Dork of the Day
Posted Oct 26, 2001
I'm not having the best of days.
Today should have been easy. In theory all I had to do was take Edward round to his friends house and then bring them back to spend the afternoon here in a Game Boy Advance induced stupor.
In theory of course because the best laid plans of Scoop Benet oft go awry.
Up until now my week had been going well, not least because I have had two job offers and yesterday managed to run for an entire hour (the target I have been aiming at for 10 weeks). So I happily set off on a ten minute walk with the kid to pick up Paul.
All went well until We got home where I reached for my keys only to discover that keys had in fact become key.
When I run I take my keys off of the key ring they are on and put them in separate pockets. I have to do this or the jangling noise preceding me disappoints to many kids (sounds like Father Christmas, has Father Christmas' body shape, is actually a tubby jogger with no presents). This I had done yesterday but in my elation at having run for an hour I had forgotten to reunite the sundered keys.
So now I was standing on the doorstep not just with my usual charge Edward but with his friend Paul whose mother had stupidly just entrusted her child to a complete incompetent.
I had also left my mobile indoors so the only way to save any face was to go to a phone box and somehow ring a key holder. I didn't have my Aunt's work number on me though (my mobile had also been left inside) so I had to ring my Grandparents.
This was the worst possible news. This meant that within ten minutes my entire family would know of my stupidity. My family is very close knit and my Grandparents are its hub; the familial equivalent of Reuters News agency. Tell them, tell all.
Anyway my Grandad rang Melinda and she got to come back from work early to let us in.
I tried to bribe my way back into the kids good books with sweets, but even that has not stopped them dubbing me 'Dork of the Day' and they are even now plotting a terrible revenge (the last plan I heard was to hold me down and hit me with sticks).
Sometimes my dumbness amazes even myself.
Gang Crime, Garages and the Mean Streets of Crayford
Posted Oct 19, 2001
You may have been expecting me to come back from Lancaster full of exciting tales of life up North but instead I have a tale from the south for you.
My paternal grandparents are wonderful people. They live in the suburban town of Crayford on the edge of London.
Now though it doesn’t have the lowest crime rate in the country Crayford is not considered a hotbed of organised crime. However last week my Grandparents found themselves the victims of what they guessed to be Gang crime.
It all started with the delivery of a car.
My Granddad has driven a large car for many years now but my dad and his siblings have long thought that the old couple needed a smaller, safer vehicle. So my aunt has given them her Nissan Micra. Anyway all this results in my grandparents regaining use of their small garage. This has stood empty for years, as the car was too big to fit into it.
So my Granddad wandered around to the garage, which hadn’t been opened since he had had an impenetrable locking device put on the door over a year ago.
He opened the door to find that it had worked perfectly. The door had not been opened since he had last touched it. However someone had got around the lock by simply stealing the rear wall of the garage.
Where before there had been a wall made out of long beams of concrete now there was nothing. Nothing except of course a fence, unbroken, all of six inches from where the wall had been. The concrete beams were nowhere to be seen. That meant that whoever had done it had stood in a six-inch wide space and taken apart an 8-foot high wall made of 4 2 foot tall beams, a foot thick each, (using brute force) and had then stolen the beams.
Well I would love to shake them by the hand. They should make that a reality TV challenge. Steal the wall in difficult conditions without anyone noticing.
Anyway, naturally my grandparents rang their insurers to get the wall replaced ASAP.
They said they needed a police report so the next day my Granddad rang the police and two of them came round and they escorted the old man around to the garage. According to my Nan they were both over 6 feet and towered over my Granddad who looked like he’d been arrested.
Anyway he opened the garage and the police checked out the back wall and said that they would tell the insurers all was in order (or rather not in order but in the right way).
However the story doesn’t end there. For when he took the police to the garage my Granddad had found the garage was no longer empty.
In there were three suspicious black sacks. He had told the police this but they said it just looked like rubbish to them and declined to look in them.
Back at home the old couple fretted. What was in the bags? Who had put them there? Would they be back?
They started inventing scenarios. They thought maybe illegal immigrants were staying there. Then they considered whether gangsters were storing stolen goods there, or maybe they had dumped dead bodies in the garage.
My Grandmother decided something had to be done. She knew they could not leave the bags there without investigating further. Her decision made she put her plan into action immediately.
She sent Granddad down to look in the bags.
So down he went, into the garage again and approached the bags nervously. Leaving the door open so he could turn tail at a moment’s notice.
He didn’t want to put his hand in the bags in case there was something terrible there. He also didn’t want to touch the outside of the bags in case he could feel something inside. So he decided the best course of actions was to kick one of the bags over.
He took a deep breath and kicked.
The shocking contents spilled out across the floor.
There on the floor were hundreds of the strongest hardcore porn mags direct from Holland.
And the door of the garage was still open making my sweet, innocent, granddad, as he shovelled the mags back into the bag, look like the dirtiest old man in suburbia.
A Boring Week.
Posted Oct 4, 2001
This week I have done virtually nothing.
I have started a bit of decorating, applied for a few jobs and increased the amount I do when I workout.
This is the sum total of my life while I wait to go to Lancaster next week.
Another writer might sit here and go into a philosophical discussion of the nature of boredom and the vitality of ennui to the human condition.
I shall not.
Instead I shall talk about something that happened last week.
Last Monday Keith came over and we went to see ‘The Fast and The Furious’. This film has been condemned by critics as shallow, pointless and without artistic merit.
They were right.
As a piece of art it is a fantastic failure. The standard of acting is terrible, the plot a rehash of ‘Point Break’ with less emotion (yes, that’s right less emotion than Keanu Reeves) and the colour schemes of the cars are simply appalling.
Yet I really enjoyed it. And not on a Kitsch level of its so bad its good.
I simply sat there fully aware of how bad the film was and still had a good time.
Partly this was down to the spectacle of the car races in ‘The Fast and the Furious’. Here is the film’s one saving grace, visceral action in the form of 10-second bursts of pure speed to take Honda Civics from a standing start to ¼ of a mile down a straight road at 140mph.
You can’t deny that that’s quite exciting. Yet there are only 3 or so of these races in the whole film and they each last 10 seconds. Also they are little different in filming or excitement from watching drag racing really and so you can’t really call them art, more recreated reality.
So I was still left with the serious problem (for me as an artistic snob) of having watched something truly worthless and enjoyed it.
Then I realised why I had liked it.
My life is less interesting than a tiresome and uninventive piece of Hollywood trash.
Depressing but for the last fortnight true. Roll on next week.
I may not be here next week so there may be a two-week gap between entries. I promise it shall be worth it.
Further Adventures on the Wheels of Plastic
Posted Sep 27, 2001
This week Edward is doing cycling proficiency lessons after school.
I never really got to grips with bikes as a kid.
I got a Raleigh Extreme (blue with orange flashes and black disk wheels) for Christmas one year and was in awe of it for a while before I tried learning to ride it. My learning to ride was (as so many of the things I did as a kid were) one of my Father's little projects.
My Dad loved to be really hands on in the teaching department, taking me through everything from reading to fire lighting. It was to be the same as he took me down to York Gardens, at the bottom of Plough Road in Battersea, to try to wean me off of stabilisers.
His efforts followed the pattern they always did. Things started well, with me picking up some of the basics, but I didn't have the confidence and coordination to really get to grips with it. This resulted in him pushing me too hard just at the time I was becoming annoyingly unwilling to carry on.
Whatever the project the point would come where I said I couldn't do it, he said I could and argument ensued. Now he was nearly always right, but he was also completely unhelpful at these points as he seemed fixed on proving me wrong rather than helping me for my sake.
Anyway eventually I got those wobbly wheels under control and was able to do laps of the park.
"Wow!" I remember thinking. "This is coool".
So it wasn't long before I was allowed to take my bike out on my own. On the first occasion I wheeled it down the steep hill that is Plough road and then road it along and into York Gardens.
I started doing laps of the gardens, getting up to warp speed, and enjoying myself. Of course it was just at the moment when my confidence was highest that disaster struck.
A bollard blocked my path (This story does shed some light on why the incident in my last diary entry was so traumatic). I had cycled past it many times but as I approached it on this occasion I wobbled slightly and by the time I had corrected myself I was on an unavoidable collision course.
I flew over the handlebars, my chubby 10-year old butt describing an elegant parabola.
The moment seemed to last forever.
When I recovered from the serious winding I got up to inspect my machine. It was totally wrecked.
Partly through the pain and bruising and partly through the terrible way I had treated this elegant machine I swore then never to go near another two-wheeled vehicle again.
The Return of the Scooter
So I stuck to that rule until the whole micro scooter thing. I had had a few goes before the events of last week, and after my baptism of fire I now had full confidence in my control of this two-wheeled beast.
And so it was that when Edward had to take his bike in for cycling proficiency I decided to take the scooter so we could both ride to school.
I left the house with no fear this time. After all this was a fine morning without the foul weather of last week and there were no vicious slopes ahead of me.
We rode to school with no incident. In fact my mastery of the scooter became so complete that I stopped having to think about controlling it and was able to glide along chatting to my young charge.
We got to school on time and said our goodbyes and I turned to go home.
As I glided along over the pavement I thought about the way the leaves were changing. The nights are really starting to draw in and a long winter is ahead of us. I thought about all my plans to find a job, write some articles and visit friends.
I also thought about the poor people stuck in traffic at the lights as I sped past them and across the main road. They were all sat there in machines that could do around 100mph and yet here I was moving faster than them. They must have been bored and jealous I thought.
I reached the pavement and continued on my way.
And then I flew over the handlebars, my chubby 21-year old butt describing an elegant parabola.
I had hit a join between pavement and extremely rough tarmac without noticing and was in the process of being catapulted several yards.
As I flew though the air I thought "Oh no. Not again"
The pain began immediately after I landed.
When I was 8 I was very much into swimming.
When we went on holiday that summer I was really excited because we were going somewhere with a pool for the first time ever.
We didn’t know what time the pool was opening and so I got up early on the first morning to find out.
I jumped out of bed, threw my clothes on and rushed out of the door without saying good morning to anyone. I dashed along the gravel path to the pool. There was a sign saying it would be open in 10 minutes at 9AM.
I turned without stopping, sliding in the gravel, and started to run back. Unfortunately I had forgotten to tell my legs where I was going and with no one controlling them they decided to make a concerted effort to escape from their role as my main form of propulsion and go and live on a kibbutz in Israel.
The upshot of this was that I fell with great force, sliding across the grating, stony, floor. When I sat up I discovered I had a vicious graze on my left hand. Then the real pain started and I noticed my right knee. I had taken a huge area of skin clean off and was looking at the bare flesh of my kneecap.
I recovered, but I couldn't go swimming that week. Ever since I have carried a white scar on my knee as a reminder to pay more attention and care when traversing rough surfaces.
As I sat up on the rough surface of the street my first thought was for Edward's scooter, which was thankfully fine.
I then inspected myself and discovered a vicious graze on my right hand. Then the real pain started in my left knee. I rolled up my trouser leg to find I had taken a huge area of skin clean off and was looking at the bare flesh of my kneecap.
Yes, I am soon to have symmetrical scarring.
Then my ears kicked in and I heard the laughing.
The whole queue of traffic I had felt so superior to second before was laughing at me.
When the lights turned green it took some time before the lead car pulled away its driver was guffawing so much.
I dusted myself down and began the long limp home with the vow I had sworn as a 10 year old ringing in my ears.
"Never go near two-wheeled vehicles".
"And always trust the judgement of 10 years olds", I added.
A Weekend With Dave
Posted Sep 21, 2001
I had been looking forward to last weekend for some time because my cousin, David Clark, was coming to stay.
Dave and I have had many interesting weekends together and in my present state of boredom, brought on by having little to do except job hunt, a couple of days with him were just what the doctor ordered.
Dave and I have got on particularly well our whole lives. It all started on those visits round to his house where we could relate perfectly to the trials we were each facing. These trials took the form of our younger siblings, Craig (my brother) and Fiona (Dave's sister). At the time they seemed like creatures sent to torment us, but when we were together we were allowed to pair up and leave Craig and Fiona to their own devices. I now realise this may have been a bit hard on Craig (and probably Fiona too). Maybe Craig's attempts to break down the door to Dave's room, which he and I were holding shut with our combined bodyweights, weren't simply meant to annoy us but were an attempt to be allowed into the gang. Either way, from those early moments of teamwork (and strenuous shoulder pressure) onwards Dave and I were the best friends cousins can be.
This has not changed through the years. What did transform were the things that brought us together. At around the age of 15 I got into music in a big way and was quick to infect Dave with my interest. We were then united by our interest in gigging and spent a lot more time together outside of our familial units. Slowly, over a few years, a phenomenon began to manifest itself to myself and Dave. Whenever we spent a few days together some form of madness ensued.
The Reading Incident
The first big example of this took place in 1997 when we were on our way back from the Reading festival. We had only been there on a day ticket to see a range of more obscure acts on smaller stages and our day had been the Sunday. Sunday at Reading is traditionally dirty Goth day on the main stage and this year was no exception. Having no tent and no right to camp we had decided to sleep on the concourse at Reading train station and get the first train back to London. When we arrived at 2AM it was to see the whole of Gothdom spread out before us. We couldn't stay there. Where could we go though? Then it struck us. It was a clear (ish) summer night and though we were only dressed in combat trousers and T-Shirts a late night stroll was not beyond us. We decided to walk out to a suburb of Reading called Earley, where the train makes its first stop after leaving town. It was a couple of miles but we would walk there and sleep on its Goth-free platform.
Now this may not seem too unreasonable but events, and a fact we had chosen to ignore, were to conspire against us. You see David had recently had a serious operation on a knee, which he had dislocated several times previously and done serious ligament damage to. In fact the operation had virtually consisted of rebuilding the tendon structure of the joint. Now after a whole day jumping up and down Dave's knee was tired. It was not on the limit yet but what better way to try and totally destroy it than to attempt a couple of miles walk along hard pavement. Nonetheless we got started, using road signs to put us on the right road out of town. After about a mile and a half we had seen no evidence of Earley and signs had completely petered out. To add to our problems it was now lightly drizzling. We stopped at a petrol station to check that it was not far to go, wishing neither to get soaked or hurt Dave's knee which, though he was still denying it, was clearly giving him some trouble now.
The guy behind the bullet proof screen was, to say the least, useless. While David sat on a wall and rested I struggled to purchase chocolate. After several minutes I finally got a Fruit and Nut bar and a Yorkie. However attempts to gain geographical information were in vain. This guy was unaware that conversation about things other than petrol, cigarettes and snacks was possible. I struggled to wring any leads on the whereabouts of Earley from him. Unfortunately he fell back on that basic mental defence mechanism, imitation. I would say 'Is it far?' and would reply 'Is it far?' and look wistful while privately praying to his primitive petrol retailing deities that I would disappear in a pump-leak related flash. In the end I made the mistake of believing one of these guttural sounds to be an attempt at communication. I said 'Is it near?' and he said 'S'near'.
Earley was not near. Earley was far. Now we had passed the point of no return though. We knew Reading was a long way away but Earley (thanks to monkey boy at the petrol station) was constantly around the next corner. It was a shame then that we found ourselves on a ruler straight road through suburbia without a corner for what seemed like 6 years.
It was now SERIOUSLY raining. Both of us were soaked to the skin and I was beginning to have problems. I was so cold I was feeling uncomfortably warm. Moving along the road had stopped being a choice and become a chore. I felt like that guy in hell who has to push the rock up the hill till it rolls back down and then start over. Constantly there were midnight mirages of train stations in the middle distance that resolved themselves into shrubberies on our approach.
I was pushing my problems out of my mind though for worry about Dave's knee. He was still trying to hide the fact he was in a bit of pain but his cover was crumbling and a more than visible limp was developing. To take my mind off the cold I began to nanny him a bit. This was exactly what he didn't want. His technique for dealing with this stupid situation was to pretend it wasn't happening. In Dave's mind his leg worked perfectly and it was a beautiful day. Any suggestion that it was 2:30 AM and we'd been up for 20 hours, there was a torrential thunderstorm and his knee was soon to give way he had to forget in order to carry on. This led to a very heated exchange. We argued in the pouring rain at the top of our voices as we struggled on. It was his fault, it was my fault, we should have gone back, he shouldn't have come if he wasn't up to it.
Suddenly this stopped. Ahead was the sign for the station. Our argument had let us both take our minds off of our troubles and we had frogmarched half a mile to our goal.
So at 2:40 AM we got to the platform at Earley. It was not quite open to the elements but it was close as can be to it. There was a canopy high above us that allowed spots of rain to blow in under it. All I saw was a bench though. At that moment that bench was the most attractive and comfortable bed I had ever known. I lay down as the big digital platform clock flicked over to 2:50.
He began punching me in the stomach and slapping me with force and I came round. 'Why is Dave hittin....' I began to think but was brought up short by the combination of another blow and the shock of how cold I was. I have never been so cold before or since (as a result of which I am now proofed against what most people think of as cold). I could feel the way my internal organs had begun to become ice cubes. I had done basic first aid and I knew what this meant. I was in the initial stages of hypothermia. I couldn't remember anything. I stared at the clock, showing 3:50 now, and it all came flooding back. I looked at Dave, he was ashen faced through cold but visibly relieved that I had woken. He told me what had happened while I slept. He had gone to the next bench and tried to rest himself but his knee had kept him awake. After twenty minutes he had got cold. After another 10 he was unbearably cold and worried that in our wet clothes the 4 hour wait may be seriously bad for our health. It was at this point he decided we should walk on to the next station or at least try to find another petrol station to get some food. He then attempted to rouse me and found I wouldn't wake up. I can't imagine what it was like for him, 3:30 in the morning, cold, wet, your leg dosen't work, awake for 22 hours and now your best mate appears to have become seriously ill and only you and your damaged self stand between him and the ravages of hypothermia. This had led him, after 15 minutes of shouting and shaking, to begin pummelling me. Even that had taken 5 minutes to stir me.
After he had explained this we tried to move. We were more like a pair of old men than a couple of virile 18 year olds. It was 4:10 before I was moving and we were heading for Winersh Triangle, the next stop down the line.
Thankfully it had stopped raining. Now it was Dave's turn for concern and he helped me get up to speed. After some time moving I started to feel better. I am afraid I did a bit of moaning, unlike Dave who never complained once (well maybe once) about his knee. Soon we were laughing and joking at our own stupidity. When we started it had been a clear evening, we fancied a stroll and Earley had seemed near. Now it felt like we were in the film 'Deliverance', struggling to survive in the wild backwoods of the Reading suburbs.
Then a beautiful thing happened. We came upon a petrol station near a roundabout. This meant food but it also meant we were not going to have to stay on that dull, straight, strength-sappingly mundane road anymore. However there was another miracle awaiting us. As we approached we realised that though it was the middle of the night this shop was letting people INSIDE!
To anyone who doesn't live in a city like London this may sound pretty unamazing but I had never seen this before. During the hours of darkness petrol stations close their doors and install idiots behind bulletproof shielding (presumably to protect them from frustrated customers forced into attempted murder by their inability to get the guy to understand they want a sandwich and a dime bar and not a pack of alkaline batteries). We were allowed in to browse the drinks cabinet, peruse the crisp aisle and select at leisure from the pastry product cooler. We bought pasties, crisps, sweets and hot chocolate. That drink was amazing. I was so cold it was like pouring molten lead down my throat.
We walked on, using the still hot polystyrene cups to keep our hands warm. We were lost though. We didn't know which exit to take from the roundabout. It turned out we took the wrong one. Winnersh triangle was only 100 yards away at that point. No matter though, we needed to walk to be warm. This was a mission now. We talked of forgetting the train and walking back into London on the A4.
Around 6AM we got to Winnersh station. Joy of joys there was another miracle garage next to it and we sat and drank chocolate till the train arrived at 8.
Back to Last Week Though
Some of you may remember that I began this by telling you Dave came up last weekend and I was looking forward to it because some adventure like the one above was likely to find us with very little effort.
He came late on Friday and we headed out on Saturday morning to visit the nearby town of Chester. We hadn't gone 100yds from the house when our homing instinct for the picaresque was activated. We were walking along talking about house prices when a woman in her sixties began to whisper to us from across the street. I didn't hear it but Dave stopped and we crossed to investigate.
This lady had small three bags of soft sand in her car, she told us, and they needed to be moved ten yards but she did not have the strength. We happily took thirty seconds to do this for her. She asked if we were brothers (to anyone who knows us that must be hilarious) because she could see "A family resemblance".
We were about to leave when she asked us if we like fruit cake. This is not the kind of question most people have to ask of Dave and I; the affirmative answer being quite clear by simply looking at us. We told her yes, looking forward to a small slice to eat as we walked down to the station. She disappeared and returned with a whole, homemade, fruit cake carefully wrapped. We were taken aback. This thing was clearly worth about £5 (an estimate we later raised to £10 having tasted how good it was). This is quite a good rate of pay for 30 seconds work. She clearly wouldn't take no for an answer and so we strolled away.
This clearly wasn't a full-on adventure but it was quite a weird experience. One minute we didn't have fruit cake the next we did. Anyway we went to Chester, which I thought was a great place. I bought some nice Camembert from a very good cheese shop and embarrassed Dave by having a passionate conversation about the cheese with the assistant.
We went to a pub and then we went home. Not the most exciting day then.
When Melinda (my aunt and boss) asked if we had had any of the adventures I had told her I was sure would sneak up on us I had to admit we had not (except for the cake).
Melinda and Richard then decided to go out and get pizza and left us in charge of Edward. Dave and I were flummoxed. A weekend without an event we could dine out on for months? This had never happened before.
Then the phone rang.
It was Richard. My Aunt and Uncle were about a mile away outside the pizza place. They had managed to lock the keys in the car and needed a taxi. This was all very funny to us at home and I began ringing cab firms.
It was Saturday night and nobody had a spare car to send so I tried to ring Richard back and got the operator. I tried again and the same happened. I checked the number and found they had called from a payphone having left their mobiles at home. The 'operator' was in fact a bunch of kids who seemingly lived in the phone box.
So, there was pizza getting cold, a car that could be stolen, no taxis and it was raining. What could we do? David had the first brainwave by asking Edward if he knew where the spare car keys were. He did and so we now had a plan, get the car keys to the pizza place.
We couldn't all go as Edward would slow us down and we didn't want him to get wet. David couldn't go because the knee would slow him down and he didn't know the way. That left me.
I was just going out the door when Edward said "Take my micro scooter it will be quicker". Genius. And so it was that in the space of 5 minutes I went from sitting watching Saturday night telly to riding at breakneck speeds, through torrential rain, on a child's micro scooter, which has a big warning sign on the handlebars which reads 'DO NOT USE WHEN WET'. I had some slippery moments at first but was soon in control. My route took me along the main road and then down a sloping side road and onto a path through a piece of common land. This path is actually a fairly steep hill with a bollard at the bottom. As I approached the side road I was already seriously wet. I was also going quite fast. Once I hit the slope I knew there was no stopping until I got to the end of the path through the common land. I just managed to control the turn onto the path and then it hit me.
I had never been this way in the dark before and so had failed to notice something fairly fundamental. The path had no streetlights.
Being wooded as well this made it pitch black. So I am now going down a 45 degree incline at about 40mph on a micro scooter in a thunderstorm, in complete darkness.
I closed my eyes and saw no difference.
It was at this point I began screaming. I didn't stop for 200 yds ( a distance I covered in about 0.5 of a second). My cry of sheer terror was cut short by my need to concentrate. The bollard was fast approaching. I had to steer the scooter around it without steering it into the nettle filled ditches at the edge of the path. I thought I could do it at first. As I got nearer it became clear I hadn't done enough. The scooter would pass but my trailing leg would hit the object, shatter in 16 places and then detach, flying off leaving me to ride the scooter with one leg. I had to take drastic action.
I switched legs, heaving my big butt out of the way just in time to miss the bollard. This ruined my balance and I went veering from one side to the other like a drunk. I regained control as the slope flattened out. There was one more surprise for me to face. Due to the rain there was now a 4 inch deep, dirty, puddle across the path. I was still doing 30mph on the micro scooter and couldn't slow down. I had to go through. Water jumped up and soaked me like on a log-flume ride at a theme park. My glasses were soaked and I was blind again but the water had slowed me and I was able to stop and recompose myself.
I carried on around the final corner to the pizza place and found a very surprised Melinda standing alone without the pizzas. Richard had managed to hail a cab and had gone home to get the keys that I had gone through so much to bring there. My entire 'mission' had been pointless.
When I got back David and I celebrated the fact we hadn't broken our chain of pointless events, while I filled him in on all the details to tell his friends for the next few months.
This is what happens when we get together.
I look forward to the next time.