I am due to be moved any minute. I don’t mind that. I seemed to have traded my neighbour the serial soiler for a perpetual puker. They’re running out of buckets for him, poor old sod. Like I say, I’ve had it easy.

Dartford also has tvs in the rooms so there’s a good chance I’ll be able to watch the cricket tomorrow. Having missed the Open Golf and the Murdoch show yesterday that’ll be a huge bonus. That is if I’m not busy with ‘how to stand up’ lessons, or “waking slowly round the room for beginners” classes.

I’m hoping to get to what young parents call “cruising” stage” pretty quickly. Then at least I can get my own self to the loo, should I ever feel the need to go again.

Though judging by this morning’s events I feel that unlikely. I feel happier already. Number 3 may be crossed off the list soon.

Is Vicks There ?


It would seem that spring has finally sprung and the first indications that we may be out of the misery of that long, cold winter are finally tippie-toeing their way up the garden path. Not that I’ve seen much of it as I greeted the first sunshine of the new-ish year from the puddle of sweat and snot that was my sofa in the potting shed, surrounded by an industrial box of tissues, (for my nose) a litre of Benylin, tubes and packets of lozenges of varying flavours and a collection of Vicks nasal inhalers which, at a moment’s notice, I could stuff up one nostril or the other , releasing its sweet menthol vapour up and into my hooter.

Yep, I’ve been laid-up all weekend with one of those colds I used to blame on air-conditioning in various newspaper and magazine offices, on the snivelly little herberts who I would encounter during a day in the office, or the mucus-sprinklers on the train home in the evening.

This time however, as I’ve not set foot in Fleet Street for a few weeks, I cannot blame anyone for my illness except Allah, The Incumbent or the flock of pigs in the sty outside the potting shed window. But since none of the above either exist, have a cold or have come into close contact with me recently (any order you like)  I am an Assange short of a fall-guy.

I am assuming, of course, that what I have been suffering from is merely a common cold. There could be other, more worrying explanations. January is traditionally the time of year when I tip “Behemoth” on my Timothy Whites bathroom scales and when I decide to deprive myself of all things tasty and goodly in an attempt to lose the odd 50 pounds. It’s my own variation of the Atkins Diet which has worked so well for me in the past but which also, it has to be said, has led me to my current position of staring down the wrong end of 16 stone. Consequently I’ve undertaken to abstain from anything in the fridge which fills me up, satisfies my palate, or looks vaguely interesting. All except anything that comes in tins or bottles with Alc 5.0% Vol written on the side, of course. In short I’ve been starving myself and it’s left me, well…starving. Thus I’ve left myself a little run down, and hence the onset of the lurgy. Listless, lifeless but not, I’m afraid to say, snotless.

All the jobs I had pencilled-in for myself have gone by the wayside:- painting the spare room, washing the car and trimming the Incumbent’s bush will all have to wait til I feel a little better. The aforementioned pigs have been left un-sheared, I’ve been both unable and unwilling to milk the chickens, and the cows will have to go pluck themselves. I may yet to have got the hang of this country lark, but I’m beginning to wonder if all this mucking around with livestock may have led to my current predicament. Have I contracted Cow Flu?  A touch of Foot and Mouth maybe ? The goats look mangey enough to be capable of spreading anything to anyone. That’s the last time I eat any of them, lo-carb or no lo-carb.

All this couldn’t have come at a worse time. This weekend saw two of the more notable events of the year so far: The release of True Grit at the cinema and Long Lane U14 ladies vrs Tottenham Hotspur U14 in the regional final of the London Cup. I was due to go to both, but could attend neither.

(If you don’t want to know the result of the football look away now)

Reports from the ground (Dogshit Park North) indicate that my youngest daughter played a blinder (god, she reminds me of me) although she was cautioned for telling a team-mate to “fuck off and shut up” (she also reminds me of her mother) but however well they played the plucky South Londoners succumbed to their larger North London rivals by 4 lucky goals to 1.

Rooster Cogburn and friends will have to wait til next week, though I already know the result of that one.

So since Friday afternoon I’ve been confined to barracks in my best pyjamas and silk dressing gown, plonked in front of the Six Nations Rugby, Boadwalk Empire and anything else which tv land wanted to send me. All of this without bothering the scorers in the booze unit scorebox, as I couldn’t even taste a pint of beer if you laced it with Cillit Bang. Nosebuds and tastebuds kaput, this was one miserable weekend.

Looking out the window, down the track to the lane at the bottom of the lower paddock, I could see whom the Daily Telegraph would describe as “revellers” as they made their way to-and-from the Liniment and Poultice and the other pubs, drinking my beer as they went on their merry way. What a depressing sight they made. The fire in my throat was screaming out to be doused yet the only liquid nearby was that filling my nasal passages. And I wasn’t about to drink that.

Then some light relief from an unexpected quarter. One of the younger human mammals who inhabit these here parts announced he and his hooded pals were making their inaugural visit to a pub (to much sniggering from the back of the potting shed).

“Well just make sure you buy a round, don’t go and buy individual drinks.”
“What do you mean round?” he asked.

Oh dear, we were starting from a low point. This might be fun.

“Well before you get to the bar, make up your minds who’s turn it is and he then buys a drink for all of you.That’s known as a round Then you take it in turns through the night to each buy a round. Don’t each buy your own drink. It’s a dead give-away. You’ll look like students” I waited for the information to be processed. He was clearly at too early a stage to introduce him to Greaves’ Rules.

“How many of you?” I enquired.
“Six”
“Oh, that means you’ll have six rounds then. Six drinks. Six Pints
“Yeah!?!” he barked, indignantly, spotting the doubt in my voice that he and his mates would make it past three.
“Ok. Good” if he was happy, I was happy, while secretly imagining the state of them all rolling up the hill later.

He continued with his line of questioning. There was stuff that had clearly been worrying him.
“Now when you go into a pub…”
“…er…y..e..s” I was dreading what was coming.
“What do you ask for?”
“Pardon?”
“What do you ask for to drink? Or is there a list?”

I leaned over, collected my menthol inhaler from the table and took a huge blast on it. Partly because my nose was blocked and partly to give me time to compose myself.

“Yes…YES (coughing), YES, there’s a list. Ask for the beer list. From the Biertre-D, as he’s known”.
My little friend could tell I was struggling not to laugh out loud.
“No, come on, really what do you ask for ?”
“Just ask for six pints of lager, and if they ask you which one, ask them what they have. Then pick one”

This conversation went on for some little time before Doc, Happy, Bashful and the rest turned up to collect Dopey to take him to the pub. I, in my role as Sneezy was left to my little childish chuckley thoughts on the sofa. Wouldn’t it be great if pubs really did have a Beer Waiter ? Anyway, suffice to say our would-be debutant drinkers fell at the first hurdle, having been refused entry to any pub in the area on the grounds that most of them looked 12 years old. Oh well, it’s one of those rites-of-passage things that happens to us all. I suppose they ended up asking some bigger boy to buy them a litre of cider out of an off license, or stood on shadowy street corners smoking Jamaican Woodbines.

And now, as I’m on my way to making a full recovery, and as it’s Valentine’s Night, I shall treat the Incumbent to a warm bottle of light ale in The Shovel. I might even let her have first pick from the Pork Scratchings list. If she behaves herself.

The Slaughtered Lamb


Fancy a pint ? Yes ? Come on then, I’ll take you down to a little pub I know. It’s just down the road.

Two weeks into my self-imposed exile, we decided last night to take a stroll round the leafy lanes, avenues and alleyways and see what Dartford on a Friday night had to offer. Our route was not a particularly ambitious one. A short couple of miles which would take us by (or rather to) 5 boozers, all of which I’d visited before down the years, some more frequently than others, and being the five closest inns from the Potting Shed each of them stood a decent chance of becoming my new local.

First up: the former local. I’d spent most of my formative years getting ever-so-slightly elephants in a particular pub on the top of the hill, just outside town. Ernie’s had been scientifically chosen, it being the closest one to the school gates and you get still get served wearing your uniform. Many of my happiest memories are from those 15 short years from the age of 16 onwards getting smashed out of my face in one of the less-trendy nightspots in Dartford (and that’s going some). Birthdays, weddings (not mine), funerals (ditto), births, divorces and Ryder Cup triumphs were all celebrated within those walls overseen by the hilariously miserable Mancunian eponymous landlord who scared off as many customers as he attracted with his sledgehammer wit and pungent bodily functions.He’s long-gone now, gone off to live in Spain with his pockets bulging with my hard-earned cash, so I was intrigued to see how the old place was, fifteen years after I’d last set thirsty foot in it.

Within 12 yards of the door my worst fears were realised. Through the several plate-glass windows I saw a pub transformed from the traditional boozer it once was. Where once a horseshoe bar wound its way round the room, manned permanently by assorted punters, postmen and pissheads, there seemed to be a selection of coffee tables and banquettes. Low-slung chaise-longues occupied by even lower-slung shell-suits sat there in deathly silence. I counted eight people in there. And none of them were having fun. The bar had been rebuilt and stood in all its magnificent gloss-white glory along one side of the room. Two of the uglier members from the cast of Glee stood silently behind it, re-arranging the bottles of WKD. The strains of Tiny Talent could be heard emanating from the music system.

“Nope” I announced to The Incumbent who, if the speed by which she changed direction was anything to go by, had already made up her mind that it looked like a shit hole. Fortunately, there’s a pub right opposite Ernie’s so we headed across the road and, without stopping to check it out, ploughed through the door.

Imagine walking one of those shack-cum-bars in Mississippi or Alabama. Where the KKK‘s U19 Soccer team have just held their AGM. And all the bright ones have gone home for their tea. And it’s been free beer for six hours. And the town has just elected a black mayor. And he’s gay. Got that image in your brain ? Well that’s the kind of scene we encountered there in that pub.

Two or three of the knuckle-draggers who still had control of their movements looked up looked us up and down, suspecting that we were either coppers or neurosurgeons. Being neither, but not wanting to have to prove it, I decided on the only course of action open to us.

“Nope” I exclaimed again and we beat a hasty retreat out of the Berchtesgaden Arms back to the now strangely enticing Ernie’s. In the 14 seconds we’d been across the road, three of the customers I’d seen through the window had left, leaving three young asian blokes, slumped at half-mast on their leatherette armchairs, staring wistfully and listlessly at two imaginatively-clad girls sat near the toilets, knocking a decent-sized hole in a bottle of Rose. These were very odd fellows indeed. I ordered myself a pint and a gin for the missus, partly for old times’ sake and partly cos I never like not having a drink in two pubs in a row.

Our drinks didn’t touch the sides. We left. Depressed.

No matter, onwards and upwards. Next up, the previously mentioned Goat and Masturbator which, as the glass bottle flies round here, is the closest to the Potting Shed. It would have been some time during the mid 1980’s when I was last here and it wasn’t that brilliant then.  Now it’s a Harvester. One of those eateries with all the atmosphere of a Hosni Mubarak cabinet meeting. A few groups of half-drunk, fully-fed  20-somethings were placed carefully between plates of rotten and rotting food. The smell of barbeque ribs and Red Bull was quite overpowering.

“Nope!” yelled The Incumbent over the din of an iTunes playlist. We left smartly, missing the chance to indulge in a baked potato with the topping of our choice, washed down with one of two Australian lagers on tap.

Pub number four just had to be better. And, in truth it was. The Liniment and Poultice had never been a favourite of mine back when I had hair, but da word on da street recently was that it’s been taken over, was full of old gits and had gone all boring. Perfect. Well almost. A medium-sized establishment, the first thing you notice that it has both a pool table and a dartboard (both of which are sadly lacking in Blackheath boozers). There were twenty-or-so people drinking inside, most over 30 years old, some over 50, all of them huddled along the bar leaving wide open spaces of emptiness in the lounge. You could have played a game of football on the carpeted area and not bothered anyone, but try to get near the bar and you encountered a sea of elbows, builder’s bums and handbags.Nevertheless, all seemed quite friendly, and the guv’nor poured a decent pint of Stella, and a perfect gin.

Now I know on such announcements economies can boom or bust,  so I have to tell you now that there is goodly supply of both limes and lemons in Dartford. Not only that but on the evidence of last night the bottle of tonic is placed on the bar un-decanted beside the glass of gin, and it is left to you, yourself, to administer the correct measure of mixer. You should have seen my little face light up.

And that would have been that. I would have happily settled on The Liniment to serve as my local for the duration of my stay here in NW Kent, however long that may be. But we still had one more pub to visit on our way home. Which, after a few more pints in The Poultice is exactly what we did.

If you didn’t know The Shovel was there you’d easily pass it in your rush to get to Dartford town centre. (In truth you still don’t know its there, or its real name but, like a Danish cartoonist, The Shovel’s exact and whereabouts need to be kept a closely guarded secret.) This is a teeny tiny little pub. Barely bigger than your average terraced house. When we entered there were 12 people in the bar, all middle-aged (or older) men, one barmaid behind the jump. It was busy. If a half-laden Ford Galaxy emptied it’s passengers into the pub it’d be standing room only. And some of these old blokes couldn’t stand for long.

From the door we took three steps and arrived at the bar. There were three hand-pumps, none of them marked. One Guinness pump, one Fosters and one serving Dark Mild. I’ll type that again: one serving Dark Mild.

“What’s in the hand pumps, love?”  I asked the barmaid, going all Richard Keys on her.
“Courage Best” she smiled.
“What, in all of em?” I asked
“Yep, all of them”

I looked around to see who was having what elsewhere in the pub. Two blokes had pints of stout in their hands. Always worth checking.
“I’ll have a Guinness then, please.” says I, “Oh and a gin and tonic as well please” remembering my manners.

As I waited for my stout to settle I looked around the pub. Behind the bar, beneath the optics, were unrefrigerated shelves of bottled beer: Stouts, Brown Ales, Light Ales, Barley Wines and the like of which you just don’t see anymore. Mainly because no-one drinks them, but all the same… And unrefrigerated. Warm beer. You could ask for a Light & Bitter and not only would it arrive at room temperature but, by the look of the barmaid she’d know exactly how to pour it.

Up above, where the line of optics ended was a calendar. The photo was of a naked girl standing under a palm tree on a beach, sporting an enormous bush. She had big hair on her head too and a lovely big grin. She smiled out at us barflies as she and girls like her used to smile out at us from The Big D peanut cards back in the 70s and 80s, before pictures of naked women in pubs and garages were Andy Grayed into touch. This was the 2011 and she looked completely out-of-place. Pleasant, but out-of-place.

At least I thought it was 2011 but I kept spotting things which told me otherwise. To the right of my naked new friend was a small wooden cabinet containing three piles of assorted 10-packs of cigarettes, a couple of half-ounces of Golden Virginia and a dozen boxes of matches. No cigarette machine here, just a wooden box behind the bar. Come to think of it, there was no jukebox or fruit machine either. The punters entertained themselves by talking to each other (everyone truly knew everyone else and everyone was within ear-trumpet range of each other) or, for the more adventurous, a game of crib was in full-flow. It nearly kicked off when one bloke had 16 in his box and pegged-out, almost literally.

I took stock of the situation:  A quiet friendly pub, with no herberts or wankers; no jukebox or one-armed bandit; a pleasant knowledgeable barmaid; light ale; photos of naked girls; a crib board and Dark Mild.

Admittedly the Guinness was fucking awful, but such was my euphoria at finding such a wonderful little time-capsule that I forgot to complain. Even after my fourth pint.

I was home.

So what do you reckon ? Fancy a stroll down there ? You’re a bitter man, right ? I hope you like Courage Best.  And you don’t mind if I blindfold you, do you ? Can’t have everyone knowing where it is. There’s very little room at this Inn.

The Field Trip


They once took us on a school field trip to Greenwich Park to look at the observatory. Thirty 12-year-old kids bored out of our minds with the solar system, although excited to think we were lightyears away from home, when in reality it was more like 10 miles. Looking back on it we must have learnt something, and we must have behaved ourselves because next year we went to London Zoo.

We had a food fight in the Zoo’s lecture theatre and the school was banned from ever returning. Why would you take 13 year-olds to a zoo an stick them in a lecture theatre ? You wouldn’t wanna take them to see the lions of the gorillas or anything, would you ?

Fortunately for them, Kendall wasn’t on that trip. He was busy in a  Montgomery County, Alabama. The bloke’s a natural. Or rather he’s unprocessed and raw.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

An Old Kentish Custom


Ah! the fresh country air. As I drew back the curtains this morning I was greeted, not as I usually am with the gentle chuff chuff chuff of Network Southeast trains struggling against the wrong sort of air, but the twittering of birdies in apple trees and the sight of a milky sun gentle rising over the rolling hills of the Garden of England.

Yes, we have finally moved offices from the urban sprawl of SE London down to the leafy lanes and rural bliss of the Kent countryside. As I write I can see in the distance two shire horses being hooked up to a farmy thing as they are prepared for a long days tilling or furrowing or ploughing or whatever shirehorses do when they’re not delivering beer.

From the field just to the left of ours I hear the sounds of countryfolk mangling their wurzles or wittling their fetlocks or somesuch. In the copse to the right I assume they are engaged in clay pigeon shooting, as I can make out two men, one crouched over something while the other shouts “pull” at regular intervals.

Wandering around the lanes last evening was such a different experience to that of a stroll around the ‘smoke’ of Blackheath: The sirens of the Black Maria have been replaced by the screech of rutting animals. Or teenagers, it’s difficult to tell. The whiff of Chicken Chilli Masala oozing from the kitchens of The Saffron Club curry house have been replaced by the subtle aromas of animal dung, crop fires and regurgitated cider and kebabs on the pavement by the horse trough outside the local pub, The Goat and Masturbator.

By way of a welcome the locals even staged an attempted murder, just to make me feel at home. I shall do my best to fit in. This morning I am off to the local tack shop to get kitted out in their best Jilly Cooper outfit (I already have the teeth) and this afternoon I start labrador lessons. This evening I may even venture up to the pub to try their mead, pork scratchings and see if I can’t start an argument about lemons.

In between all this I need to inform my various suppliers and business contacts of our change of address. I also need to redirect my mail, but as the odds of actually being able to logon to the Royal Mail website are about as good as being able to enjoy a Nick Cage movie I shall simply list it below. That, at least, will enable my two readers in Paris to send their ritual abuse to the correct address.

Single (Sharp) Media (UK) Ltd
The Potting Shed Behind the Haywain,
The West Orchard
Dartford
Kentshire.
D1C H3D
Tel: Southeast 14.