There’s a Tray of Bread Pudding in the Post

Remember getting letters through your door? I don’t mean fliers from double glazing companies, or threatening letters from the bank, or even new curry house menus (though they can be very exciting indeed), but letters. Real, genuine, hand-written letters. Someone three weeks previously had sat down in Kuala Lumpur or Ulaanbaatar and scribbled a off a note saying how much they missed you, how the weather had been and could you send them some money? Remember that warm glow you felt that someone, who may well have died in the 6 weeks the letter took to reach you, had taken time out from their gap year, or their 6 months on the run from the Rozzers to actually write, in their own hand, to you, on paper that they could have quite easily used for loo roll.

It took thought and kindness. It meant someone had put aside their own time to sit down and compose a note, when they could have quite easily been putting another shrimp on the barbie, then seeking out an envelope, a stamp and a post office , then walking unaided down to post it. Takes some commitment, that.

I remember the first parcel I ever received. Now that was exciting. It was 1974 and I’d been saving up for weeks (ok, who am I kidding? my mum gave me the money) to send off for my first calculator. We’d been given permission to use in class this revolution in arithmetic science, and my parents weren’t gonna let their little lad be the only one in school without one.

The wait seemed like an age. I think it took three weeks to arrive (though it could have been three days, ten year old boys finding the space-time-continuum concept something of a bugger to grasp), but when the postman finally arrived with it BOY what a feeling! I opened the parcel on the dining table and pulled out this brown and cream monument to modern technology: The Rockwell LED Calculator, 18R. If the 18R stood for ’18th attempt’, or probably ’18th Rockwell’ (WD40 standing for ‘Water Displacement, 40th attempt’), then Christ knows how basic the other 17 must have been.

But to me it was the most exciting and exotic thing I’d ever seen. Weighing no more than a couple of pounds, it would fit into any schoolboy’s large satchel or GOLA bag. It had all of the number ‘1’-‘9’, with ‘0’ thrown in for free. Not only did it have buttons for ‘plus’, ‘minus’, ‘multiply’ (‘times’ in our house), ‘divide’ and ‘equals’, it ALSO had a ‘percentage’ button. WOW ! There were a couple of other buttons I never got to grips with, something about storage, but I didn’t care: 18 buttons were plenty for me to be getting on with. They all made a hi-tech ‘click when you pressed them and ,when dad wasn’t looking, you could turn the box upside down and write rude words with the number. You can see it left it’s mark on me.

35 year later and where are we? No one writes letters any more since we have the wonder of email (which still impresses me.) Friends write daily from New Zealand or San Diego and we pick up their missives instantly. I’m not saying a note from afar means less than one did all those years ago, it’s just that we get so many more of them they somehow don’t arrive with the same fanfare they once did. It doesn’t now have to be a fully composed letter either. Twitter has brought us the age of the 140 character letter. 140 characters ? I couldn’t write the alphabet in 140 characters ( you may have noticed), let alone ask how the weather was.

Parcels are two-a-penny. Amazon, Ebay and their like are emptying the shops and filling the bandwidths of the Web. Even this old luddite has for the last two Christmas seasons refused the pleasures of the high street or shopping mall and bought each and every present online. During November and December there’s a seemingly never-ending stream of parcels large and small arriving at my door. I’m never there, of course, but at least the thought is there. Twice a week I make my way to the local Post Office to claim my packets. Maybe this year will be different ? If I’m still in-between employers I may be at home to catch the postie as he arrives at the crack of 4pm to deliver my goods. On the other hand, if I’m still not picking up work by then, my pressie-buying activities will be severely curtailed.

Yesterday I made my way up to the village to collect a mystery parcel. I hadn’t ordered any books or movies online recently, and doubted that it would be that set of golf clubs I’d asked for as a leaving gift from The Times, but nevertheless the postman had left a card saying he’d tried to deliver a package to me on Thursday which was too big to fit thought the letter-box. As court summonses tend not to be that size, and hoping the National Lottery actually do pay-up in wads of cash, I took my little legs off to collect my prize from the good folk at the GPO.

Although I was disappointed not to be handed a suitcase with crisp oncers from Camelot, I was very happy and intrigued to take possession of a thick white jiffy bag addressed to:

Railway Cuttings


Angleterre‘! Written in ink! (or at least biro) How exciting! It really took me back. It was an unsolicited Red Cross parcel from ‘Plastered of Paris’, a good friend of these pages and one who appears regularly every time I feel the need to verbally attack drunk Welshman. Realising that I may be about to have some time on my hands, this giant of a man (no, he really is) took the trouble to bundle me up some comedy reading, Bill Bryson in fact, to help me while away those hours on the loo when I can’t get to my PS3 or watch the World Cup. What a very thoughtful gift ? Thanks Terv. Bill Bryson, a very talented journalist who took to writing about the places he’d lived, the countries he’d visited and the occasional mishap along the way with hilarious results. Bryson and I differ in just two key respects.

Anyway, I can’t sit here all day talking to you. I have two books to read, a letter to write (to the council again, Lewisham Council only deal in letters) and then I’m gonna go up onto the heath where the hot weather never fails to bring out a marvellous array of young lovelies and their talents. Or in Rockwell 18R calculator-speak BOOBIES

The Allotment of England

I was born in Erith and went to school in Dartford. If you didn’t, this may not be your cup of tea. However, if either of these places are dear to your heart, then have a listen to this half hour of Mark Steel (Swanley boy, above) on BBC Radio 4 tonight. Very funny. (Unless that offends anyone at all then I retract it, of course)


I suppose this will drop off into the biosphere very soon, so many apologies if Auntie Beeb removes it . It’s an acquired taste for locals. The rest of you can jog on.


Blair In Bread Burning Bedlam

As dull headlines and stories go, this morning’s real one from the BBC takes some beating:

Busy day in the office, lads? That’s the trouble when nothing happens in the world, you’ve still got acres of space to fill. Newspapers (and therefore, I’m guessing websites) rarely expand or contract because of the amount of decent news content available, but the amount of adverts sold. Rule of thumb is the decent items you have to fill, the more ads the buggers have sold. This results on pages and pages of newsprint laying there empty waiting for something to fill it. You would have thought, wouldn’t you, that this is the time some nice big photos would be used to entertain the reader? Sadly not. More often than not, stories like the above make it onto the page.

Things at The Sharp Single are no different. If I have nothing vaguely interesting to say, yet haven’t posted a blog for sometime, I tend to find a random Youtube clip to post, or write something as dull as this paragraph you’ve just read.

24 Hour news channels have a terrible time of it. Yesterday morning, around 4am, BBC news’ lead story was an item that the vast majority of pensioners asked didn’t want the Government to stop paying their benefits by cheque, to be replaced by internet payments. Really? You telling me that old people want to retain the status quo (OBE) ? That they don’t like change? That they get confused by the web?? What a revelation ! What a way to lead a news bulletin ! Sadly, by late evening this piece had been demoted only to number 3 on the schedule, now behind The ABC’s attack on Irish paeodophile priests and a very long and tedious story about teachers and schools, and just before The University Boat Race result.

Talking of which, being the sort of bloke I am, I tuned in on Saturday to watch The Boat Race at the advertised time, 3.10pm to be (eventually) informed by our old friend Claire Balding that the race was due off at 4.30. That’s an hour and twenty minutes to fill before kick-off (or whatever they call it). Now I like a pointless sporting event as much as the next man but even the coverage of the Grand Prix allows for only an hour’s build-up. Sky had the decency to only give us 45 minutes of ‘informed chat’ before Man Utd vrs Chelski on Saturday.

However brilliant Claire Balding is (?) and no matter how long pundits salivate about the (unlikely) prospect of another sinking this year, The Boat Race is a tough sell and a painful stretch of a pundit’s powers to fill 80 minutes, even if that pundit is Steve Redgrave. As it turned out, there was no sinking this year (shock), just a rather exciting race (even more shockinger!!)

Time and space to fill. I’m only writing this because it’s five o’clock on Bank Holiday Monday morning and I’ve already watched the news three times, in lieu of anything in ESPN Classic. There’s is a comedy football quiz showing at the moment, but I refuse to watch it as it’s called The Umpire Strikes Back which, apart from being a more hackneyed play on words you’ll find anywhere on these pages (!), has zilch to do with soccer. UMPIRE ?!?!. So as no-one at ESPN could think of a remotely witty-yet-soccer-related title for their quiz, they have lost one insomniac viewer. That’ll learn ’em! For a ha’peth of tar, eh?

Meanwhile, back on the news channels there’s yet another row about Labour’s policy on National Insurance again (apparently there’s an election looming), Liverpool FC have fucked up their season (again) and cricket legend Alec Bedser has died (surely again??). There’s an earthquake in Mexico which has killed one man and a mine collapse in China (interesting, but too far way away to merit a lead item, apparently), it’s tough for young people to get on the housing ladder (really? are we in recession, then?), and it’s gonna be sunny with showers in the South East today. Or not. They’re not sure.

So there you have it. 761 words which fill a chunk of space when there’s nothing vaguely interesting to talk about. It’s about now when I should say “And if you have photos of snow/spring daffodils/sweet babies/Jesus’s face on a piece of toast, please do send them in and I promise to run them when I’m bored shitless and have acres to fill.” Quality journalism, eh? Pah!. Now, let’s have a quick look at the front pages of the papers…

That Sand Gets Everywhere

I wonder what happens when one finally snuffs it? Where do you go? Upwards to meet Robert Powell ? Downstairs to shake hands with the fella with the fork? Neither? Maybe you just lay there to eventually become a future layer of sedimentary rock, or to ‘ave worms eat thee up’ and end up in some yet-to be packaged growbag at Homebase? To be honest I don’t think about it too much, merely hoping that when my time comes I shall be wearing clean underwear and be monumentally in debt to Nat West Bank (one scenario far more likely than the other.)

I’ll wager young King Tut would have had a pretty strong opinion of his fate in the afterlife. Even at the tender age of 19, Tutankhamun would have been convinced in his own mind that he, all his worldly belongings buried with him, (including 130 walking sticks), and any other poor sod unfortunate enough to locked in the tomb when they No-More-Nailed the doors shut would be off to a better place. A place where the water was cool, the wine rich, the women all beautiful, bi-curious virgins, and the lbw laws were in favour of the bowler. (It’s a little known fact that Tut bowled useful medium left arm in-duckers.)

Sadly for the young man, a peaceful everafter lasted only up until 1922 when his tomb was found and his body exhumed for modern scientists, historians and the like to gawp at and poke about. For nearly ninety years, the world has shared a fascination with Tutankhamun and his life story. Egytologymania became a word I just made up. When the exhibition of the treasures found in his tomb came to London in the early 1970s, we commemorated the event at school by painting and drawing pictures of the famous death mask. I vividly remember my painting looking like Liberace- more fairy than Pharaoh. This awkward memory returned to me today when I saw the photo of the reconstruction of Tut’s face, based on scientific scans of the boy king’s mummy. I didn’t even know they showed the Catherine Tate Show in Egypt.

Tate and Tut. How very dare you !

So anyway, I read that rigorous tests on his skellington (correct) and DNA have revealed that Tut was the product of a relationship between his dad and his auntie. From this inter-family naughtiness he inherited several genetic disorders, he had a club foot (hence the walking sticks) often suffered crippling illness, and was probably killed by a virutlent strain of malaria, and his nickname around the Giza was ‘The Lucky King’. Ok, I made that last bit up too. But what an undignified way to go for a once, presumably, proud and powerful man? I suppose it could have been worse for the poor sod: they could have discovered he was Welsh.

Nevertheless, it’s doubtless not how he envisaged eternity as he lay amid the secluded dunes, during one of those rather long Cairo summers (made worse with all those German tourists in town). There he would lay, a teenage boy, dreaming of all that fun just waiting for him with those lovely virgins, before he would hurriedly have to wipe himself off with a sheet of papyrus and button himself up, as he heard Auntie’s flip-flops coming round the corner.

Sadly for our man Tut, like anyone who has had to catch a train to Manchester, he’d have to wait for his fun on a virgin. In his life-after-death he would have to be content having pieces nicked off him and holes bored into him in the name of science, and suffer his dynasty being mimicked by 21st century comediennes and London-based Egyptian nutters. And The Bangles, of course.

What will the scientist of the future discover about my life if my body is dug up 2,000 years from now? That I was descended from a long line of scaffolders’ knee-wrenchers? That my Guinness count contained traces of blood? That my eyes failed me at an early age due to a life of looking at photos and chronic self-abuse (hence the 130 boxes of kleenex buried with me)? Will they be able to tell that I could never get the hang of badminton, or that my highest score in any form of cricket was 48? A cursary glance at my teeth and vital organs should reveal my love of a wee dram and a bacon buttie (there will still be traces between my teeth, no doubt), and the simplest rectal probe will demonstrate just how many curries 45 year-old men used to eat every week in the early years of the 21st century.

Will the British Museum stage an exhibition of the treasures discovered buried with me? My pith helmets? My fascinating collection of lime pickle jars? All the ointments? The Status Quo OBE Albums? I doubt it. And to be honest I hope they don’t. Leave me be, up there with the virgins and the vino and, like King Tut, a Sphinx’s inscrutable smile.


Catching 40 Winks in the Rye

I wasn’t going to write about the death of J.D.Salinger. Surely enough has been written? (and he never bothered to leave a comment on these pages). But then I thought I could perform a great service for anyone tempted to read him for the first time following the acres of copy written after his demise. Mr Salinger was a renowned American author, though for many of us, perhaps moreso on this side of the pond, I suspect his name first came into our consciousness via the reported antics of juvenile assassins and teenage mass-murderers.

When I was but a surly youth it seemed that you couldn’t turn on the evening news without someone having been shot down by the NYPD or similar for killing some celebrity such as Lennon or McCartney (well,you can dream) or instigating the massacre of a whole commune of cultish (spellcheck please) and religious nutcases somewhere in the Great American Midwest. Time and time again it seemed that the doers of these dreadful deeds appeared to have read Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye before they decided to pull the trigger.

A conveyor belt of judges and jurors were subjected to the flimsy defence of surviving adolescent would-be murderers, blaming Rye for tipping them over the edge, such was it’s subject matter. It’s touted as a book with “themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation and rebellion”.Read this book, so the theory went, and you’d immediately develop a hatred of tutors, teachers and authority figures everywhere.

“That sounds the very thing for me!” thought a young me, who had already started grooming his black puppy. So I bought myself a copy of the book, fully expecting to turn into an axe-wielding homicidal maniac. There were a few teachers at school who deserved to be vapourised, and this sounded like the very accelerant I needed.

My targets, however, were saved by one small yet important fact : The Catcher in the Rye is a bag of old shite. It is THE dullest collection of self-important ramblings ever written (and I’ve read The Daily Mail). It IS , honest. There I was, aching for an excuse to end it all, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a cure from insomnia. The only people I wanted to kill after reading it were Salinger, his agent and his publisher. I may be wrong about this, but I doubt it. Feel free to tell me otherwise.

If you really want to get angry or depressed, or dabble in a spot of murder why not ingest a tome by Elizabeth Gilbert? Her brand of sickly shit chick-lit has already landed her a movie contract for the dramatisation of her first great work Eat Love Pray, a piece of celluloid sewage soon to be at a movie theatre far away from me, and starring Julia Roberts (shame on you). It’s another example of the creeping crud that is blighting all our lives. Let’s strangle this bollocks at birth.

If on the other hand you don’t live your life through Desperate Housewives or Bridget Jones, and would like to rebel against this post-feminist, Spice Girl/Anna Wintour/Alpha Female fuckfest which is infesting our arts and media (and would enjoy having a wee titter along the way) can I suggest you look no further than the magnificent It’s a website written by three blokes who want to live as blokes in the world they thought they were growing up into during the 70’s, not as the cowering, emasculated sheep which a diet of Sex in the City, Strictly Come Shopping or Eat Love Pray would have them be. It hopes to be the antidote to Marie Claire and the Mail on Sunday. You might like it. Especially if you happen to be a fella.

Finally, a little self-congrats: Happy 1st Anniversary, The Sharp Single. Who said it’d never last? Tell your friends, tell your enemies, tell anyone with money who might want to pay me money to write this kind of rubbish.