Who Do You think You’re Kidding?


Things are definitely changing around here, and some of them not for the best.

I took off this morning on another one of what my doctor, Mr Lansley, calls “life-extending promenades” this morning. I know he means well but I’m not sure Dr Lansley understands just how far “a half hour’s walk” is. Or, come to that, if he understands anything at all about my health. Anyway, the novelty of the yomp to the post office is wearing off already so today I decide to turn the other way into the village itself. This way is a little more interesting as I pass by or through all the hustle and bustle which country life can offer.

I therefore reach the top of the lane and turn left this time, past the school with its newly installed metal detector and courtesy black maria which the children seem to find very interesting indeed. I stand to watch several of them playing a game of Hopscotch (or HopCaledonian as they are told to call it nowadays) through and around the metal detector. I started to reminisce about my time at the school and all the lovely knife-free years I enjoyed there, before I am awakened from my daydream and shooed away by a man pointing a Taser and wearing a flak jacket in school colours. I am a mixture of embarrassed and annoyed, but in any case shuffle off in the direction of the newsagent’s and the football fields beyond.

I no longer use this newsagent. I spent years gleaning from it all the info about the outside world I could. It was a lovely sight. A lovely big sign outside reading “The Village News” above the window was flanked by smaller ones of a bygone day: The News Of the World, News Shopper and even Horse&Hound were all represented in enamel signs down the sides of the shop. Proudly and efficiently run by old Mr Turnbull and his younger wife Susanna, it was a constant source of news, gossip and entertainment.

Sadly, as in everything nowadays, the shop has had a makeover, renamed itself “T’News of T’Village” and is daubed with posters for the Yorkshire Post, Salford Sentinel, and Whippet Magazine. The shop window has been widened, the counter brought closer to the door, and there’s even a space in the background for customers to enjoy a cappuccino or a flat white, run by the serial liar Mrs Kirkwood. (Amazing they haven’t pensioned her off yet.) The company has brought in a whole new staff to help out old Bill. I went in there one Sunday afternoon and found Jack Duckworth and Seth Armstrong serving. I had not a clue what they were on about and left sharply, never to return.

Mr Turnbull takes to the streets to sell the riveting Tameside Express

For your information I now pop along to Mr Humphrys who runs the paper stand on the corner. He doesn’t carry any of the tabloids or the magazines, and is only interested in the broadsheets, but at least I can understand what he’s talking about. And he and his friend Mr Naughtie (“Naughty Naughtie”, my mum calls him) do have a laugh when one of them accidentally mispronounces Mr Jeremy Hunt‘s name.  The only alternative place to get my news from is Holmes’– the convenience store in the high street. But I fear that if the manager, Eamonn, doesn’t stop tucking into the pasties (“well, no-one else is buying them any more”) they’ll be no room for anyone to get into the shop to buy anything. Fat eejit, so ye are.

As I passed them, Old Bill had young Charlie helping him pile up sandbags outside the door of the shop. They looked very sad. Mrs Kirkwood had her sunglasses on, so I knew it was about to rain. I put up my brolly, upped the pace to a stroll and continued up the path.

The school football pitches lay silent, save for the rustling of Ginsters Dwarf packets being blown about in the goal netting, and old Mr Fry, the omnipresent caretaker re-marking out the lines with his trusty, squeaky wheely machine. I’m sure that’s not what it’s called and that Mr Fry would take the time to tell me, at length, what its real name is, but I intentionally don’t catch his eye. I’m getting bored of him telling me everything about everything. It seems like he’s everywhere I go. And he keeps asking me to follow him. It’s creepy, I reckon. Why he doesn’t find himself a nice wife I’ll never know.

A small boy is told that Mr Moon is unable to play at the village concert.

Much excitement was to be had, apparently, up at these pitches at the weekend as two of the immigrant boys did frightfully well in their respective soccer matches. Young Fernando scored three goals. IN ONE MATCH. Putting to bed the fear had by his new PE master, Signor Baldio, that the boy needed to be fitted with calipers to sort his legs and feet out.

Over on another pitch, little Adolf Suarez also scored three times, even though parents were assured at christmas that he was to be expelled for calling some of the other boys “Schwartzers”.  His coach, Mr Kenneth Gorbals (pronounced Goebbels), sadly now blind in both eyes, did offer something by way of excuse, but no-one understood him. And on Pitch 3 John the School Bully amazed everyone by staying on the pitch for the whole of the match, and without abusing or maiming anyone. He got rather excited when he scored a goal, but his dad rushed on to the field of play and administered some pills, which he’d secreted in a little baggie down his sock. After the match ‘Bully’ was seen talking to the nurse, Mrs Bridge who seemed to be backing in to him. A lot.

It’s sad to think that in a matter of weeks the pitches and the ancient trees that surround them will be dug up and tarmacked over for use as an Olympic car park. Oh well, we all have to do our bit, I suppose. What’s hundreds of years of history and a few old Oaks when compared to ensuring the success of a corporate carve-up sports tournament ?

The Terry family takes on the Suarezes in a friendly kick about on Sunday morning.

The school’s newly-appointed Temporary Chief Coach, Mr W.O.T. Wovers (Cantab) said that he was “wery happy with all the boys he’d seen in twaining” and that he was confident in their ability to do well in the tournament this summer “especially against fwance and the Ukwaine”.

On the far side of the football pitches I could see the SBS training in the village pond. Their activity was only hampered by having to steer their boats around the Astute-class nuclear submarine which the Royal Navy have parked, sorry moored in our pond, much to the annoyance of both the ducks and the local flasher.  Sadly, since the local ARP warden, Mr Johnson, announced that our village was a prime Al Qaeda target this summer, the whole place has been a hive of activity, with varying degrees of success and popularity.

The site for the gun emplacement – originally destined to be on top of the Conservative Club – has been moved (thank the Lord) and will stand proudly, perched on top of the ICU building at the local Hospital. Mr Johnson tells us that, not only will this deter the “Mad Raghead Mullahs” from bombing our NHS hospital, but it will ensure the general security and safety of all those waiting hours in corridors to be seen by the woefully short-handed staff”. I can certainly see that no right-minded burglar would want to break into the hospital now.

A crack team of nurses abandon their posts at the gun emplacement as they
remember they’ve left an elderly patient alone with young Dr Shipman

As I turned for home, I paused for a moment and removed my cap as a funeral cortege passed by. They were burying old Mrs Blears who died suddenly and horribly in a freak razor-wire accident. She was wrapping the aforementioned wire around her chimney in an effort to dissuade the Taliban from mounting an attack on her home, when she slipped and fell through the wire to the ground. Only the wire catching her across the neck and in her mop of lovely ginger hair saved her fall. Sadly she died from the injuries sustained. Had she been rescued in time she may have lived. Apparently she hung there for four weeks before anyone noticed she’d gone. One neighbour said “I’m so relieved she’s dead: I thought I’d gone deaf”. Another was quoted as saying “Let’s just remember what she did for us and for herself and enjoy the peace and silence now she’s gone”.

I buy my paper from Mr Humphry’s I see that they’ve decided to allow drug users to represent the village in the summer sports day. That’s good. It’ll give School Bully something to do in the closed season. I did see his dad and Mr Chambers having a good old chin-wag earlier (which is strange, given Mr Chambers’ colour), but I’m sure whatever was said could be easily taken out of context.

Ok, gotta go now. Have to buy one of Mr Coe’s lottery tickets for a place in the Air Raid shelter. S’funny, I always thought there’d be a place for all of us in the shelter when the time finally came, given all the taxes we’ve paid over the years and how long we’ve lived here. Not to mention that many of us had to move out of home to allow Mr Coe to build that big bunker of his. But apparently some seats have to be reserved for special friends of Mr Coe, and their friends and their families. Which is only right, I suppose.

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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.

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Saturday Morning Pictures


I’ve now gone a fortnight without cable tv and it’s driving me up the wall. The fine chaps at Virgin promise me faithfully that I’ll have all 738 channels installed at the beginning of next month but til then I have to put up with whatever passes for watchable tv via Freeview.

Having watched every episode of Top Gear, Nazi Hunters and Antiques Roadshow three times I’m running out of options. Just goes to show how quickly one becomes spoilt by access to 8 sports channels and the 74 documentary networks, plus the odd squint at endless re-runs of Only Fools and Horses (RIP Trigger, and all that, but is it ever not on?).

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Many moons ago, when my trousers still fit me and I had no idea what I was gonna do with my life (easy tiger), it seemed there was always something on. Three channels were just fine and dandy, thankyouverymuch. We had no video recorders, MTV or even QVC to keep us going. We were happy with whatever the BBC or, in times of desperation, ITV chose to pump down the tube. For some of us when Channel 4 came along it was just pure extravagance. Who would have time to watch FOUR stations?

Us kids would lap up everything they threw at us, and because there were only 3 stations to choose from, chances were that everyone at school had watched the same thing as you. There was none of this “did you see Fluffy the Vampire Dolphin on CockFX USA last night” because there was no CockFX USA on last night. Or any night come to that.

Us kids had our hour or two in the early evening when we’d happily put up with whatevr dross the Beeb or the Children’s Film Foundation would throw at us.  These were full of kids who didnt seem to be like us. The producers obviously thought they were like us, but somehow they were different. They probably came from West London where they were posh and had carpets, doors and suchlike. Down in SE London we had no such luxuries, but we enjoyed the shows anyway.

Stuff Like The Double Deckers (which Fox/Youtube have kindly put the kibosh on me showing here) was populated by West London posh kids, dressed up to look like urchins and vagabonds, but looked like future Cabinet ministers and Prep School Headmistresses (and that was only Melvin Hayes.)

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I mean look at them ! Never been further East than Notting Hill.  Still, it was all we had and it was ours to watch while mum made the tea (sorry, dinner).  At 6 o’clock the news would come on, which was boring but dad watched it anyway, then if there was nothing worth watching after that he turned the telly off !! What a weirdo.

No Such problems for us lot on a Saturday morning however. The telly was ours and ours alone. Saturdays meant The Multi Coloured Swap Shop – a rambling two-and-a-half hours of cartoons, comedy, music and swapping. There were several incarnations of this show, many hosted by charming, hairy, non-murderer Noel Edmonds, all based around the premis that kids would call in and offer their Raleigh Chipper of someone’s Hot Wheels, or their sister’s Tiny Tears for a pair of Gary Sprake Goalie’s Gloves. I never actually knew anyone who offered or bid for anything on the show. We were far more interested in the cartoons and series from around the world which Swap Shop introduced us to.

There were The Banana Splits, the 1960s black and white French serial version of Robinson Crusoe (it was worth watching for the theme tune alone) and many more. But you couldn’t beat The Flashing Blade. No-one had a clue what was going on, apart from somewhere in Maida Vale there were some appalling, overpaid voice-over actors dubbing this swashbuckler to within an inch of its life. But if you weren’t having a sword fight with your brother by the end of this then you were clinically dead from the neck up. The theme tune went on for longer than the show did. I guarantee no-one watching T’BBC’s new Musketeers will get more pleasure out of the joy I experienced watching the Flashing Blade.

So that was how we spent our time. Oh the innocence of it all. It was all good healthy stuff. The closest we came to being turned on was a flash of Sally Jame’s drawers if she slipped over on a Phantom Flan on TISWAS. Nowadays, if you wanted to watch half our of a young, sweater-clad Austrian babe playing with stallions there are plenty of websites you can go to. Back when I were a lad, this is all we got. And we just didn’t get it. And I gather nor did she.

The Taking of Eltham 132


I was all over the place this morning, in every sense. I don’t suppose staying awake for most of the night to watch the latest demolition of the Aussie cricket team will have helped with my fuzziness, though one would have thought having watched our brave lads once again stuff it up em would have brightened my mood immeasurably. Even so, as I left Railway Cuttings around 12.30 this lunchtime I was aware that I was a particularly tired and miserable old Hector.

I needed to pick up something down in North Greenwich at the O2. The Dome. The Millennium Bivouac or whatever it’s called this week. Then from there I needed to go to Eltham to deposit a cheque into my good friends Nathaniel Westminster & Co. It was cold and damp as I trudged up to the village to catch the first of the buses I needed to use to navigate my way around SE London. After twelve steps along the road it started raining with feeling. My mood didn’t improve much.

As I yomped by the infants school on the way, the teachers were yelling at the kids to get inside out of the rain. I don’t remember my schoolmasters calling us in out of the playground to get dry. I’m sure we ended up huddled under a tree in the corner, fatties on the inside, skinnies on the outer (sorry, the phone lines for this week’s quiz question “Where did Bealing stand?” have been closed).

Come to think of it, when we were their age we were never issued sun hats in the summer nor reflective vests when we went on school trips, but the hats seem to be de rigueur whenever the sun peeps through and my train to London is often full of little yellow herberts looking like an Oompa Loompa chain gang. When we went out on school trips we were pretty much left to our own devices. They counted us out and counted us in, rounding up any odd numbers. Or down – no two teachers ever counted us in the same way. We once lost thirteen kids on a trip to London Zoo. Five of them are still missing, presumed eaten.

But I digress.

Up to the bus stop, my coat sopping wet by now, to join the end of a queue of five or six other poor sodden sods. The electronic sign on the bus shelter said the 108 bus to North Greenwich would be 7 minutes. Sure enough, 11 minutes later it arrived. The people ahead of me filed onto the bus, one by one, until it was my turn to take the step up on board. Just as I was about to do so, and with military precision some young, complete cabbage, replete with man-bag and ipod ran up the hill towards us and with one bound leapt in front of me onto the footplate and got on board ahead of me. I was shocked and stunned, and not a little amazed. However, true to form, I kept my feelings of deep resentment and savage anger to myself. My only concession to my fury was to bark at the middle of my voice “Jesus! there are a lot of rude bastards around”. But the object of my disaffections had long since moved along the bus, and anyway his earphones were clamped to his lugholes so he was deaf to my rantings (thank christ: he was a big unit).

Alighting at the Dome, I quickly went about my business and after no more than fifteen minutes I found myself in another queue, this time waiting for the 132 bus to Eltham which, as if to catch us all by surprise, arrived on time. There wasn’t a seat to be had, so me and this rather plump, elderly woman (almost indistinguishable nowadays) carrying numerous heavy shopping bags stood rather closely together in the well usually reserved for baby buggies and wheelchairs. I would have happily sat in either if they were available. The old girl looked knackered and I wasn’t sure she’d make the trip.

Facing us, virtually touching the old lady’s knees, sat a thirty-something couple. He had an accent – either American or Canadian (to my shame I still can’t differentiate one from the other) – and had clearly been in the country a lot longer than his partner as he was going through his shopping bags, minutely detailing and explaining the buys therein. Clearly both the food and toy Departments of Tescos in nearby Bow had taken a bit of a pounding.

“This is Clue” he bellowed at a rather irritating volume “but for some reason they call it ClueDO over here”. She was sitting right next to him. Why was he shouting? “I can’t figure why they’d wanna change the name.”

He pulled out the next item from his jamboree bag. “And see ? They have Peanut Butter Cups here. I didn’t think they had them over here. I looked for them for weeks. But now it turns out they totally do. So I bought some. Awesome. It’s so tough to find anything over here that you really need.”

“Wow!” said the girl, looking as if she was feigning both interest and consciousness. I felt a touch of the Basil Fawltys coming over me. (“I’m sorry if the road wasn’t wide enough, a lot of English cars have steering wheels”)

If it wasn’t for the wilting poor cow next to me, I could have put up with this loud, irritating twat. As it was, I was getting a little concerned that the old girl was buckling. Eventually, remembering my annoyance at the queue-jumper earlier, added to my irritation at this boring git in front of me, I could no longer help myself.

“Scuse me for butting-in, mate,” I was leaning in close to him so as not to make too much of a scene “but you might be interested in another couple of strange things we do over here ?”

“Oh yeah?  Like what ?”. He seemed genuinely interested.

“Well,” I continued “For starters, when we see an old lady nearly collapsing in front of us, we often get up and offer her our seat. We also use phrases like ‘oh I’m sorry’ and ‘excuse me, would you like to sit down?’ ”

He looked embarrassed, as did his girlfriend. He jumped to his feet and hurried the old biddy into the seat. “Sorry, man, I didn’t realise” he offered.

“Don’t apologise to me, mate” I retorted, “apologise to that lady, you ignorant fucker”. I think that one broke down any language barrier ok.

For the remainder of the trip I buried  my head into my phone messages, my work here being done. The rude and boring Canuks/Yanks got off soon after our exchange. The old lady and I swapped knowing glances. Her my Damsel in Distress, me her Shite in Whining Armour. Or is that armor?

I had finally woken up. I was on a roll. And just in time to visit the bank. That was bound to cheer me up.

 

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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”.

A Beggar’s Banquet


Back to Dartford on Wednesday, to watch my old school play the MCC in the annual cricket match. I rarely return to my alma mater so this was a rare treat for me, if not for them.

I’d met my old sports master (O.T. “Buster” Price, for those interested) at Lords the previous day who told me he was playing down at the old school and wondered if I fancied coming down to watch. I checked my diary and, as luck would have it, I was free.

I enjoyed my time as a student at school, mainly because the headmaster was a sports nut and allowed me and my mates to stroll aimlessly through our academic timetable, just as long as we were fit and able enough to represent the school in our chosen sports.

The Blurry, Black and White Summer of 1980

So ignoring the weather forecast of wind and showery rain, I donned shorts and t-shirt and made my way down to the school field where I’d ran around as a young, fit lad (ok, ok it was 30 years ago), on the cricket and rugby fields for house and school teams. A marquee had been erected, chairs had been set out and small boys in school uniform were sat in rows to witness the action before them, as a master patrolled behind them to make sure they at least looked like they were interested. It was all very English: flannelled fools throwing and hitting balls around, resplendent in their whites, a force five breeze bringing in the storm clouds from the west, and three people trying in vain to get the bar-b-q to light.

I was greeted by a few Old Boys and several of those staff who helped me tip-toe my way though maths exams, history tests and physics classes, and then doubled-up as cricket umpires and rugby coaches. Happy days indeed. They were all kitted out this day in suits and school ties, and I stood out like a fat bloke in shorts, but no-one seemed to mind, though I did think they were a little over-dressed for the occasion. They looked like members of an ageing bowls club, I looked like the greenkeeper.

Hands were shaken and niceties exchanged as we wound our way down memory lane, all the time shuffling out of the way of others bustling around preparing lunch, tea and the bar. It really was a hive of activity and excitement. A little over-the-top for a school match, I thought, but each to their own. Plates and plates of salad arrived, there was cake, there was tea and biscuits, there were scones, there was beer and cheese and wine and crisps: a feast fit for, if not a king, certainly the Mayor of Dartford complete with his chain of office (“what the hell is he doing here ?” I thought) there was also a bar-b-q which still wouldn’t light.

The morning’s play ended and the players and invited guests (ah! that’s why they’re wearing suits) went into the clubhouse for lunch. The rain started coming down so I did the only reasonable thing: I went down to the pub for an hour.

Two horrible pints and a rotten cheese sandwich later, I returned to the field of play. The rain had stopped, the players were back on the field, and if anything the activity in and around the marquee had intensified. You could cut the atmosphere with a white plastic spoon. More reluctant spectators had been drafted in to ‘watch the match’. About 30 more uniformed 13 year olds had been inserted into a previously empty row of chairs, but none of them were paying attention to the game. Most were peering, meerkat-like, in the general direction of the gates to the field. All of them were texting on their mobile phones.

The rain started again in earnest and within seconds I and a hundred other spectators, players, schoolboys and barbie lighters squeezed ourselves into the marquee. To be sociable I bought myself a bottle of beer and chatted with my old pals and masters about absent friends and enemies.

It was a little snug under the tarpaulin, until suddenly it happened. The assembled masses parted down the middle to reveal the guest of honour standing at the entrance to the tent. A smiling, slight, almost skinny man in his mid-sixties stood there, dwarfed by both his partner and the accompanying headmaster from the school. Unbeknownst to me (but clearly well-known to everyone else) Sir Michael Philip Jagger, cricket enthusiast, rock star millionaire and the other famous Old Boy of the school had agreed to come in, under the radar, to visit, watch the match, talk to the boys and open an extension to his eponymously named music centre at the school.

No wonder everyone was running around like a blue-arsed fly, dressed like a pox doctor’s clark. Flashbulbs went off, old ladies swooned, Mr Mayor jangled his way through the throng to shake Mick’s hand and mobile phones were held aloft by boys and staff alike to grab a snap of their allegedly most famous son. Jagger was magnificently polite to all, smiling and spending several minutes talking to each of his greeting fans, then he and his girlfriend moved to where I was standing near the bar. I crabbed out of his way, lest he congratulated me on the cricket pitch I’d obviously prepared earlier.

“Any chaaance of a cuppa teeeea ? ” He enquired of the ladies serving. Mick still retains his Dartford drawl, fortunately I’ve lost mine. Two cups and two wedges of madeira cake in hand, Mick and his elegant, enormous missus took their seats by the boundary’s edge to watch the match, which the players had been forced, at gunpoint, to resume. I got myself another pint. Every couple of minutes someone would pluck up the courage to ask Mick if he’d mind posing for a photo with them. Women of a certain age resisted the urge to throw undergarments his way. I restrained myself. I don’t easily get star-struck, and after all he’s hardly David Gower or Francis Rossi, is he ?

A few sips of tea and a couple of nibbles of madeira later and it was all over. Mick and L’Wren (for that is her name, apparently) stood up, smiled at everyone and were escorted off again by the headmaster. Around the marquee, stomachs were let-out, the bar-b-q finally came to life and the wind played its merry game with the paper plates and napkins across the cricket square.

I’m told Jagger later that evening had an altercation with the paparrazi as he left the school. In a quirk of fate, they left me well alone. Maybe they didn’t recognise me in my shorts.

Bless You My Child


My 15 yr old daughter doesn’t have a blog. Though judging by this, her latest homework essay, it won’t be very long before she does. (The views, opinions, or positions expressed by the following author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of The Sharp Single. Though they might.)

Satirical Writing: Paedophilia in the Catholic Church

Over the last few years, the Catholic Church has come under heavy fire for several paedophilia charges that have been put upon both high and low ranking priests, and also for claims that the Church protected these priests from criminal charges. Obviously, this may outrage some people who have a problem with paedophilia, but personally, I don’t see it as that much of a deal. Priests are forbidden by the church to marry, due to their devotion to God, so it would be pointless for them to chase after adult females, when there’s already a fresh supply of pre-pubescent choir boys right in front of them.
On the same point, there are a relatively high proportion of children to paedophile catholic priests, so I’m sure a few wouldn’t be missed.

The Bible, believe it or not, doesn’t actually condemn paedophilia anywhere, so I guess that’s okay. Maybe that’s the reason why these priests have become so confused about who they are allowed to form “special” relationships with, because God didn’t specifically tell them that children are off limits to adults. Because as we all know, we have to be spoon-fed and told exactly what to do by a book written around 2000 years ago by some beardy guys in a desert.

And I know, most normal, non-sickeningly perverted people would probably tell you that touching kids is wrong without having to turn to any sort of religion for guidance, just by using their conscience. It appears some priests just don’t have a conscience, or if they do, they don’t have the ability to consult it correctly, but I don’t think they should be held responsible for this. And after all if they were told that paedophilia was acceptable by their consciences, shouldn’t God be to blame? I mean, your conscience is the voice of God speaking to you directly isn’t it?

And it’s not only this. Of the people who say that paedophilia is wrong in some way, some have claimed that powerful Christian figures all the way up to the Pope himself have helped hide reports and accusations of child abuse within the Catholic Church from the media or indeed any form of the outside world, and who can blame them really. A mess like that getting out could seriously harm their careers and slightly annoy several parents of abused children. On top of this some have even had the audacity to claim that hiding and protecting paedophiles, essentially endorsing their behaviour and ensuring that it can continue, is as bad as actually being a paedophile yourself.

Some may argue that if you build your Church on claims of moral authority, like Christianity does, with threats of eternal Hell to impose it on others in society, like Christianity does, then you should probably stick to it and see it through. I disagree. Just because someone you are meant to trust preaches endlessly in a Sunday morning sermon about being kind, good and moral, all the while with a friendly reminder of fiery pits and torture, doesn’t mean that they can’t go home and do whatever they want, including sexually abuse children if that’s what they are into. I mean, it’s just a day job. Right?

She gets it from her mother.

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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