The Handy Man Can


Today I finally feel I belong. I feel my place in society is, once again, secure. I feel like I’ve been welcomed back, invited into the game that everyone else is playing. No, it’s not that I’ve got a job or as if any of my emails asking for work have even been replied to. No, I clearly need to lower my expectations on that front. What has happened is that I’ve noticed that my road, and more importantly my house, has finally been photographed by the chaps at Google Street View.

The Gamekeeper's Lodge, Railway Cuttings

Yes, just 18 months after the Sharp Single, the rest of the country, nay, world debated whether this new technology was intrusive, instructive, an aid to burglars or a gift to estate agents, Railway Cuttings is finally on the map. I think we were next on the the list after the High Street, Ulan Bator.

Go see for yourself: just tap in “Railway Cuttings, SE3” and you’ll see me wearing nothing but tight-fitting rugby shorts, watering my plants. There’s The Incumbent trimming her bush, and if you zoom in, you can see the dent on my front door which got damaged in an altercation with that door-to-door salesmen. Notice also that the window cleaner still hasn’t been.

I dunno when Google drove past in one of their funny little vans, but it can’t have been that long ago – the croquet lawn has a little straw-coloured tinge to it, the duck house is looking spick and span with it’s fresh coat of paint, and those ornamental stone meerkats are a recent edition, so the photos must have been taken within the last month. Yes the old place is looking pretty nice at the moment- both online and in real life.

Inside, I’ve had time to attend to those little jobs which I’ve been meaning to get around to for so long. Thanks to superglue, the front of the cutlery drawer no longer pulls away and drops onto my foot every time I go in search of the bottle opener (which happens more than you’d think). I no longer need to employ a shire-horse to open and shut the patio doors since I discovered the little adjustable screw at the bottom of the window, so it now glides smoothly to and fro.

That irritating bubble of paper in the lounge ceiling (evidence of a bathroom flood some years ago, I suspect) has been cut out, smoothed over and re-painted. Ok, it’s been repainted in brilliant white gloss, where the rest of the ceiling is in yellowing matt (I told you my eyes aren’t what the were) and I’m gonna have to paint the whole sodding ceiling, but it still looks better than it did. Ish.

The electrics are still a worry, of course.In the lounge I have the most pointless dimmer switch in Christendom. It’s either on or off, no inbetween. If I do try to dim the lights to create a mood the lights flicker like James Galway’s eyeballs. If you like eating your dinner in original Thomas Edison lighting, this is the place for you. Last year I decided to replace the switch, convinced as I was that the flicker was the result in faulty wiring. The result of my trip to Homebase and half and hour with my trusty screwdriver is that I have a lovely sparkly-white dimmer switch which I can have either the on, off or strobe. Didn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Elsewhere I have a double-switch which controls the kitchen and dining area, and is also linked to the dimmer in the next room. When I moved in this worked as double switches are supposed to: I could have the lights on in the kitchen, or in the dining room, or both, or neither. But having replaced the aforementioned dimmer switch, I wanted to replace the old double switch with a shiny new one too. So out came the screwdriver again, off came the old switch box, and on went the new one.

Perfect.

Except I must have mis-remembered how the original was wired, because I can now have the lights on in the kitchen, or in the dining room, but not both. And not neither, unless you perfect a Bletchley-Park series of combinations with the switches of the double AND the dimmer. Walk by my house when I’m going to bed, with all the lights going on and off in different permutations, and you’d think I was signaling a passing U-boat. If I have people round for a meal there a several interludes when the diners are plunged into darkness as I return to the kitchen to retrieve a serving spoon or another bottle of white from the fridge.

As with most things that are not quite right around the house, I’ve tended to leave them be, and get used to them. I did get my dad up the other week to attempt to fix the lighting situation, but after 3 hours of screwdrivers, circuit-testers and swearing at each other we gave it up as a bad job, But this week I’m gonna see a bloke, who knows a bloke, who knows a bloke (this is a bloke you know) who knows all about electrics. I shall cross his palm with tea and biscuits, and even silver if I have to, to get the bloody thing done. I’ve bought myself bucketloads of Homebase Economy Whitewash to go over the walls and ceiling, Polyfilla will sort out those couple of holes in the walls upstairs, and I will spend several lovely hours ridding my flower-beds of fox turds.

Then I shall contact Google and ask them to drive past again with their camera to photograph a TO LET sign in my front garden (knowing my luck the local kids will paint an ‘i’ between the two words). As no bugger seems to want to employ me (go figure) I shall just have to make my living out of my property portfolio (which currently contains one house). Street View are not due to pass by this way again for another six years but I’m sure they’d come round much sooner to rid their pages of the photo of me holding my belly in and my hose out.

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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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Turned Out Nice Again, ‘Int It?


Well, this is a bit more like it. The start of the third week of my freelance, er, career, and the sun has decided to join us. The BBC’s Rob McElwee tells me it’s gonna last all week “The summer is a-coming” he announced with less enthusiasm than you’d hope for. Rob is the longest serving of the BBC weather men, and I always think he takes sadistic glee when informing us of impending floods/hurricanes/blizzards. No, I don’t get the impression Rob’s favourite season is the summer, and he’d much rather it was a-going than a-coming.

But I can’t help liking the bloke. There’s a sort of Milliganness about him. His eyes alost merge into one, and the tuft of hair atop of his forehead is reminiscent of some character from Puckoon. I half expect, when he speaks, that his jaw will stay were it is and the top of his head will go up and down. But that’s probably just me. Long may he rain. (see what I did there?)

So here I sit, in the garden, cup of tea by my side, Norah Jones warbling in my ear and nothing to break the tranquility of it all, save the drip, drip, drip of my oxters as the temperature reaches 25 degrees, and it’s only 11 o’clock. The Incumbent asked if it was odd yet, whether I’d gotten used to being off work yet? To be honest, no I haven’t, but that’s not to say it’s all bad, or even all good. It’s just all different. Example: Isn’t Sainsbury’s empty at 9.30 on a Monday morning? I was in and out of there this morning like a French football team at a World Cup (and without the arguments).

I reckon there were about 20 shoppers in the whole supermarket, mostly mums having done the school-run, a few pensioners and me. The booze section was completely deserted, up until I arrived at least. Being without an income gives one pause, of course. With a week of England vrs Aussie cricket to watch, Tennis to avoid and then Wednesday’s soccer match to endure, I knew I’d need something to numb the pain but, at the moment, bottles of malt whisky are a bit of a luxury.

I needed something just below prescription strength but to suit the budget of the unemployed. Being the day before that bastard Osborne delivers the budget, I guessed that this time tomorrow anything except Bollinger was gonna reach gold-standard prices, so I needed to stock-up fast. Moving swiftly past the Diamond White (I do have some standards) I toyed with the idea of treating myself to a plastic ‘barrel’ of ‘draught’ Grolsch before plumping for a case of bottles of the same, for a mere ten of your english pounds. Not bad, I thought, and if I could chomp through half of them before kick-off, the match vrs Slovenia might just be bearable.

Of course, I could have bought a couple of cases, had it not been for an incident on my doorstep last Friday. No-one ever calls at my door. I don’t really know why I paid good money for a door-bell a couple of years ago. For all the use it gets I may have well bought a hang-glider or an exercise bike. Nevertheless, there I was on my sofa on Friday lunchtime, preparing myself for an evening of cheering on England and their inevitable victory against Algeria, when the bell did indeed ring.

Remembering to put some trousers on first, I went and opened the door. On my doorstep was a fella of about 50, with a cigarette hanging at a jaunty angle from his bottom lip, a mobile phone in one hand, and a spiral-bound notepad in the other, leaning against the door frame.

“Oh ! You’re in !” exclaimed the stranger.
“Evidently”
“No, it’s just that you’re never normally in when I call” he said by way of explanation for his opening gambit.
Still not knowing who this bloke was, I nonetheless found myself justifying why I was at home.
“Well I’m usually at work, I suppose”. Even as I said it I wondered why I was having this conversation at all.
“Ah, day off for the footy, is it?” He said in that nudge-nudge, wink-wink, you-lazy-bastard sort of tone.
“NO” I barked, “I’m out of work”
“Oh sorry, pal, I didn’t know”
“It’s ok, why would you?” I said with mock grief. Was this bloke a door-to-door counsellor, a freelance gloater, or just some nosy neighbour whom I’d been, up to then, blissfully unaware of.

He segwayed.

“You want your windows done?”
“Pardon?” his change of tack had caught me flat-footed.
“Want your windows cleaned? We do all the others around here and I wondered if you want yours done? A fiver for the front, a tenner for front and back.”
“erm…”
“did you get our card through your door ?”
“Er, no” I was struggling to keep up with the pace of this dialogue.
“oh fuckin’ ‘ell !. He told me he’d done this road.” With a slight shake of his head, my new acquaintance wrote something in his notepad.

“So what do reckon about tonight then?” We were back to the football.
“Oh they should be alright, don’t you think?” I offered, pretending I knew about football.
“Those Algerians ain’t as bad as people think, you know” he retorted
“Well, no..no, you could be right” I said, not wanting to start an argument.
“So do you want your windows done or not, mate?” he asked, clearly having had enough of footy-talk.
“Oh yes..why not? Er, hang on, I’ll get some money”
“Tenner mate, please” he called after me as I retreated to the sanctuary of my house.

I only had a 20 quid note in my wallet.
“Have you got a tenner?” I asked
“I’ve got bundles, mate”. I knew he would have. “Here you are then”

The financial exchange completed, he told me I was paid-up til August- something I didn’t quite understand but ignored.
“Right, we should be back here about 4 o’clock. If you’re not in, just make sure your windows are shut and locked.”
I knew I wouldn’t be in at 4 o’clock as I’d be nestled somewhere in front of a pub TV ready for the big match (well, you can never get there too early). As he turned on his heels, my tenner in his pocket and his mobile in his ear, I knew it was a bit extravagant doshing out tenners to unknown men to do I job I should be doing myself. I was also fully aware (and slightly ashamed) I’d been bullied into having my windows washed against my will, and that I’d panicked and crumbled in the face of stronger and faster opposition. But, hey, it keeps the local economy going and, anyway, my mum would be pleased with me having sparkly-clean windies. I started to muse about becoming a window cleaner knowing that, for a nosey parker it’s an interesting job. But I soon decided that that way a plagiarism suit lies.

So that was Friday. It’s Monday afternoon now. Haven’t seen him again. No ladder has been parked up against my wall, no soapy waters or squeegee has touched my glass. My tenner, like Nicolas Anelka, has buggered off, never to be seen again. I’ve been deficient in the chamois leather department to the tune of one. Like one of those old biddies on the local news, I’ve been had over by a local ‘rogue trader’. I’m ten pounds lighter, but not in the way I’d prefer. I should put it all behind me and clean them myself. But, true to Rob McElwee’s word, it’s about to rain. That’ll keep him happy.

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Foxy Politics


Here’s one to think about when we have to go to the polls again later on in the year (I recommend getting there early this time). Dunno where this came from but it made me chuckle.

I find it very hard to resist a political movement which boasts the support of both Queen’s lead guitarist, still resplendent in his perm, and Francis Rossi OBE. However, my support for this very noble cause has been tempered by the little bastard who left a huge pat of runny turd in my vegetable patch this week. This is the latest in a long, cowardly campaign to disrupt my growing season, and I know our local fox is the culprit.

Forever finding huge stools and dirty great holes dug among my seedlings is really starting to get on my wick. While I am totally and utterly opposed to hunting down these magnificent animals, this particular one is gonna feel my boot straight in his goolies if I ever catch him. Magnificent Mr Fox, my arse.