Handlebar’s Water Music


(The story so far: Mike has had a stroke at the tender age of 48, and many tests ensue)

I’d had enough of this falling over shit. My Doctor had had enough of me moaning about this “I’m dizzy” bollocks. It was time for my MRI scan. What was going on up there in that alleged brain of mine ? Why did my head keep exploding, which resulted in me sitting on my arse, blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.

I washed and shaved early, trying out the Honda handlebar moustache for the for the first time. Shoehorned my ample frame into one of the few pair of trousers which I both own and still fit me. Thank Allah that my appointment came when it did – any later and they may have had to grease me up to slide me into that scanner.

The literature which the hospital had sent along with the appointment told me to leave all metal bits n pieces behind. Phones, watches, keys, belt buckles (haven’t needed one of those for a while) plates in my head and piercings in my nipples, none of these would be allowed within a UNISON picket line of the MRI scanner.

When the day came, we (I was ably accompanied by The Incumbent) arrived at the hospital, took advantage of the Costa Coffee in the foyer, then headed off for the MRI dept. We entered, gave my name and, virtually free of metallic objects, sat in the waiting room. The silence was broken after just a few minutes.

“Mr Bealing?”
“Er…yes, here” I even put my hand up like a boy at the back of the class.
The nurse looked me up and down. “Those trousers got a metal button?”
“Er, yes. yes I think they have” I replied (well after all, I had paid over fifteen quid for them at Sainsbury’s. No rubbish here, mate).
“Well they’ll have to come off. You can’t wear them in the scanner. Come with me you can change in there [points to room up the corridor], then you can come back, give your trousers to your wife (sic) and wait to be called.”

I went white. A cold sweat came over me. Although I was still able, unaided, to have put my Sainsbury’s trousers on, wearing underpants underneath them had become a bit of a luxury. My burgeoning waistline and arseline leave no room for boxer shorts. Jockeys or Y-fronts are a distant memory and so I had arrived at my local hospital a la Commando. Sans trolleys. Born Free. Without knickers.

The thought of the nurse handing me a gown to get into and me having to walk back to the waiting room with my bare arse hanging out for my fellow patients’ entertainment and enjoyment filled me with fear and dread. I shared my fears with The Incumbent who nearly imploded with laughter. I wasn’t laughing.

I followed the nurse to the changing room and was relieved to see a pair of sky blue cotton drawstring trousers hanging there. They were huge, fortunately, and I managed to slide into them. Indeed so big were they that the drawstring didn’t pull tight enough to hold them up. I had to clench wads of material with one hand, and keep my thighs and buttocks together to ensure they stayed up at a decent level, sparing my blushes.

I rolled up my own, now discarded strides under my arm and left the room to return to the missus in the waiting area. On the way I noticed a handily-placed WC and thought this would be a good opportunity to get rid of the tepid Primo Latte which Costa had provided me with earlier. I was due to be in the scanner for 90 minutes and I didn’t want to be caught short while I was in there. In my half-clenched, bent-over state I shuffled my way over to have a pee, carefully ensuring my arse didn’t take a peek out the back of my slacks.

There is a type of cotton (cheap chinos are made of it) which, no matter how hard, how vigorous or how many times you shake your willy after urinating, will soak up every little speck, each and every drop of pee it can and show the evidence of this so-called “willy drip” to one and all in the form of a huge dark patch around your goolie region.

I have to tell you now that these hospital trousers were made of this very same material. And I wasn’t wearing pants.

There is nothing one can do about it. 2 tiny drips had hit the cotton and were now joined together and were spreading, leaving a dark blue patch the size of a CD in the general area of my penis. Can you imagine how mortified I was ? I left the loo. Picture the scene of me, hunched up, buttocks and knees together, one hand holding the flystring of my newly-acquired blue leg ware, the other holding a perfectly good pair of Sainsburys drills in front of a big blotch of wee. With my new face fuzz I must have looked like a balding, fat Fu Manchu with a bladder complaint. Oh happy days.

As luck would have it, I was called in to be scanned way before the patch dried. I had to pass my old trousers to the still-giggling Incumbent and resorted to hiding my moist nether regions with the front tails of my shirt. I entered the scanning room.

The nurse greeted me and said the scan would be in three stages.
“And Once in Evening Dress ?” I offered, trying to be witty. And titter came there none.
“No. Head, neck and then blood flow” she informed me sternly.
“Oh, ok then”.

She then explained that I’d be in the scanner for well over an hour and it’s a really boring experience, when you “must MUST” keep your neck and head still throughout. She went on that also, as brilliant as this technology is, it’s really very noisy as the scan goes through its phases, so she popped a pair of headphones on me which act as both ear mufflers and through which they would talk to me and play music throughout the procedure- to give me something to take my mind off it.
“Is there any music you don’t want us to play ?” she asked.
“Rap or anything by Morrissey” I replied, quick as a flash (it’s a knee-jerk reaction).
A blank look came across her face. “I don’t think we’ve got anything like that anyway” she said. “What about anything you’d really like to hear?” she asked.

Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks or Old Shep by Elvis” I quipped. But by the stoney look I received, my joke had, again, fallen on deaf ears. “Classical will do” I told her. Christ, she was a tough crowd.

I climbed onto the machine bed, and lay back onto the head rest. She brought down a plastic grid over my face, and put wedges either side to prevent movement. I knew how Hannibal Lecter felt at that airport. As the bench slid half way into the machine, I lay head and shoulders inside, torso and legs al fresco. I half expected to hear John Mills or Hardy Kruger to shout “Fire One” and I’d shoot off out of the scanner, in the general direction of Orpington.

Nursey explained she needed to inject me with some chemical or other (thankfully my words not hers) in order to track my blood flow. As I lay there, wedged into in my cage I felt her pull a tourniquet around my bicep, then grab my hand in readiness for the injection.

It then dawned on me, as a chirpy Strauss waltz drifted across the airwaves, that if she was leaning down to spot a nice bulging vein in the back of my hand, her head would be a matter of inches away from my urine-soaked winkle.

“Now you might feel a little prick” she announced.

Did I ever.

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1066 and All That


LATE RESULT:
England   –   0   vrs   1  –   Normandy
Strauss-Khan  AET
ATT: 59,501

By John Moatson in Hastings
14th October 1066

Here this evening the English suffered yet another in a long line of humiliating defeats at the hands of the unfancied Normandians when an extra-time clincher was grasped by veteran shooter, Dominique Strauss-Khan, sending the home side down to what seems to be a final, crushing blow.  For much of the early action, Strauss-Khan’t had gone missing, concentrating his efforts on his controversial “rape and pillage” tactics, particularly the former. But when an unreliable serving-wench (and some clearly mad slapper scribe) shouted foul, Dominique returned to doing what he does best: sticking his balls in the old onion bag (whatever her name is).

The Citing Committee have since decided that as all that nastiness may or may not have happened over two hours ago, Mr Strauss-Can has no case to answer.

William wins the toss and decides to play with the wind

From the outset the Frenchmen were not considered a threat, such was the animosity between the players and the coach during the warm-up, and the amount of  money they, along with the Holy Roman Empire, have recently had to stump-up to bail out the non-tax paying scroungers of the ancient world. So the English were hoping their opposition would be distracted, but you never know which French side will turn up. Gallic flair, so loved by commentators and Bob Symonds alike, was brought to the fore and after early hiccups, had the English on the back foot.

The English, to be fair, were in disarray from the beginning. Their chief tactician The Silver Fox, (or Le Renard Fraude, as the French know him) had decided to listen more to his close friend and confidant, Squire Werritty, than any of the battle-hardened knights around him. It was clear that Werritty had seen little of real action before and seemed only interested what was in it for him, his sponsors, the Children of Israel, and other generous peoples across the oceans, yet to be discovered.

Le Twin carefully places his waste Defence memos in a public bin. Pic: Ye Monthly Mirror

The English Cavalry were also ineffectual, their horses refusing to budge, the knights having been banned this very morning from administering the whip or spurs to encourage forward movement from their charges. The infantry seemed as if they had been drinking of too much of the mead, or kissing of the Dwarf the night before. All this as well as reports that the Normans had discovered vital English tactical information in a nearby park wastebin, apparently deposited there by some feckless English nobleman (the oddly Gallicly-named Le Twin) have thus far been totally rejected by team manager Johnno the Huge-Disappointment. Johnno added that if England could next time pick more Samoans and New Zealanders, they might just have a chance of winning.

Whatever the reasons for their downfall, it wasn’t long before the English were down by one-King-to-nil as the Norman strike partnership of Strauss-Khunt and Waine Le Rue Née picked out the English figurehead, and it was one in the eye for them. In truth, Harold was not hard to pick out, he being the only one on the field of play wearing German kit. Shortly after, Le Rue Née was asked to leave the field, being deemed to be too violent and stupid to take part. Waine was originally picked for the English squad, but in an interview later he stated that he didn’t mind which “fookin side” he played for as long as he could kick some “fooking coonts up the arse”. It is assumed he will be offered the post of Commissioner of the soon-to-be-formed Metropolitan Police.

Shoulda Gone to Specsavers

The one consolation to England from losing this day to the Normans is that it saves the embarrassment of losing to the Welsh (which this mob surely would) in the next round the following week. Two questions remain for the English Press Barons: Have the Normans peaked too early?; and has conquering King William married the wrong sister?

Very much so, in fact.

Don’t Look, Ethel


(Yes yes yes, it’s cricket again – but you’ll like this one)

I think if I ever had to face an Australian fast bowler I’d ask for a blindfold. ‘England’ batsmen Kevin Pietersen has a go at facing a bowling machine, cranked up to serious speeds. He’s pretty good at it. Perhaps that’s the answer, KP ?

The Birds and the Wasps


This weekend found us visiting friends in the Leicestershire countryside. I’d been to Leicester only once before, as a schoolboy to play rugby, and found myself ruminating on just what I knew of the area. I knew it was another one of those odd English words which foreigners struggled to pronounce (for any of my overseas readers it’s Ly-cester-shyre). No not really. But it turns out I knew very little else, it being one of those little bits of England that attracts scant attention or publicity, a bit like Wiltshire, Stephen Fry or Scotland.

My cricketing hero David Gower used to play for Leicestershire, and who could forget Leicester City‘s Keith Weller ? (oh, you have). Rugby legend Martin Johnson was, of course, for a long-time at Leicester Tigers, then there’s red leicester cheese, the deaf midget tax-fiddling horse jockey Leicester Piglet, Leicester Square and the Leicester Shuffle (if you throw two playing cards onto the floor you get less ta shuffle). Clearly I was clutching at straws.

So it came to pass that on Saturday morning I was zipping around mile after mile of beautiful rolling hills and lanes, past box hedges, magnificent oaks and dinky thatched stone cottages. Past signposts which could have been lifted from the script of American Werewolf. Signs for Tugby and Queniborough sped by, for Houghton on the Hill and Skeffington, even Ratcliffe on the Wreake (which sounds to me like Harry Potter on a vodka binge). I looked for signs to North Londonshire but could see none.

It was beautiful. The trees cascaded with Autumnal colour, the pale November sun washed over the copse and ploughed fields and everywhere was teeming with wildlife. Not just sheep and cows, horses in fields and chickens in coops, but pheasants and eagles, buzzards soaring and hawks hunting. Even the roadkill was exotic – badgers and deer where, at home, I’d see foxes and hedgehogs clogging-up the roadside gutters. Ah! the countryside is great. I’ve always been a committed townie, always preferring the smell of exhaust fumes, the sound of a police sirens or a bus’s airbreaks to the smell of dung, the twittering of the birdies or the clip clop, clip clop of farmers throwing horse shoes at boisterous cockerels.

But wandering around this area I could see the appeal, and it became clear to me why at some point in many lives, city dwellers up-stumps and seek out and claim for themselves that little bit of an English field that shall be forever foreign. And smelly. Yes this was it, I thought. I let my mind wander, daydreaming of buying a labrador, wax jacket and wellies, and perchance an Austin Healey. Of doing nothing more strenuous than grow a beard or taking myself for a spin from village to village, working up a thirst before I parked myself on a bar stool down at the local pub, supping endless pints of Thruxton’s Old Dirigible through my grey whiskers, brushing off the pickled egg debris from my corduroys.

Our friends, Julia and Stuart, had moved up from town a couple years ago and I could see in their eyes that this was the sort of lifestyle they were shaping up to enjoy, if they weren’t doing so already. They’d thought ahead and brought their labrador, Oscar, up with them from the smoke of the South East. I liked Oscar. An old boy, he didn’t so much bark as cough. When you entered the room he approached you making the sort of flegmy noises that my old pipe-smoking landlord used to make as I walked into his pub (though Oscar wagged his tail slightly more and scratched himself slightly less than old Jack did). I wanted an Oscar when I moved up here.

No sooner had we arrived at their home than we were whisked off by Julia and Stuart to a nearby pub for the proverbial lunchtime pie and a pint. What perfect hosts. It was a charming, warm country affair with a fine selections of ales and spirits and a decent wine list. They even had lemons. Their daughter worked behind the bar and we were served immediately. It was wonderful ! We supped, we nibbled and we supped again. This was lovely. I could have stayed there all day. Happy days. As we’d come in I’d noticed there was a twee little white cottage next door which had a For Sale board outside. I started dreaming again. Hmmm…….

And then a bell rang and woke me up. “Time gentlemen please” bellowed the landlady.

Eh…? what…? Wassappening ???? I looked at my watch. It was 3pm. OF COURSE. Bloody country hours. Strangers to these shores may be unaware that up until ten years-or-so ago, pubs in England would close every day at 3pm (2pm on Sundays) and not re-open until 6pm (7 o’clock on Sundays). Legend has it that this haitus in available alcohol purchasing time was introduced during WWI to encourage the factory workers back to the production lines. As 20-somethings we didn’t give a monkeys about the history, all we knew was that our formative years of beer-swilling were punctuated by daily and very annoying periods during each afternoon when landlords would throw us out of perfectly good drinking holes. Pah.

Thankfully, the lawmakers of this country came to their senses and the laws were changed to allow beer to be served pretty much all day. Reason had prevailed and one could happily go missing in action in a saloon bar for a goodly amount of time. But, of course, we lived in London, where every opportunity to screw a few more pence out of the spending public was seized upon. Everything was open at every hour, every day. Pubs, restaurants and shops seemed never to close (though, perversely, police stations and hospitals and nursery schools started to close or operate restricted hours- go figure). Folk out in the sticks, however, liked things as they’d always been and the half-day closing practices continued.

So now, here in the middle of the English countryside and for the first time in yonks, I was being asked to leave a pub before 11pm for reasons other than foul language. And I tell you something: It felt perfectly fine. A sudden bout of nostalgia overcame me. I was transported back to those long, beerless afternoons of the 1980s, when I and legions of other thirsty herberts traipsed the streets trying to come up with something, anything to do while the pub was shut.

A smile passed my lips, this was a good thing. It was civilised, I could handle this. I was too long in the tooth to still feel the need to spend every waking hour in a hostelry. This is how adults behaved: you had a couple of quiet pints at lunchtime then made your way home to your loved ones. Spiffing. Adulthood, that which I vowed never to have anything to do with – like the Liberal Democrats, Strictly Come Dancing or anal tucks – had barged its way into my life and I felt comfortable letting it in.

We strolled back to the car. “That was great” I offered as convincingly as I might. “Very civilised indeed. Haven’t done that for years”.
“Yeah, it’s like the old days back in London, isn’t it?” agreed Stuart. We all nodded and manoeuvred our sensible middle-aged frames back into the car. I almost felt smug with myself. Stuart started the car then added,
“And on Mondays the pubs don’t open at all !”

!?!?

“Beg your pardon ?” I felt a cold chill run down my back. “Not open on Mondays. AT ALL???” I was a tad quieter on the drive back to the house.

The rest of the weekend was spent chomping a quaffing our way through Julia and Stuart’s wine cellar and food cupboards. Bloody fine it was too. Great company, smashing grub and a very fine selection of vin rouge kept us very happy indeed. We ventured out again on Sunday afternoon for a short tour of the area, stopping off at another pub for a pit stop. I wasn’t entirely convinced it was going to be open at all, given the shocking revelation of the day before. Thankfully I needn’t have fretted.

Just before we got our things together for our return trip home, a winter wasp (presumably another quirk of the countryside) flew up my trouser leg and stung me, thankfully only on the shin. Little bastard.

So we retraced our route back to the motorway en route to London, through the same lanes as the day before, now covered in jet blackness. Every so often we’d see a pair of unkown creature’s eyes illuminated in the headlights, or the flap of an owls wings as it swooped across the road in front of us.

It was all very different and all very lovely, but I decided that, as it turned out, I no longer wanted to live in the country. I’d gladly trade the smell of horses for the smell of a kebab house (often a strangely similar smell), I certainly could do without November wasps and I’ve never been all that keen on long country walks.

Back home now in Railway Cuttings, the rain is pouring down the window on a miserable, cold, November Monday afternoon. I’m looking out at bluetits on my nuts and squirrels burying theirs, not Owls hooting or badgers badgering. When I get bored of watching my more mundane urban wildlife I may just take myself off up to the village where there are five or six pubs with varying levels of charm. Some offer less-than-mediocre service, nearly all possess truly shocking toilets. In some the pipes won’t have been cleaned and there will be more barflies than customers (though I’ve yet to be bitten on the shin by a barfly). Being a Monday someone will have forgotten to order the lemons or re-stock the ice bucket.

But whatever the state of our local boozers down here in our little part of London they will be open. And that’s the way I like em.

True Grit ? Not Much !


Now that’s a proper movie trailer ! You can’t beat a good western. 40 years ago every Bank Holiday you could be sure one of the three tv stations would show The Magnificent 7 or High Noon. Alias Smith and Jones was the most popular tv show in our house (mainly cos my mum fancied Pete Duel) and The High Chaparral was high in the ratings, even though my dad reckoned it was a poor man’s Bonanza . “Saturday Morning Pictures” at the local cinema always showed Champion the Wonder Horse. It was fantastic.

As a spotty herbert growing up in south east London, me and my equally spotty mates would mosey on down to the Ponderosa, armed to the teeth with cap guns and plastic bowie knives, pretending to be Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood or even Alan Ladd (the cowboy of choice for the shorter 6 yr old). Cum Christmas time everyone asked for a cowboy outfit, long before that phrase became synonymous with Virgin Media or the FA.

But few parents shied away in buying their offspring fake Smith & Wessons, dads happily made their sons bows n arrows and no one thought for one minute that they were nurturing little Johnny into the next mass murderer or serial killer. At the time of writing I have never shot, stabbed or scalped a single person who didn’t deserve it, even though as a kid I had every weapon the local toy shop could offer, (I regularly watched Tom & Jerry too).

Kids played in the streets for hours and hours, filling the air with “piow, piow” sounds and “woo woo woo woo” noises as the cowboys chased the injuns around the houses, up the avenues and down the alleyways until our mums called us all in for our tea. If you walked down my road during any school holiday you couldn’t escape the smell of sulphur from the hundreds of cap gun shots fired that day. You’d probably find the the odd sucker-tipped arrow in your garden, next to the empty Jubbly cartons and Jamboree Bags (cowboys and injuns ate on the go).

I remember one afternoon me and my mate Alan Martin were hiding behind Mrs Baker’s garden wall, waiting to ambush some redskins who were creeping up the road, baying for white man’s blood, using the Unigate Dairies’ milk float as cover. These braves lived in the block of flats at the top of the road and we knew they’d soon be off home to watch Pinky n Perky and Mrs Baker’s garden was the perfect spot to cut them off at the pass. I checked my holster string was tight around my thigh, I pulled my neckerchief (my mum’s paisley scarf) up over my nose and mouth and checked I had a full reel of caps in my gun.

As I did so a warm feeling overcame me. Alan must have had one Jubbly too many that day cos in the excitement he decided to relieve himself down the back of my leg. The unmistakable sensation of someone else’s tepid urine saturating my jeans caused me to leap out of my hidey-hole and my cover was blown. I turned to remonstrate with my once partner, probably should have pistol-whipped him, but chose to burst into tears instead. As the woo woo woos started up and the arrows rained down on on us, Alan ran away and I stood there in a puddle of piss, not caring if the injuns scalped me, skinned me or strung me up by my nipples. I squelched home, ignoring the cries of “you’re dead, Bealing, you’re dead !”. I was steaming. Literally.

Things were never the same after that. I went off being a cowboy and took up cricket instead, though I always refused to go into bat if Alan was wicket keeping. When I eventually got to see True Grit a couple of years later I absolutely loved it. Never having been a huge fan of “Da Duke”, this was the best thing I’d ever seen him in. He was funny, he was horrible and for once wasn’t taking himself too seriously. I wanted to go out and buy myself an eye-patch, and if it wasn’t for the spector of my mate’s weak bladder I probably would have.

Westerns were changing. The old white hat/black hat world of Gary Cooper was over. Even Clint, who was slick and sleek in Rawhide, was still the goody but was now unshaven, mean and moody. I wasn’t allowed to watch most of these nasty, bloodthirsty movies, and I had to wait some time before I could find out for myself if there was indeed any spaghetti in them.

Then for years the genre (yes, I used it) went missing. They went out of favour, certainly in Hollywood, with just the odd European oddity making it to cult status. The late 70’s and 80’s were littered with cheesey cobblers like The Long Riders or Young Guns. But when Lonesome Dove came along in 1989 there was some hope that somewhere, someone was thinking along the right lines. Dances with Wolves quickly followed, then came The Unforgiven, many people’s favourite “cowboy” of all time. Things were really warming up. Wyatt Earp, Tombstone, and Ned Kelly were all thoroughly enjoyable romps and Brokeback Mountain evoked memories of the time when men were men and other men were glad of their company.

But when No Country for Old Men was released in 2007, closely followed by The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford I could have happily have died with my boots on there and then. Surely it couldn’t get any better than this ? They looked beautiful and felt good. These were adult movies like they started making in the 60’s and the 70’s before they forgot how to. We were back to Little Big Man, The Wild Bunch and A Man Called Horse. That’s worth a Yee-Harr in anyone’s language.

Now, just when I was thinking it couldn’t get any better, look what they’ve gone and done. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as, er, Glen Campbell. I’m in heaven ! I don’t need my old mate any more – I’m nearly wetting myself with excitement, waiting for the movie to open early next year. As I should have said to Alan on that fateful, moist afternoon: “Fill Your Hands, You Son of a Bitch”.

Course of Life


To paraphrase Baldrick, I don’t have a cunning plan.

As wonderful as June was, as much football and cricket I watched, as much time I spent in the garden, burning me ol’ bald ‘ead and finally laying to rest the myth that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, the time has come to tout myself. All play and no work makes Mike a fat, poor boy. The answer is simple. I need to throw myself at the mercy of the few remaining employers out there and ask for a job. Due to current fiscal restraints, this doesn’t mean I’ll start taking journos and editors out for long liquid lunches, crossing their palms with lager in the hope they’ll drunkenly offer me work, as much as that approach appeals to me. No, I’ll be doing what everyone else ends up having to do: tickling-up the old CV and getting it out there.

Funny thing, a CV. For starters curriculum vitae is one of the few latin phrases I use in everyday speech (along with ad nauseam, et tu, Brute ? and the ever-popular Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant – though I don’t use that one as much as I used to). Curriculum Vitae, as any schoolboy knows, is the Latin phrase for “2 Sides of bullshit written on A4”, or “Résumé ” in American. It’s the document that causes more stress and strife to bored office workers than any other, and one that more office PAs have to type up for their colleagues in return for a cup of coffee and a bun from Starbucks at lunchtime. Statistics prove that in any one working day, 20% of newspaper workers are working on their CV. The other 80% are fiddling their expenses (one for our older readers, there).

I’ve never been one for lying about myself (on a CV anyway). The way I look at it, if I go for a job in the Commandos and my CV says I’ve been a helicopter pilot, a Navy Seal and a Ghurka, I’m likely to get found out sooner rather than later, especially when on my first mission I start crying cos I’m afraid of flying, can’t swim and faint at the sight of blood (especially my own). No, I think the trick is to be completely honest in everything you write down, just leave out all the stuff you don’t want people to find out about.

For instance, I might put down that I picture-edited the definitive newspaper pull-out on the life of Diana, Princess of Wales on the morning after her death, but may leave out the day I stuck in a photo of a Harrow schoolboy for a story lauding the young men of Eton (oh how my Editor laughed when the Headmasters of both Eton and Harrow called up to complain). On the other hand I will mention with pride last year’s Beatles supplements for which I researched and picture edited for The Times. Using many rare or unseen images of Paul, George, Ringo and the other one, these books are real collectors items. They looked fantastic and I was very happy to have worked on them and boasted the same to anyone still awake in the pub. Then again, my contribution to the same publication’s 30 Best Summer Salads will go with me to my grave.

As you get older, you find the other problem is to judge how far back in time you go. Nowadays I don’t list my education or ‘qualifications gained’. I see no possible advantage in bringing up old wounds, or taking the blame at the age of 45 for what I didn’t do at 19. No, let us not dwell on such matters. However, my first real job was at a photographic studio and agency, who’s chief photographer regularly shot Page 3 Girls and Starbirds. Oh how I hated the days I studio-assisted for him. If you’re ever 19 again, offered a similar job in a photo studio, and where you’re in charge of light meters and ice-cubes, grab it with both hands (I know I did). It was often difficult to know where to look. The first words Samantha Fox ever said to me were “Oi ! Stop looking at my fanny!”. We were on a nude shoot for a German magaine. I was quite hurt. As I’d seen every other bit of her in the British press, but never seen her nude, what was I supposed to look at ?

But the question is, although this first flash and exposure to photography obviously aroused my interest (quiet at the back !) in photography, is it relevant to my next post ? Probably not, unless I get very lucky. I had to leave that job in the end as, apart from anything else, I was going a funny shape. The beginnings of the deterioration of my eyesight can be traced back to those three-and-a-half happy years with one hand on the light meter and the other on my ha’penny.

Apart from “Professional Experience”, there’s also the section at the end of a CV which comes with the heading “Outside Interests” . Over the years I’ve realised, having had hundreds of them submitted to me, this is the part of the CV which can reveal all about the candidate, the way of separating the ‘possibles’ from the ‘improbables’.
I once advertised a vacancy on a picture desk, I needed a junior researcher with a little bit of spark and nous. One applicant, having listed her places of work, qualifications gained (cow) and universities (plural) attended listed her ‘Hobbies and Interests’ as: “Taking and developing photographs; going to photo galleries; reading photographic books”.

NO !

I put it to you, that she was either a consummate bullshit artist, or the world’s dullest woman (and I’ve known a few). Possibly both. Why would you do that ? I don’t want to work in a photographic office where the only conversation is “Ooh did you see that documentary on Diane Arbus last night ?”
“No, I was at the Tate for the exhibition of contemporary Slovakian Romany black and white photography”
“Were you ? I wanted to see that, but my Rolleiflex is on the fritz and I had to get it repaired before the deadline to World Press Photo expires”
I tell you, it can get that exciting, I’ve heard them.

Wouldn’t you want to give the impression to your prospective employer that you’re a well-rounded, multi-faceted individual ? Someone who’ll bring a little bit of colour into the office ? Someone WHO HAS A LIFE ??? When I get to this part of the form I’m always tempted to copy Monty Python and list my interests as “golf, masturbation and strangling animals” just to see if anyone actually reads this far down. I know I do, and if I ever saw that sort of entry I would hire that person on the spot, but I suspect most just read the headlines at the top. I haven’t got the balls to test out this theory, of course. I shall probably be pretty vague and put down “Sport, movies and entertaining”. They don’t need to know what I really in my spare time, do they ?

So here I go. A day at my Mac, trying to remember what I did and when, avoiding professional disasters, bigging-up meself, as we like to say down these parts, and spreading the word that I’m back on the market, you lucky, lucky people. And hurry up with those job offers, I’m skint. Carpe Diem !

Now, here’s the job for me ! Who can I put down for a reference ?

Pity it’s in Wales.

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The Eyes Have It


I went for an eye test this morning.
I sat nervously in the opticians waiting room (well, in a conspicuous space in an open plan shop in Canary Wharf), clutching a piece of paper tightly. I had booked my appointment online, and by registering with them, the company offered me a 50% discount on eye tests and 10% off glasses. WooHoo!! Trouble is at no stage did they actually announce how much an eye test was. What was I going to pay half of? £10? £50? A HUNDRED ??? I didn’t know but it didn’t matter that much anyway. My eyes had not been what they were for some time, and I wanted that put right.

“Ah hello Mr Bealing, do come in” said a cheery man in the examination room. “My name is Kalpesh, how do you do ? Is this the first time you’ve had an examination with us?”
“er…yes” I replied, sweating in the way I do when under the pressure of a perfectly innocent question asked by a very polite man.
“Ok, and when was that last time you had your eyes tested?”
“Oh about 1989 I would think.”

My mind wandered off:
I remembered booking myself in for an appointment at the old Greenwich Hospital for a test, for reasons now lost in the mists of time. Two young-ish blokes put silly glasses on me, asked me to look at numbers, letters and things and finally shone several bright lights into each of my eyes before pronouncing me to have perfect vision. I thanked them, stood up and attempted to find my way out of the room. However, the previously administered lightshow was still blurring my vision and I missed the doorway by a good three feet. Smack!. I fumbled about and found the opening, the sound of optometrist’s laughter following me out into the corridor.

Anyway, back to this morning. The test began with me looking into a machine, which at shotgun speed blew bullets of compressed air into my eyes.
“This is to test the pressure in your eyes” Kalpesh informed me.
“It bloody hurts” I informed I him back.
“You want a tissue?” he asked, noticing my eyes streaming
“No, no, I’m fine thanks”, said I, not wanting to betray my wussiness.
Several more machines were sat at, including (as an ‘optional extra’) one which took a photo of the inside of my eyes, and Kalpesh announced he was done. He jotted down a few notes, stood up and said, “Right! Now the examination can begin”
“Well what was that, then ?” I asked
“That was just a few measurements I needed to take before starting”
So, in truth, he’d made me cry even before the test had started. Wonderful. To soften the blow, Kalpesh let me know that with the discount, the cost of the exam AND the optional extra retina photo would be 19 quid. Even I could afford that. “Lead on MacDuff.”

We moved to another, darker room. Vaguely familiar silly glasses were donned, different bits of plastic were slid into place, I looked left, right, up and down. Then came the lights again. Dirty great laser beams, more befitting of Dr. No than Vision Express honed into view and were concentrated on first my right, then my left peeper. As each beam pulsed into the back of my eyes, buckets of tears flowed out of the front.
“Would you like a tissue? “ Kalpesh again asked.
“No, no. I’m fine thanks” I said, manfully. My eyes may have been on the way out but there was nothing wrong with my stiff upper lip.

I read with my right eye, peered through the blurred mist of my left, I read letters, looked at shapes and scanned text. It soon became obvious that my eyes couldn’t do what I needed them to do all on their own, and that I would indeed need specs. Oh bugger! Or rather, Old Bugger !

Out into the daylight once more, I was handed over to Kalpesh’s colleague, Amrit. Here was another cheery fellow (what is it about opticians??? I might apply). Amrit took me through the cost of the exam and told me how, if it was my wish, we could proceed with ordering my glasses.
“Oh fuck it!” I proclaimed “We may as well get it over with. Lets do it.”.

We walked to the wall of glasses where we paused. “Now”, said Amrit “how do I put this politely?…. you have a rather wide … er “
“I’ve got a big fat head” I interjected, helping the poor bloke out
“Ah yes!” he gasped in embarrassment “thank goodness, you knew”
“Not a problem , Amrit, I was born with it.”

We spent the next stage of our time together choosing frames together. Romantic it wasn’t. Illuminating it was. I had imagined, whenever I’d given it the tiniest of thought, that if I wore Buddy Holly glasses I’d look like, well, like Buddy Holly, or Elvis Costello at the very least. No such luck. I looked like an old, fat Nobby Stiles. A mutant Harry Palmer. A poor man’s John Mcririck.

Some frames made me look like my dad, some like my mum. This was not how it was supposed to be. This was yet another rusty old nail on my worm-riddled old coffin. I couldn’t possibly be that old. It’s a short limp from here to being tapped on the shoulder by the Grim Reaper, getting a Wish You Were Here card from the other side, my Logan’s Run crystal turning to black, or the Great Umpire going upstairs for a referral.

But, hey, I know I’m old. That is, after all, all I go on about, week-in week-out. So I plumped. I plumped for a pair of not-too-retro, not-too-trendy (according to Amrit) frames which not only was I comfortable wearing, but also didn’t go ping when I tried to slide them over my ears. If I’m gonna have to wear them I want them to be comfy. So me and my newest and bestest of pals went to the checkout desk.

“So when can I pick them up?” I wondered
“They should be ready in a couple of hours” Amrit said matter-of-factly.
“Well I can’t do that, I’ll pop in on my way home tonight”
“Not a problem Mr Bealing, we’re open til seven”
“Perfect, I shall be here at half six”.
“Ok, Mr Bealing, so with the test, the lenses and the frames that comes to £347.20”

pause

“Could I trouble you for a tissue please, Amrit ?”.

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