Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookin’ Do

I have lots of memories of my Nan’s kitchen from when I was a child. Despite the utility furniture it always seems a luxurious kind of place. Mostly because my Nan would allow my sister and I to help ourselves to the sugar bowl, to lick the icing spoon and, if we had been particularly good, she would allow us to stir the hot milk into the Bird’s custard. This was an especial duty indeed and always led to low level rivalry between my sister and I as to who’s turn it was that week.

The kitchen, of course, is a dangerous place for a small child but my Nan always managed to keep us out of danger without raising a sweat. The only real fear she ever expressed was on wash days when the old mangle would be in use to squeeze the water out of the clothes. She would always extol us not to put our fingers into the mangle and there would be something in her eyes other than a mere warning to use our good sense.

I have no idea if she’d ever witnessed a real mangle based accident; she never said. And now whenever I hear talk of mangles all that really comes to mind for me is Dudley Moore singing snidely of “not laughing so hard since Aunty Mabel got her left tit caught in the mangle”. Thankfully such incidents were a world away from my Nan’s kitchen.

What  sticks in my mind most about my Nan’s kitchen is the little mounted egg timer she always kept hung on the wall above the work surface. Engraved into the top of it were the words: Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookin’ Do. I’m sure she said it used to belong to her own mother but I can’t swear to the veracity of that now. She never used it to time anything that I know of – her cooking was like that; instinctive, nothing written down, no reference to cook books. Ingredients and timings were all in her head.

She was a great cook. I know this because I was an incredibly fussy eater as a child but there was no food cooked by my Nan that I would not eat. Her stew was to die for and her Yorkshire Puddings were incredible. It is to my eternal chagrin that I never asked her for the recipes and instructions of how to make them. Lord knows I have tried and Karen has tried. But we can never manage to get them quite right. Never the way my Nan used to do it. I fear that all those childhood smells and tastes are lost to me forever.

Not that my Nan was always an expert in the kitchen. She was fond of telling us that in the first week of being married to my granddad every meal she attempted to cook on their new Rangemaster stove came out wrong. By the seventh day she told him that if today’s meal didn’t turn out right she’d be off for good.

She’d pause as the sense of shock sank into my sister and I and washed over our faces.

And then she’d smile and say, “But I’m still here so it must have turned out alright.”

I have the egg timer now. It was one of the things I rescued from my grandparents house before it was sold a few years ago after the death of them both.

I keep it safe in an archive box with other stuff from the house. It is much too fragile to hang back on a wall. Too old and delicate and far too precious to measure out petty three minute intervals of time.

The sands have stopped and are forever still, exactly as they were after the last grain ran through. Despite their immobility they measure years of time that are far more significant now.

Even cookin’ don’t last forever.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Coldmac

There can be no more debilitating combination of words in the English language than “third party subcontractor”.

Its dictionary definition must surely read: “pronoun, common insult, ‘yee-har, move ‘em up, ride ‘em out, raw hide’, about as much use as football boots on a jellyfish”.

To my mind – and I am probably being wildly unfair – despite all the shenanigans with work permits and legal contracts that undoubtedly bind the sub contractor to the contracting agent they are still one step down from tinkers and gypo’s... and only slightly better than those gangs of swarthy, neckerchiefed ruffians who tarmac your drive without your permission and then forcibly present you with an invoice that has been date stamped by the knuckledusters of their accounts clerk who also happens to moonlight as an all-in wrestler down by the docks on a Friday night to earn enough money for his mother’s sex change operation.

When I know work is being carried out by a third party subcontractor I know in my heart of hearts that the work would be more effectively carried out by a team of onanistic chimpanzees.

Clearly the top level contractor tends to agree with me as that is who invariably turns up to perform the work.

The pavements along our street were resurfaced last week. Coldmacked. Some sort of cheapo tarmacadam is thinly applied to the pavement like swirling a teaspoon of soup around the interior of a bain-marie – the object being to acquire a thin but even coating all round that dries in the fraction of the time.

Notice for this kind of work – especially when it stands between you and your own front door – is usually given with enough consideration that you can make alternative arrangements; i.e. either arriving home earlier or later or bunking up with a friend.

Our goodly subcontractor last week gave my street a mean hour’s notice. Most of us – my wife and I included – were at work. The first my wife knew of the resurfacing was when she drove over it to reach our front drive. Meanwhile, when I arrived home two hours later I had to perform the long-jump to get from the grass verge to my own hallowed garden path. The result is that we have two dynamic tyre marks making it look as if my wife constantly skids the car into the front garden and my back heel is forever immortalized to be one day dug up and cooed over by a futuristic Tony Robinson.

The stuff – the “cold mac” – was meant to take a measly hour to dry. Imagine our surprise then when we exited the family domicile the next morning and found the car left further tyre marks in the still soft tarmac when we pulled out of the drive.

The letter of advice slung through our door at the eleventh hour warned us not to step onto the tarmac for an hour after it had been applied lest we disfigure the appearance of the pavement and get tarmac onto our carpets which, the letter writer was at pains to add, would be very difficult to remove.

Plainly we were meant to camp out in the street all night with the kids until sometime the next day. Maybe even stay in a hotel. Or just construct a trebuchet with which we could have launched the kids into their beds through the closed bedroom window.

Cowboys.

Cowboys employed by idiots contracted by pen pushing accounts clerks who spent the 57 pence they saved buying a novelty Tippex-mouse.

I can smell the lucky heather from here.

Can’t you?


Friday, August 24, 2012

When You Have A Pussy You Never Pee Alone

A sure-fire way to overcome shy bladder syndrome is to have a very young boy in the household who needs to be taught correct man pee etiquette.

But there is only so much that can be taught via words alone, especially when your shared vocabulary reference points centre around Raa-Raa The Noisy Lion or The Cat In The Hat.

You have to give practical demonstrations which cover stance, distance from the bowl, water pressure and the inevitable final shake-off.

These are life skills that take a number of months for any pre-schooler to master sufficiently well enough that they can choreograph the perfect pee without getting their water on the floor, on their feet or, indeed, the gusset of their pants.

By the end of it though you should have a boy who can shoot the bum hairs off a gnat and a dad who finds he can now relax so well that he could pee live on stage at the London Palladium in front of Her Majesty the Queen and (unlike Prince Philip) manage a constant and smooth flow with no kangaroo-hopping at all.

And indeed that was the case with me.

Until the introduction of a couple of inquisitive kittens into the family dynamic a few months ago.

Curiosity might not always kill the cat but it is guaranteed to get its head wet...

Our kittens are much taken with our toilet.

They run from the sound of the flush but then return immediately to have a good nose around the bowl. At first, this was restricted to the lowering of tentative whiskers into the opening. It soon progressed, however, to walking on all fours around the rim.

Our attempts to discourage this behaviour have singularly failed.

And it has led to a disturbing new development.

I now find I cannot “water the trouser snake” without having a pair of pointy kitten ears and the back of a kitten head protruding from between my legs at about knee height.

Even more disconcerting though, on occasion, I now find a pair of glowing kitten eyes looking straight up at me and making insistent and hungry eye contact from somewhere deep beneath my trigger finger.

I’m finding that my flow is not as strong as it once was...


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Public Death, Private Murder

SladOne of the places we visited during our recent stay in deepest Gloucestershire was Slad. It was very much an off-the-cuff visit that we made at the end of the holiday on our return journey home as we knew beforehand that it was a tiny little village which sported no more than a church, a few houses and a pub. Hardly a tourist hotspot and not really worth an entire day out.

However, it was the birthplace and final resting place of Laurie Lee, one of Karen’s favourite authors. Most of you, I’m sure, will be familiar with the title Cider With Rosie even if you have never read the book.

I wasn’t expecting much from Slad to be honest.

But to be even more honest it was one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I have ever visited. There was a gentle calmness about the place which soothed the soul.

We found Laurie Lee’s grave with ease, pottered about the village – barely more than a single street – and then settled down for an ice cream at The Woolpack.

I was a little nervy of the pub if the truth be told. Karen had told me about one of the memories Lee had recounted in his book which centred around one of the village lads meeting an unfortunate end after a night of drinking in this very pub. Having travelled to New Zealand and returned much wealthier, said local boy was rather full of himself and, much to the chagrin of the those he’d left behind who’d never travelled much further than Pitchcombe, he proceeded to spent the entire night boasting and I daresay belittling the relative parochial mentality of his old childhood chums.

His pride met with fist and blows at closing time and the locals, having sweetened their own worldly inadequacies with the gift of a good kicking, left the poor chap unconscious in the snow.

He froze to death and was found dead the next morning.

The police investigation drew only shrugs and silence and there the matter ended – except for those in the know, of course. I’m sure Lee must have ruffled quite a few nervous feathers by including the story in his memoirs.

Thankfully I have not (as yet) travelled to New Zealand and decided I would keep my past holidays to Egypt and America under wraps... just in case. After all the pub could well still be a local tavern for local people.

As it was we were met with good humoured friendliness and a kindly, non-curious acceptance given that it was plain we were complete strangers (there can be no more than 20 people living in the entire village).

I think we spent a couple of hours there. Doing not very much at all. Just enjoying and soaking up the atmosphere and dreaming.

For all there were telegraph poles, chip and pin machines and modern cars parked about the place, it felt as if Slad had somehow been loosed from the normal constraints of the passage of time. Change obviously comes slowly and by small increments to this tiny little village. Even the adverts on the pub waste bins were for R White’s Lemonade. I haven’t seen that advertised publically in years.

It was a good place. Life felt wholesome there. Honest. More simple.

Of course, these are all just first impressions made in the space of a single moment. For all I know there was a bondage club in the house next door and the woman at the end of the road regularly hosts parties where car keys are thrown into a fruit bowl where peaches of all nationalities have never rested but have instead been bounced off the walls and a rubber sheeted four-poster with the kind of passion that one only sees in French art house movies.

But somehow I don’t think so.

Laurie Lee sleeps peacefully in the church yard over the road and Slad is still very much his dream.

Laurie Lee's grave, Slad

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rattletrap

Old PeugeotWhat I know about cars can be restricted to three spheres of knowledge:

1) How many wheels a car has.
2) What colour a particular car happens to be (provided I can see it, of course – I don’t do telepathy or foretelling).
3) What the purpose of the airbag and the seatbelt is.

Other than that, talk of engine size, fuel mix and torque ratios means absolutely nothing to me (oh Vienna). And I am not, in truth, interested in finding out. A car is a car is a car.

But today my wife and I have bought a new car. A new second. A Peugeot 206.

Our last car was a Peugeot 106 so I am assuming from this that our new car is 100% bigger and 100% faster but I might be wrong about this.

Our old car has served us well. It was 7 years old when we bought it and has lasted another 7 to this present moment in time. It has taken us to Wales and back numerous times. It has taken us to Legoland Windsor no less than 5 times. It brought Tom from the hospital to our home when he was a mere few days old.

It has taken me to work when I didn’t want to go. Picked me up in the rain when passing. Taken rubbish to the dump. Taken us to the cinema, shopping, friend’s houses and, all in all, assisted us in various errands.

But our recent holiday has killed it.

Barely half an hour into the outward journey the trim on the right side fell off. On the second day the hand-brake snapped and we had to call out the AA. On Friday 10th, in the depth of Cheddar Gorge, the exhaust – much loosened by a malicious branch a few days earlier – virtually fell off. We had to get it stapled back on by a kindly Cheddar mechanic (no cheesy jokes please) and avail ourselves of a Kwik-Fit fitter in Stroud on our homeward journey to get a new exhaust fitted.

A galling expense when the plan had always been to trade the old girl in for a new one in September anyway (or rather, sell her for scrap – but we never said that out loud lest we hurt her feelings).

So. We decided to listen to the omens. To obey them. September may be a month too far. The old girl might well expire before we get a chance to put a bullet through her crust.

And so in a whirlwind of activity that saw us purchase the current copy of Autotrader and thumb tenderly through its Top Gear-esque innards we had a new prospective car lined up in a matter of days.

We went. We saw. We test drove. We liked.

Today we paid up and drove home our new wheels leaving our old girl on the forecourt awaiting her last journey (to the knackers’ yard). We have opened every compartment, pulled up every seat. We have reclaimed lost Pok√©mon cards and bits of Lego that have probably not seen the light of day since Christmas 2006. The bits of crisp and mouldy tuna sandwiches will be our gifts to the scrap dealer and our fragrant offering to the god of cars.

I pray he takes our old girl to his bosom and gives her long and straight celestial roads to travel during her journey through the afterlife.

I don’t know much about cars...

...but I know we loved and appreciated our old 106 very much.

Goodbye, girl.
New Peugeot

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I'll Give You A Klout Around The Ear

Alex KingstonI haven't, if I'm honest, got Klout.

I haven't got it and I don't get it.

I have, at best, a tolerate / hate relationship with Facebook. When I think about it too much I feel my lips pull up into a sneer as I calculate the myriad ways that this whole particular social networking platform is spiritually and morally wrong. When I don't think about it at all I post funny pictures and status updates with comedic value.

Occasionally I'll let Twitter be my bitch. But I treat it mean and keep it locked up in the basement for most of the time. I'll cold-shoulder it for weeks on end before gracing it with a brief caress; before I brush a finger across its erogenous zone. And then, just as its about to come, I'll drop it.

Screw you, Twitter. You love it.

But Klout foxes me.

I keep getting Klout requests and notifications and I cannot for the life of me work out what I am supposed to do with them. I can't even work out if I'm meant to be pleased that someone has Klouted me. In common parlace I'd say probably not; I ought to be pissed off. But people are sending them to me in the same spirit as a poke on Facebook. And even I know that a good poke is good for the soul.

But what the fuck is Klout?

Can someone please tell me?

I click on the links when someone throws a Klout my way and, yes, a page opens in my browser that looks rather glossy and slick but I cannot see any direction at all as to what I am supposed to do next. Other than to shrug my shoulders and think to myself, "OK, that's several hundred nanoseconds of my life that I'll never be able to devote back to internet porn" and then I close down the window.

I'm guessing Klout is some kind of competition. A popularity contest. I'm guessing the idea is to build up some kind of influence on the internet and Klout gauges just how much clout one has accrued.

But it also seems transparent to me that other web sites don't give a shit what Klout says so having acres of clout on Klout is going to benefit me a fat load of diddly-squat.

Will it get me a table reservation at The Ivy for tomorrow lunchtime? No.

Will it get me onto the film set of Doctor Who and into the knickers of Alex Kingston? No.

Will it buy me credit enough with my bank manager than I can resign from my job with instant effect and never have to return next week to it when my holiday ends? No.

In that case I am not interested.

The only clout you're going to get from me, Klout, is the back of my hand.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Buy My Book!

The Book Of OuroborosOr at least "Like" it.

No comments necessary on this post as there is another favour I'd like to ask of you if you have the time and inclination. No exchange of monies necessary.

My first novel, The Book Of Ouroboros, is now out on Kindle for the knockdown price of £0.00 - though it may revert back to the bank breaking price of £0.99 at some point in the future.

This was my first foray into novel writing and is something of a curio for me as it is not at all representative of my usual style of writing. It is a horror. It is adult. It is explicit. And it goes to some rather dark and grim places.

Like any writer, the most recently completed novel tends to take the laurels - hence my second novel, The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini, is taking the lion's share of my efforts to get published.

However, a lot of time and effort went into The Book Of Ouroboros (about 3 years) and it seems idiotic to leave it languishing on my hard drive when it could be out in the real world doing something useful. Something useful like being read or, Heaven forbid, earning me minimum royalties.

Hence I have thrown it to the dogs of Kindle.

Sorry. It occurs that I'm not really selling it to you. Try this:

Contains explicit sex.
Contains violence.
Contains bad language and themes of an adult nature.
May contain traces of nut.

Sold? If so you can head off via the links below and download to your heart's content.

For those of you who don't have your boats floated by nasty psychological horror stories then you can still do your bit by following the links below and clicking on the "Like" button. And then, to put the cherry on the cake, you can scroll slightly further down the page (underneath the Product details) and find the section entitled "Tags Customers Associate with This Product". Click the link in this section entitled "See all 15 tags..." and then, when the page refreshes, check all of the 15 check boxes.

Apparently this will give the profile of the book a real boost and augment my meagre marketing skills.

Amazon UK: The Book Of Ouroboros

Amazon US: The Book Of Ouroboros

You are all wonderful paragons of human virtue and I thank you all very muchly.

P.S. For those of you who'd like to support my second novel's slow climb up the ranking of Harper Collins' Authonomy web site you can log in and read The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini by following this link: http://www.authonomy.com/books/44092/the-great-escapes-of-danny-houdini/


If you're already on Authonomy, if you'd kindly add it to your "bookshelf" and "rate it" then I'd be eternally grateful. If you're not a member then I'd esteem it a great honour if you'd become one and follow the same instructions.




Thursday, August 09, 2012

Amish Country

On occasion I feel a yen to adopt the Amish way of life.

These occasions usually coincide with a BBC documentary about Amish people being broadcast on TV but it is precisely this battle against my more superficial tendencies that gives the desire such weight in the first place. I get sucked in. I get immersed. For the space of an hour I believe that I too can lead a simpler, plainer, more Godly existence. That I too could raise a barn.

The thought of doing away with gadgets and electronics and the world wide web, I confess, has an appeal.

No more mobile phones. No more slavish umbilical-like connection to the internet. No more Facebook. No more Twitter. No more Viagra emails. No more links to nude photos of Keeley Hawes that at best don’t work and at worst install Trojans onto my hard-drive.

Life could be so much easier. So much cleaner.

Not that it would be totally without its complications. The documentary I watched last week stuck in my mind because of Mr Amish’s (I forget his name) admission that he had to fight constant internal battles to keep control of his own lust. For that reason he had imposed the desire upon his wife that she did not wear low cut or revealing tops. And by low cut or revealing tops we are talking about a single button being undone at the top as opposed to a V-slit that plunged all the way down to her barn-raisin’ vajazzle.

This was the man’s own wife, for Heaven’s sake. Surely you’re allowed to feel a little lust for your own wife? Surely it is a prerequisite to the marriage contract in the first place?

It was at this point in the documentary that my fantasy broke down. It was at this point that I realized I just didn’t possess the necessary spiritual and physical dichotomy to love someone but to consider any kind of physical expression of that love as being at odds with my spiritual development.

I guess I’m just too steeped in sin and the ways of the sinful world. Curse me and my irredeemable libido!

Giving up the internet and games consoles is easy. Any fool can do that. The real test is plainly cultivating a desire not to shag the person you’ve fallen in love with even though having kids is, spiritually, a good thing.

I know, I know. I’m over simplifying. And I truly don’t want to be glibly denigrating the Amish way of life because part of it definitely does attract me.

Back in 1996, during a whistle-stop tour of America and Canada’s East Coast, I actually visited a real life Amish town. Intercourse, it was called. And without a drop of irony too.

I kid you not.

I can remember we were allowed inside one of the houses though told not to speak to the occupants and to behave with a quiet sobriety  at all times. I felt extremely self conscious. We’d been informed that the Amish frowned upon any kind of adornment or needless decoration on their clothes and there was I, dressed in a leather biker’s jacket with tassels down the arms and a painted design on the back, and my lapels literally festooned in badges. Hey, I was in my twenties, OK, and more tasteless than I am now.

I remember feeling ashamed as the Amish woman went about her chores – putting a pile of freshly washed clothes through a mangle much the way my Nan did when I was a kid. I daresay she didn’t give me a second look – Lord knows how many tour parties had marched over her porch that week alone – but I felt petty, stupid and of no consequence. I felt foolish, vain and, paradoxically, deeply shallow.

It left a lasting impression on me and I stopped wearing the jacket and badges soon after.

And now whenever I read about or watch programmes about the Amish way of life I feel a small internal tug, a slight beckoning towards the ideal. And Lord knows there’s enough about modern life that repels me so I have a force driving me from behind too.

But I can’t quite reconcile myself to the complete Amish lifestyle. Not really.

I have a tendency to rather enjoy low cut and revealing tops. Alas, that internal battle is lost before it is even begun.

My mother always used to say I was born in a barn (because I’d never close a door behind me as a kid).

Sadly, I very much doubt I shall die in one.


P.S. Just as an aside: this is my 900th post...!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Buzz

Lord knows I have racked my brain for her name but it is long gone. Which is a damned shame because, of all my secondary school teachers, hers is the name I’d most like to recall.

She taught Chemistry and, most importantly of all for us burgeoningly pubescent boys, she taught the girls netball.

She was young. She was fit. She was pretty.

And in the words of The Streets, my God didn’t she know it.

Most of my teachers at secondary school had had all of their emotion and sensitivity long scoured out of them by year upon year of having to teach the magic of knowledge to a zoo full of barbaric ingrates who were driven purely by the dictates of their hormones and the desire to be first in the lunch queue for chips. They looked upon us young scholars as mere animals, subhuman at best, with little chance of redemption by the examination board. We were Neanderthals in school ties.

Miss Chemistry (as I shall call her) was different.

She gave us boys knowing looks. Secret smirks. The raised eyebrow that suggested she knew exactly what we were thinking most of the time (every 8 seconds apparently) and felt a little frisson because of it. She was playing with fire to be sure. Possibly though I am reading far too much into it. Possibly I am merely tapping into the murky adolescent communal fantasy that flourished during her employ at Manor Hall Secondary School.

Whatever, she was different. She was human. And she seemed to look upon us as human or variants thereof too.

There was Chemistry indeed.

One of my most enduring memories of her is watching her referee a netball match between the 5th form girls one Wednesday lunch time. The match was held in the “tennis courts” – little more than a concrete yard fenced round with that weird plasti-coated green wire fencing. Word got around fast and within minutes the perimeter of the fence was populated by a hundred, silently slathering boys who gripped tightly onto the fence with their fingers and drank in every bounce, jump and wobble. It was like being at a dog pound – only with the desperate pups being on the outside looking in.

She played up to us for a good 20 minutes before the comments got a little too bawdy and she blew her whistle – ah those lips! – and moved us all on. I remember her looking highly amused as Mr Evans the “gardening” teacher shooed us all away before lingering himself. Just to make sure we didn’t return, I’m sure.

The story that went round the school just before she left for pastures new was that during one Chemistry lesson she’d been fishing round in her handbag for a tissue when something long, smooth and intimately cylindrical rolled out onto the laboratory desk.

It wasn’t a Bunsen burner I can tell you. It had a compartment for batteries.

By the end of the day she’d earned the nickname “Buzz”.

By the end of the week the 5th form boys were shouting “buzzzzzz!” at her every time she walked by them in the corridor.

Her position had become untenable.

She was gallingly replaced by a weird moustachioed guy in a tweed jacket who looked like Michael Fish. He thought himself a right comedian but jokes – even good ones – could never replace what we’d lost.

I often think of Miss Chemistry now and wonder where she is. What she’s doing. What happened was a tragedy. But the tragedy was on us boys.

We just were not man enough.

That’s what all those knowing looks and smirks were about. She wasn’t laughing with us.

We just weren’t man enough...


Friday, August 03, 2012

Airplane

If I seem quiet over the next 7 days it is because – with my wife’s gracious consent – I am trying something new.

I am trying something I have never done before. I am experimenting.

It may or may not involve dressing up in a weird costume and hiding in the wardrobe, re-enacting choice scenes from Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Upon reflection, I suspect it won’t.

For the next week I am not going to be here. I am going to be even more virtual than I have been previously. The family and I are taking a week’s holiday away from the ol’ homestead (our eldest is already experiencing X-Box withdrawal symptoms) and heading out of town. For the next 7 days we are house-sitting / cat-sitting for friends down in Nailsworth – a gorgeous part of Gloucestershire that feels like someone has cut out a small segment of Wales and transplanted it into England.

Access to the internet might be scanty. We shall have some, no doubt, but I don’t intend to be slaving away at a computer keyboard composing masterpieces for you all to read whilst I am on my holiday. Instead, using the old noggin to forward plan and utilising the nifty little scheduling tool on Blogger, I will be publishing a couple of posts via autopilot. Please don’t blame me if the plane crashes.

I will try and check in and reply to comments (should there be any – I find it never bodes well to assume), but if you find you are not on the receiving end of the kind of immediately witty reply that you have come to expect and adore then I hope you can understand why. It may take me a day or two to get back to you... but get back to you I shall and I shall endeavour to make it worth the extra wait.

It feels kind of weird to leave this blog to fly alone. To leave it to the mercy of you guys – my passengers.

I do hope I can trust you all not to misbehave while I am absent.

Please leave the aisles as clean as you found them and I want no smuttiness in the toilets (especially at altitude). Any attempts to storm the cockpit and take control will be not be thought well of, I can assure you.

And please, please, whatever you do, do not play around with my flaps.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Even On The Quietest Street

There was a summer when I was no more than 7 or 8 that me and my sister, Karen, were allowed to play out in the street with some of the other kids that lived nearby. We were only allowed to play within a clearly defined area though – Waller Street, Wathen Road and Campion Road but no further than Brownlow Street. This boxed us in nicely to our own locale; a residential area where we were never more than 400 yards from home. The streets were straight, quiet and formed a little square meaning it would be impossible for us to get lost.

This summer sticks in my mind because it was the only time we were ever allowed to play out in the street. It is only years later and recalling what occurred that I can understand why this freedom was never granted us again.

I can’t remember the faces or names of the other kids we played with. One of them may have been our neighbour’s daughter, Sarah, who at 9 was deemed grown-up enough to watch over us. The other kids may have been friends of hers, I’m not sure.

Our games consisted of lots of chasing, a visit to the sweet shop for those of us lucky enough to have 10p to spend – more than enough money in those days to buy a decent bag of sweets – and the inevitable hide and seek.

Even at the time I felt uneasy about being separated from my sister. It felt wrong. I was sure my mum would not approve of it. I was the eldest, I should be looking after her and to do that we needed to stick together. To be wandering alone, hiding from each other felt very wrong.

I may have let myself be caught or perhaps just bottled it 5 minutes into the game and gave myself up. I just knew I had to find Karen.

I found the others first. I know this because I remember there was a little huddle of us gathered by the back gate of the old man’s house where one of my friends had found my sister.

I have no idea who he was. His face is lost to me now but I remember he was tall and thin and had a wheedling voice. He was stood outside his backdoor with my sister close by urging her to come inside his house and hide.

Karen seemed undecided, she wasn’t moving either to leave or to go inside. I suppose now she may just have been confused or scared. Either way she was not fit to make the decision.

The old man didn’t have horns or sharp teeth. He didn’t smell or swear or look particularly rough. He was just old and strangely urging.

But I remember vividly the bad feeling I had when I saw him standing over my sister. Karen was in his backyard, a mere couple of metres away, but it felt like miles. Like she was in a different country altogether. A country I had to get her out of.

Even with us other kids present the old man persisted with his pleading for her to hide inside his house; she’d be safe there, he said, he’d look after her. It was a good hiding place.

Looking back on it now this just confirms to me that my instincts were right. His eagerness to separate her from the rest of us... there is not a reason on this earth that could possibly be good or wholesome or innocent for that to be OK.

I was speaking before I knew it. We had to get home, I said. Mum was waiting. We had to go. Now.

Karen walked back to us and it felt like something huge had brushed past us, impossibly close but not quite touching.

I remember the man calling after us... we could all come inside if we wanted. We could all play. But his voice was faint. We were already walking away, heading back to the comparative safety of Waller Street.

I don’t remember telling my mum what had happened but I think the story must have got back to her somehow. We never played in the street again and after a while we stopped asking to.

That summer was special. Mostly because of what didn’t happen.

Some kids don’t have summers like that.