Ground Control to Major Jong


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Handlebar’s Water Music


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I ever.

Oh Brother, Why Art Thou So Bleedin’ Useless ?


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

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

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

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

Fuck me ! Have you seen the prices of printers ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the wrong ink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking back to Happiness (woopah oh yeah yeah)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I have to draw the line somewhere.

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

Funny fuckers.

Don’t Worry…


There are some things that aren’t worth worrying about why you like them. Things that you shouldn’t try to explain, just enjoy. Pulling on brand new socks, eating a peppery pickled egg, picking a scab on your knee or listening to Status Quo spring to mind. Just imagine how much pleasure could be had doing them all at once.

Add this to that list.  Be Happy.

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.