Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Time, She Flies

I cannot believe it is almost August. It seems like only a short while ago we were shovelling snow off the front path and complaining of the bitter cold. Why is it that the older you get, the faster time seems to drain away? When we were kids, childhood seemed to be an almost immeasurable span. The cares and responsibilities of adulthood were a lifetime away. We had no worries other than what was for dinner and buying more records. Then all too quickly we were thrust out into the adult world and no-one had taught us how to deal with it.

The trouble with the way school used to operate when we were there is that they put all this great knowledge in our heads but failed to show us how to apply it to life. "I don't need to know this, " we thought. "I'm never going to need a cosine or a logarithm when I go shopping or drive a car." These days they teach kids real-world situations and practical applications. When I left school I had nary a clue what I was going to do. I still don't, not really. As Jasper Carrott once said, there's not much you can do with 'O' levels in maths and art, apart from paint computers.

Some, it has to be said, had gotten the instruction book for life before leaving school, and immediately went off and did great things, got great jobs, lived in nice houses and had perfect nuclear families with 2.5 kids and a BMW on the driveway. Others, like me, hadn't seen the instruction book, didn't know where it was kept or just plain lost the thing.

Life has changed considerably since childhood. Now we are all in our forties we have a lifetime of experiences and can regale others with our tragedies and triumphs, our parenting stories, job calamities and tales of loves won and lost. Coming back to the UK after 18 years in the States, some of which were disastrous, means I get to tell wild exotic stories on a regular basis. Old school friends that I have had the great pleasure of reconnecting with and having a beer with can attest to the fact that I like to tell stories. I have always been a gregarious and some would say eloquent sort; though some might say I talk too much. Whatever. But I do enjoy having a receptive audience. This is why I love writing this blog. To be able to just say whatever random thing is in my head, have random people read it, and get some positive feedback on occasion is just like sitting around a table with friends, beer in hand, and holding forth.

Thank you all for reading my stream-of-consciousness nonsense, and I hope you will continue to read in the days, weeks, months and perhaps years to come. As this blog comes up on its one-year anniversary, i thank you all for your support and occasional comments from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chapter One

Well, folks, here it is. The draft version of the first chapter of my book. Let me know what you think, and whether you would like to read more.

Don's Tiny World

The sky that day was typical for the time of year. Flat, grey, and uninspiring. Like a white sheet that has been washed a thousand times, covering the land like a shroud of dullness. In his limited experience, this was a sky-colour that he had become used to, and one that he accepted as normal. He knew it well, and its accompanying dismal prickle of near-rain. It was dull, drab, boring, yet somehow strangely safe and comforting. He rose from his dishevelled bed, staggered to the kitchen and put the kettle on. 

He poked his head cautiously around the living room door, eyeing the sofa with its motley collection of blankets piled up where his father was sleeping. He cleared his throat lightly and ventured a word.


A response. Dad was waking from his slumber.

Dear old Dad. Why the hell did he have to come and crash on his sofa every other week? Well, that was a question that was its own answer. He crashed on his sofa every other week because he was a drunk, and a philanderer, too. Always getting into trouble with the missus, because of some drunken flirting, drunken groping, or out-and-out drunken affairs. She would throw him out, and he would come knocking on Don's door, begging for a place to sleep. Then a few days later, he would leave in a storm of apologies, buy the wife a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates, and go crawling back to her. Then the cycle would repeat.

"Tea, Dad?"
"What time is it?"
How was that relevant? he thought. Still, he bravely continued.

"It's, um, seven -thirty."
"Mm-mmm... too early." Why did Dad sound like a teenager being made to get up for school? Well, there were many possible answers, but Don didn't want to get onto that train of thought. How many sons in the world took in their Dad when Dad got kicked out by the missus?

Don was forty-two, the older of two kids, and his father had never been what you would call a constant presence. He worked as a lorry driver, a bus conductor, and several other jobs that required long hours away from home. They also seemed to require long hours away from home after work was over, too, whether it be drinking with workmates, or flirting, groping or shagging other workmates (of the female variety, natch) and male workmates' girlfriends and wives. So why his dad now chose him and his flat as a refuge from the storm that awaited at home was somewhat of a mystery.

In the kitchen the kettle was boiling and Don made two cups of tea, deposited one on the end table next to the sofa that doubled as Dad's nightstand replete with used bus tickets, watch, cufflinks (Dad was definitely of the old school class of drunken lechers), half bottle of Old Spice and two empty cans of Tuborg, and took the other for himself back into his room, slamming the door behind him. He did not mind if he pissed Dad off, and in fact went out of his way most of the time to do so in the vain hope that Dad might grab his things and fuck the hell off. All Don wanted was a quiet life, a semblance of normalcy and time to think. Well, that wasn't going to happen. It never had before, but still, he lived in hope.

As it happened, though, things got off to a surprisingly good start. Don drank his tea and drifted back off to sleep, and when he awoke some time later, the place was deathly quiet, save for the dull thump-thump-thump of the downstairs neighbours' stereo, cranking out that shit they called music these days at all hours of the day and night. Don didn't mind it that much. After all, he thought, he had been their age and had been something of a party animal. Hell, let 'em. You're only young once. He barely even heard it any more, he'd grown so used to tuning it out. No, the flat was silent, comparatively speaking. Which meant one of two possible things had occured - his Dad was still asleep, or he'd done the unthinkable and cleared out. 

Don tiptoed back across the hall to the living room and gingerly peered round the corner. 

Oh. Em. Gee. He'd gone!

Of course, the blankets were still piled up like some great rat's nest on the sofa, and they smelled a bit funny, but he'd actually done it. Gone. Phew. The weight lifted off of Don's shoulders like, well, like a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He felt a surge of relief course through him like a dose of salts.

Unfortunately, this relief was to be short-lived. In fact, in the whole history of short-lived events, it was one of the absolute shortest. His doorbell rang like a fire alarm had just been set off, and panic set in. Who the hell wanted him now? All kinds of possible scenarios played out in his head. Was it Dad, changed his mind? Was it one of any number of girlfriends he had dumped, coming back for revenge? Was it the arsehole landlord, come demanding the rent? Or was it.... nooooo. He did not need the aggravation this morning.

He opened the door, and with a sigh of resignation, bid the interloper come in. "Hello, Perry.... cup of tea?"
"Got any organic apple juice? Just started a macrobiotic diet."


Sometimes Perry fucking annoyed the shit out of him. And for a best friend to do that, and on such a regular basis, made Don sometimes wonder why the hell they were even friends, let alone best ones.

Perry was a strange man at the best of times, although to call him a 'man' was pushing it a bit. Don had known him since primary school, where his weirdness had been very attractive to Don. The weirdness had been cool all the way through secondary school, but now it just irritated him to a severe degree. You know how sometimes people follow fashion and trends and then stop at a certain point? Well, in Perry's case, he had stopped at the point where it was fashionable to dress like Midge Ure in the "Vienna" video, trenchcoat and pencil moustache included, and hadn't progressed any further. Trouble was, here we were in 2010, and Perry had put on some weight since the early '80s, and now looked more 'wide boy/spiv' than 'cool synthpop icon'. But to call him a man just seemed not to fit. He was a manchild, a Peter Pan, a  42-year-old teenager who had not grown up.

"What do you want, Perry?"
"I just told you, organic apple juice. Have you not got any in?"
"Fuck me, Perry, I live in a shitty little flat, I don't have a regular job, what the hell do you think?" he snapped.
Perry almost winced.
"Tea, then."
"Besides, when I said what do you want, I did not mean what do you want to drink - I meant what the hell are you doing here?"
"Our trip, our grand day out, two lads out on the town.... you don't mean...?"

He had forgotten. This was the day he had promised Perry they'd go to Camden, to the market. 

"Give me ten minutes."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

To Write Or Not To Write

A little-known fact about me: I once tried to write a novel. I got 13 chapters in before I realised I didn't know where to go with the plot. It was only in the last few days that I told a couple of people about this and described the plot to them, not really thinking it was going to come to anything, but it really helped. It became clear where I had gone wrong with the plot and a twist or two was suggested to me that would extend the book and make it make more sense. I am going to start work on rewrite, from scratch, so that you all can enjoy it. From scratch? Yes, because I wrote it in 1996, and over the course of various house moves and an assortment of bad luck and events beyond my control, I lost the manuscript. The characters and plotlines still live in my head, but as to any existing copies, they are all long gone. (I only made two anyway...) So watch this space, folks. I am going to tease you with the first chapter when it is done to see if you all think I need to finish it. You have been warned....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #64

In The Midnight Hour

Wilson Pickett

The Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee is famous for two reasons: it was here in 1968 that a certain Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by gunman James Earl Ray, and it was here in 1965 that Wilson Pickett, a soul singer from Prattville, Alabama, and Steve Cropper, guitarist for the legendary Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.'s, composed what would become a legendary song, In The Midnight Hour. 

The song has become a 1960s soul standard, and placed at #134 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time, Wilson Pickett's first of two entries on the list (the other being "Mustang Sally" at #434). It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, Pickett's only such entry. The song is currently ranked as the 89th greatest song of all time, as well as the seventh best song of 1965, by Acclaimed Music.


By the way, Eddie Murphy... next movie you do should be a Wilson Pickett biopic.

Friday, July 9, 2010

History Lesson

I was just looking through my email inbox and went all the way back to February 2008, where I had written an email to some friends describing my experience with pneumonia. I thought I would post it as it kinda amused me in a funny way. Here it is:
To: (deleted)
Subject: I'm back
Date: Fri, 29 Feb 2008 13:14:23 -0500

Hi guys, how are you? Good, I hope. I just got out of the hospital a day or so ago. I was laid up with a bad case of pneumonia. I was feeling kinda crappy on Saturday afternoon and was getting ready to go to work and Kristy could see I didn't feel good, so she asked me if I hurt anywhere. Well, I had had this dry unproductive cough that had been hanging on for grim death for a couple of weeks and now everytime i coughed, the left side of my chest hurt. So I told her about it and she called the ambulance. When they came in they said i was as white as a sheet. I got to the ER and they did all kind of tests and hooked me up to all kinds of wires. My chest looked  like the back of a stereo. They did a chest X-ray and a CAT scan, and were constantly monitoring my blood pressure, gave me Demerol for the pain and eventually said they wanted to keep me in for a couple days but all the beds were taken so I would have to be moved to the other campus down the street. So another ambulance ride and into my room where I stayed for 2 and 1/2 days. Lovely hospital food, antibiotics, blood tests, breathing treatments etc. They sent me home with a laundry list of meds to take, and I have to schedule another CAT scan soon to make sure all the build up on my left lung has dissipated, or if it's something else. However, I'm at home now, feeling OK for the most part but with the knowledge that i have to start looking after myself and lose some weight. They made me get weighed in the hospital and I was shocked. It was the first time in about 3 years I have stepped on a scale and I weigh more than twice what I weighed when I got married the first time. Forget cloning!! I'm two Jeffs as it is. They told me if we hadn't called the ambulance when we did, and had tried to go to work instead, the consequences could have been disastrous. From now on I'm going to start taking my body's aches and pains seriously. Anyway I just wanted to let everyone know I'm still alive! 
Take it easy, 
Well, I am pleased to say that I have been taking care of myself and now weigh about 65 pounds less. I bought some jeans in a smaller size the other day (40) and they fit! I am now 10 inches smaller round the middle. Yes, that's right. At the time I wrote this email, I was wearing size 50 pants. Gulp.

Look after yourselves out there, everyone.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Job Disasters

If you were to ask me about the worst job I ever had, I'd have to think a little bit, because there have been some royal clunkers. Some real doozies.
I left school in 1983, slap in the middle of the Thatcher era, when the Youth Opportunities Programme had been going a year or two and had already had its name changed to the Youth Training Scheme. It was basically a programme whereby employers could 'train' young school-leavers who were on the dole to learn 'skills' and perhaps a 'trade'. A bit like an apprenticeship, but more boring, really. They could get kids and pay them £25 a week (which was shit, even by '80s standards) and get away with it because they were being 'trained' and gaining 'valuable' 'skills'. In return, all these young kids were then deemed to be 'employed' and therefore the unemployment statistics would drop. Yeah, a con. I was employed in one such scheme at a place called the Ashford ITEC, which was on a cruddy industrial estate next to a car park and a railway line. We were being trained with all these vital computer and electronics skills, except we were using BBC B Micro computers, a searing 32K of power. No PC, no Apple, not even a Sinclair ZX81, just writing

20 GOTO 10

all day and learning almost nothing. OK, maybe some people learnt something. But that's all I retained. From the chubby little porkchop of a Scottish manager Andrew (Android Fatterson) Paterson to the Scouse wack Colin Day and the speech-impedimented Wichard Fewwyman, to the TORCH supercomputer, to the disinterested bunch of Ashford and District losers that populated the place, the whole thing was crap from beginning to end. Luckily I only lasted about 4 months. Funnily enough though, I formed some good friendships there.

I had a job as a waiter at a hotel/restaurant in High Halden called Hookstead House. I worked there for four weeks although it seemed a lot longer, as most crap jobs do. I had no transportation so I had to borrow my friend Neil's bike to get there, and as it was waiting tables it mostly took place in the evening, so sometimes I did not get home from it until 1 or 2 in the morning. I had to cycle back in the dark, through some areas that were very poorly lit. Sometimes, I would have a drink in the bar after work and then wobble off home unsteadily. The worst thing about the place was the guy that ran it. He was a big tall loud brash New Englander named Tom Atkinson, although his real name was McNamara and he went by Atkinson to sound more English, I suppose, although there were several unsavoury rumours floating about the place concerning the reason for Tom's name change. He was married to a tiny wee delicate slip of a thing, named Julia if I remember rightly. They looked a bit of an odd couple size-wise, and they had a baby named Fleur, which I thought was a dreadful name for the poor child, especially when Tom would say it in his annoying "Pahk the cah in the Hahvahd Yahd" voice. "Fuh-LEURRRRRRRRR!!" They were always fighting about who knows what, and always choosing the most inopportune times to do so. One night just as everyone in the restaurant was ordering desserts, Tom chose to have a big blow-up with Julia. Julia had just gone into the anteroom just adjacent to the kitchen to prepare desserts. Tom went in there and locked the door behind him so that no-one could get in. We heard hollering and fussing and Tom emerged 5 minutes later, telling us that we could now go back in there. We entered to see Julia sitting at the table, tears in her eyes, and chocolate roulade strewn about the place - the walls, the windows, the floor, and on Julia herself. 
Then on another day i had to mop the bar. This involved moving all the chairs and tables out into the hall and mopping the hardwood floors, and while i did so, Tom sat out in the hall on one of the bar chairs, reading his paper, burping and farting and being generally gross. I was only there for four weeks, yet during my tenure there were four separate chefs, one after the other. How that place ever did any business is a mystery to me. It is of course now just a house,and what became of Tom and Julia is unknown. if she had any sense she'd have left the man, as I heard a few weeks later from a former co-worker that Tom had pulled an awful stunt - he had wanted Julia to prepare desserts one night, and she had said no as she had the flu and did not want to spread germs. He got mad and threw her down the stairs, in her PJ's, and locked her outside in the snow. Oy.

I'd say those jobs were the worst, although there are a some other bad ones:

  • I worked for a week at Pignataro VW in Everett, WA as a car salesman. It sucked, I sucked.
  • I tried telemarketing for 2 hours. Trying to sell tickets to a Charlie daniels concert to benefit firefighters to random people on the phone in a roomful of other guys on the phone, who were uniformly loud and annoying.
  • Manning the fitting rooms at Old Navy.
  • A day's work experience at an old people's home - trying to take lunch orders from people who were older than dirt and barely verbal. Lovely.
So, those are my tales of employment suckage. What's your worst job?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Running Through My Head

Ever have a tune that just runs through your head all day and you cannot stop yourself from singing it? Yes? Well, have you ever had one of those days where you have had several tunes ruin through your head one after the other and you have to sing them? How about a whole week like that? Well, here are a selection of the tunes that have been on my mind this week, for one reason or another.

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