The Cross-Eyed Conspirator


It’s been a long time coming, but thanks to a couple of decent orders, I have managed to gather enough cash together to take the Incumbent and myself away for a while. Very soon the beaches of southern Italy will be awash with bits of me. It’s been a few years and several stone since I Swarfega‘d my way into a pair of swimming trunks. It’s the kind of thing that could bring down the EU.

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So with just a day to go before we jet off, and thanks to the guvnor, most of our stuff has been packed away and we’re busy clearing the fridge of perishables. Today I anticipate having three fried egg sandwiches and two omelets as someone seems to have over-ordered on the egg front. With all of our nicer clothes and accessories neatly put away in suitcases, we’re wandering around the house in old or inappropriate garb. Yesterday, for example, I spent the day in a dinner jacket (which was handy because I was hungry). The Incumbent wore a morning suit so she could have the afternoon off.

Last night, while the other half took herself down to Bluewater, I took the opportunity to steal myself away down to the local for a last pint before I was pushed on to an aircraft. For the occasion I dug out from the bottom of the chest of drawers a pair of rather ill-fitting shorts (for brevity’s sake, let’s just agree that all my clothes are ill-fitting) and an early example of my ever-popular JFK T-shirt. (50 years On — available at all good stockists).

Taking a seat on a bar stool, I ordered from Glenda the usual pint of sludge and began the usual banter with the assembled old boys propping up the jump.

“Aye , Aye”, “Evening All” etc

“Working on one for you, John” I hollered at one of the gathered drinkers. He was sat on the next stool to me but I needed to shout as he was a tad mutton. John had asked if I could make a Laurel & Hardy tee for him and I was on the case. The 70 year old plasterer is rapidly becoming one of my more regular customers, him having a penchant for often wearing one my shirts while both plastering and getting plastered. I think he’s ordered four to date. And he’s paid for all of them, something of a record round here.

“Is it you that makes the T-shirts, then?” asked Colin, sat beside the aforementioned John.

“Yes, that’s me” quoth I.

Colin took a long squint at what I was wearing. JFK stared back at him through the folds in my shirt and the creases underneath my moobs. You can always tell how long Colin’s ben in the the pub by the degree at which his eyes are pointing at each other. Colin is the Ben Turpin of Dartford — especially after half a dozen pints.

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“Oooh I like that one” he continued. “that one of yours ?”

“Yup. In all of the colours, in all of the sizes !” I chanted happily. But answer came there none. And this was scarcely odd because it was Colin and he was on a roll.

“That’s the….the…the American President fella, aint it ?”. I’d forgotten to mention that Colin was a bit of a political animal.

“Yes, John Kennedy”, I concurred. “It’s fifty years this year that he died. You can have it in…”

I’d failed to notice that Colin hadn’t finished.

“You ought to do one with him on it, and Martin Luther King here, John Lennon here…” he was pointing to various part of his torso “…and Lady Diana there…” which apparently was somewhere around his navel.

“Diana ..?” I repeated, but it was still Colin’s turn.

“Then write ‘Assassinated’ above ’em” he announced, scrawling the imaginary headline across the top of his chest. “I’d buy one of them

“Diana..?” I repeated.

“Yeah, well, everyone knows she was killed by them.” Behind him, I noticed John roll his eyes, snort and bury is face into his pint.

“Them..?” I asked — desperately trying not to give the impression I was doubting him (a sale is, after all, a sale).

“The Government ! She slagged off the Tories on TV and I says to me mum ‘she’ll be dead in a fortnight’ and the following weekend me mum rings me up and says ‘she’s dead’ and I says ‘who’s dead’ and she says ‘Diana’s dead’ and I says ‘well fuck me I was right all along’ “.

Colin was no David Frost, but he knew a good yarn when he told one. I was loath to point out that Tony Blair was in government when Diana died was murdered.

“That’s a good point” I replied.(I’ll say anything to sell a shirt.) “I’ll have a good go at that when I get back from my holiday” I lied.

As if to confirm it to himself, Colin repeated his design to himself (and to me) several times, occasionally adding “you can put their dates below each face” and suggesting colours for the shirt.

And then he started free-forming.

“You know who they’ll get next, don’t you ?” he bellowed.

“Er….”  I dreaded to think who was next in line for Colin’s assassin’s bullet.

“Jamie Oliver !”

Two jets of Light & Bitter shot out of John’s nostrils. I bit a lump out of my tongue. In the nick of time The Incumbent arrived to rescue me. She picked me up off the floor and we made ready to leave. Colin was still in full flight, detailing what Jamie had done to incite the wrath of MI5, though my head was spinning and I couldn’t hear what his reasoning was. I should have asked why Jamie was for the chop, not Delia Smith, but we’d gone before I’d thought of it.

As we left Glenda was administering the last rights to John who had laughed himself to within an inch of an early death.

It seems I’ll have no need to finish that Stan & Ollie shirt.

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The Candy Man


I’m sure you are, as indeed I am, thrilled to hear that Robbie Williams is back, where he belongs at Number One in what Jimmy and Fluff used to call the Hit Parade with his Noel Coward-esque ditty ‘Candy‘. If you haven’t heard it, you’re missing a treat. The lyrics are mind blowing:

Ring a ring of roses
Whoever gets the closest
She comes and she goes
As the war of the roses
Mother was a victim
Father beat the system
By moving bricks to Brixton
And learning how to fix them

You will notice how he brilliantly rhymes ‘Brixton’ with ‘fix them’, not to mention ‘roses’ with..er…’roses’. Apparently if you play the song backwards something amazing happens: It sounds exactly the same, or even makes a little more sense. You could plug John Lennon’s body into the national grid and with the revolutions he must be doing you could illuminate a small village on the Wirral for a fortnight.

It’s nothing new, of course, for someone like me, just out of his twenties, to attack the pop songs of the day. I remember when I was a kid defending Althea and Donna’s quite brilliant “Uptown Top Ranking” to howls of laughter and derision from my father. It seemed to me at the time (and my argument has not changed one jot) that “Love is all I bring inna me khaki suit and ting” was clearly a deep social comment on the dresses worn by young Jamaican women of the day, and it wasn’t my fault that my dad (from Slade Green, so he no excuse) couldn’t speak Patois. With the benefit of the Tardis I may have argued that if Robbie’s “Candy” had been written and sung in a foreign dialect it might have sounded better.

No, it’s not just that Robbie’s latest effort is as bad as his last one, it’s that I had subconsciously settled with myself that I’d never need to hear the dulcet tones of the Stoke-on-Trent warbler ever again. Like Mitt Romney, SmallPox and Rickets, I assumed he was part of my past, never likely to darken my door again, save Gaumont News Reels and editions of Top of the Pops 2. How wrong can you be? Not only has the tattooed twat taken his song to the top of the charts, but it looks like Mitt Romney may not be the Republican’s Michael Dukakis the whole world outside the US was hoping he was. (And I think I have Rickets. Or maybe it’s wind.)

Those who predicted that Good Ol’ Mitt the Multi Millionaire would crash and burn would have been the same ones who advised me not to bet on Sebastian Vettel making the podium in Abu Dhabi, having started the F1 Grand Prix from the back of the field. Or those who put their house on this Year’s US Ryder Cup Team, or Devon Locke. I was content in the fact that Robbie was gone from my life, and I would smile to myself about it often, as I put the finishing touches to my Lance Armstrong shrine in the study.

So the lesson for today, children, is never bet on a good thing, and never write off anyone. Just when you think you’ve heard the last of some useless cvnt he goes and gets himself a no1 single, or becomes President or something equally unlikely. And just because you’re riding high in those very same charts or on Le Tour de France, don’t think you’re there forever. You are just one shite performance on TV, or one raid by the USADA from being thrown out of your arse.

Althea and Donna became the victims of a rather unfortunate debut appearance on Top of the Pops. Having had the country bouncing and swaying to their wonderful sound, they chose to a) appear and; b) sing live on national tv. Bad move girls. It was very rare for a first showing on the pop show to actually do damage to an act’s chart position. Sadly, the girls gave a performance akin to an early Chuckle Brothers act. They were out of tune, out of rhythm and out of time with each other so spectacularly badly, you can see where The Smiths got their influences from. Still a great song though. And Ting.

Cover Me, I’m Going In.


Driving along the other day, I was listening to one of those shows which cover the old charts. The Top 20 of 1968, ’78, and ’88 – you know the sort of thing. These crop up, usually on old gits channels – like BBC Radio 2,  Smooth FM, or Magic. Not the sort of thing the under 30s listen to, but then again, no-one under 30 reads this, so who gives a monkeys? Back in the slagheaps of my youth, these were the sort of shows hosted by Ed “Stewpot” Stewart, Tony “Smug and Annoying” Blackburn or, of course Jimmy “Dodgy Bastard implicated  in child abuse, and protection rackets now inexplicably a National Treasure” Savile. He’s gone now, bless him, to jingle-jangle his way around the childrens’ wards of the afterlife. Owsaboutthatthen?

But that’s another story.

One of the chosen highlights of the 1978 chart was the lamentably unforgettable Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker‘s cringe-worthy version of You’re the One that I Want, originally from Grease and sung by Elton John and Vincent Vega. We’d have never have thought there was a worse version than the original. Hilda and Arthur proved us wrong.

It led my mind to wander down many avenues and alleyways: Was Arthur the worst actor this country has produced ? Probably, (though it was a title cruelly taken from him by Mr and Mrs Law of Lewisham, south London, when they gave birth to their son Jude); should Hylda have been in the film instead of Stockard Channing ? She would have boosted the sex appeal of the movie; And of all the songs the radio station could have chosen to highlight from the top 20 of 1978, why did they decided to choose that one?

Having said that, I’ve always taken an interest in cover versions and the thought behind them. Whoever thought that it’s be a good idea for Bauhaus to cover David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust needs both their head and ears testing, as it is basically the same song, just a different sticker on the vinyl (as it was back then).

A lot depends on the listener. When I was a kid I thought Blondie‘s “Denis Denis” was a wonderfully odd new number, until I discovered the original “Denise” by the beautifully named Randy and the Rainbows. I know kids that think Rolf Harris wrote Stairway to Heaven (even though it’s nowhere near the classic that is Jake the Peg) and got very upset when I played them the original. Come to think of it, I get upset when I hear it too, overrated shite that it is.

I have little time for The Wurzels, but their version of Don’t Look back in Anger has me in stitches every time it’s played. I only wish I see the look of disgust in the pretentious, slap-inducing faces of the John Lennon impersonators who wrote the ‘original’ when they hear it. I use the word ‘original’ under caution. I wait patiently for The Wurzels’ cover of anything by Morrissey. I can die in peace then.

I could go on. The Fugees version of “Killing Me Softly” stands up very well indeed against the Roberta Flack original, whereas Whitney Houston singing George Benson’s “Greatest Love of All” sounds like someone trying to machete to death a wounded ferret. It seems to these old ears that less and less of this sort of thing goes on. I often hear about sampling, rather than covering. I don’t know where one ends and another begins. I do know that “taking a sample” means something completely different now than it did to me when I was a kid. In the same way that whereas today Loverdose is a perfume, in my day it wasn’t something to give to your girlfriend, if you could possible help it.

So there you have it (for today at least). One man’s poison is another man’s Robert Plant classic is another man’s Rolf Glastonbury Anthem. One person’s sweet scent is another’s Loverdose. Ball or Aerosol ?