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May 23, 2006


When I was a kid, I was desperate to be common.

This seems like a ridiculously snobby thing to say, I agree.

But it struck me that all the fun things in the world were dismissed by my parents as "that's common". My parents, you will appreciate, were professional people and had (still have) ludicrous pretentions about being Upper Middle Class.

I wanted Angel Delight. Angel Delight is common, so I got junket. Which for the uninitiated is a kind of sloppy, watery yogurty shite. It doesn't have bits of pineapple in, which is what I wanted. It looks like sperm, frankly, and smells not dissimilar either. I'm not going to continue this comparison on the grounds that I might incriminate myself - for the record, I DO NOT KNOW what sperm tastes like.

I wanted strawberry jam on sliced white bread. Strawberry jam, unbelievably, is common, and so is sliced bread. I got homemade marmalade with big bits of bitter peel in, on floury bread from the baker's. At least it was white some of the time.

I was desperate for a Raleigh Commando, which was a bit like a forerunner of a BMX bike. But these were common. Despite the fact they could easily have afforded one, I got hand-down bikes from my cousins, including a girl's bike with no crossbar. Which was embarrassing down the park. I once went to meet a new girlfriend from her school on a bike that was so small that even with the seat post as high as it would go, my knees were still round my ears. That's what it felt like anyway. She was so embarrassed she finished with me not long after.

I wanted to live on an estate. This is irretrievably common. We had to live in the centre of town in a house built in 1700 odd which had no square rooms and creaky stairs and plumbing that didn't work and leaded windows that leaked, and always had mould or something falling to bits. Or both. More importantly, it didn't have mates playing football in the street outside. Going to see mates involved the complicated rigmarole of phoning up and asking their mum and setting a home time and making sure your homework was done first. Not just going out and playing outside the front, which was all I wanted.

I wanted friends round. But all my friends were common so I couldn't. All the ones that Mum wanted me to invite who weren't common were up their own arses, or went hunting on Daddy's horses, or were so inbred that their chins had entirely disappeared. And none of them liked me anyway. They probably thought I was common with ideas above my station. Come to think of it, my parents had fallen into this trap themselves, to the extent that during my entire childhood, I cannot remember a single person of their generation coming round who wasn't in some way related. They had (have) no friends whatsoever.

I wanted girlfriends in my room. Not to stay over, obviously, that wasn't going to be allowed. But this was common, no lady would allow herself upstairs alone*, so all my girlfriends had to sit in the lounge (sorry, living room, or even drawing room), drinking tea from the best china cups and saucers while my Mum asked embarrassingly direct questions about what their Dads did for a living.

Do you know what? All I wanted was to be normal, and like the other kids in my school. Not the one turning up with their books in a leather satchel. Or having roast pheasant sandwiches. Or having a pudding basin haircut. I know that my Mum and Dad just wanted what was best. But it wasn't.

*that's no lady, that's my girlfriend.

May 17, 2006


I go to fetch Child One from school. This involves a five mile trog through the lanes to one of the local market towns, where I wait with all the other parents at the parking area in a park, waiting for the red-clad tide to sweep out of the distant gate and across the grass. It's a twice-daily chore that we share with another family from the village.

The weather is fine when I leave. Inevitably, by the time I get to the park, it's raining. Not disasterously hard, but persistantly and irritatingly. I lurk in the steaming-up car for as long as I can, until I catch sight in the mirror of the first red-jumpered child meeting a parent. I know I am safe until at least now, because neither Child One nor his mate are the keenest, most efficient children and will never be the first out.

Hunching my shoulders against the rain, I get out to go over to the field to meet the boys. (I find that hunching my shoulders against the rain is entirely ineffective, but I do it anyway. According to my observations, so does everyone else, and it doesn't work for them either. Something we could evolve out of doing, I think). And then, and then, I catch sight of it. Sitting in the boot of the car. A many-coloured, many-spendoured thing.

My umbrella.

A triumph of hue in red, blue, green and yellow fabric. An elegantly engineered steel-ribbed contraption which will, today, be the saving of both my hairstyle* and dignity.

I erect it proudly over my head. (Never thought I'd be able to say that without improbable boasting). And if you're waiting for the almost-inevitable 'and then it collapsed, soaking me with freezing rainwater and everyone laughed at me', then you're going to be disappointed. No, today, it performed precisely the function for which it was required.

The rain got harder, but I was invulnerable. It's a good-sized brolly, and even the occasional gust of wind didn't allow the rain to blow under too badly. There's something quite marvelous about standing in a heavy rainstorm in just a teeshirt and jeans, soundly protected by a trusty brolly. All of a sudden, I was transported back to teenage camping holidays, me and some good mates down in the south of France, me lying on my stomach in my sleeping bag in my own little ridge tent, CD on**, coffee brewing on the gas stove in the porch, door halfway unzipped, with the mother of all thunderstorms going on no more than eighteen inches from my face: a vertical curtain of water flooding off the flysheet but not getting in, not disturbing my own warm, dry little world. I might even have to use the word 'cosy'; not something I do lightly. That is a sense of security which you seldom find again: I'm safe, I'm warm, I'm protected, nothing can harm me, I am not going to be bored, I can look forward to enjoying a couple of mugs of French filter coffee and reading a trashy novel, and for once I haven't left the milk and sugar outside, so there is nothing to spoil this. I am on the threshold of manhood, I am coping in a foreign country by myself, I don't need anyone's help because I am OK. I bet we all wish we could get back to that, sometimes.

Child Two eventually arrived. He had a waterproof coat with him, but typically wasn't wearing it. Never mind, though, for my trusty brolly was big enough for both of us.

*don't go thinking that I have a dodgy haircut. I still have all my hair and despite my GOM status I do mess it up a bit with some gel in the mornings. It stings a bit when the rain gets it into your eyes.
**or, considering the distance back into my memory, more likely 'cassette on'.

May 16, 2006

Sorry, sorry, again

Oh heck, all I seem to be doing on here lately is apologising for not being on here. Sorry, again. Can we take that as a generic sorry for the foreseeable future? For whenever else I get too busy or preoccupied or sick or drunk or on holiday* or whatever to keep up with this? I used to be so good, at the beginning; very nearly managed daily for a while there. I have a good excuse this time, you'll no doubt be delighted to realise. Two, actually.

Excuse one: this is a busy time of year for me, and I have several clients who want work doing the day before yesterday, and I need to make money to feed my children's horse.**

Excuse two, and the only downbeat part of this post: have had a personal crisis to do with my two closest friends. No-one died, and it's not between the LOML and I who are if anything now closer than ever, but there have been many tears and phone calls in the small hours, and no doubt it will continue for a good while yet. And that is all I am prepared to say.

I am, at the time of writing, 40 years and 14 days old. This was an interesting birthday, to say the least. At my party at the local v v posh country hotel, the whirlpool bath was accompanied by a four poster bed (no, duh, in two separate rooms - although I will concede that the alternative is strangely attractive) and later by the surprise of fourteen of my closest friends (poignant pause re excuse two above) turning up all dressed in black tie and evening gown (men in one, women in ... oh, you know what I mean) for a wonderful, drunken dinner in a private room. Games included asking me forty questions which I was required to answer (put these three in order of drunkenness: one: 'What is your greatest achievement?'; two: 'How old were you when you lost your virginity?'; three: 'Rimming or fisting?' Ok, finished? Pencils down. Answers: they are in chronological order, but anyone answering that knowing your friends it doesn't matter, it could be in any order gets bonus points. And I'm so not telling you the answers). Passing a playing card from mouth to mouth just by suction is always a good one, especially when Gilles the maitre d' is inveigled into joining in. I fear that several of my male friends used it as an excuse to snog their friends' partners. I wouldn't do that, of course.

Other highlights: how many creamy cocktails can you drink in a sitting (Mrs Marcus the worm farmer), trying to tell the difference between a £5 glass of port and a £35 one (me - I did try not to order the expensive one on grounds of good taste, but it was out of my hands, honest - and I got it wrong, too), the Ferrari track day they clubbed together to buy for me, and the full english that I was perfectly well enough to enjoy the next morning. Oh, and the amusement of not finding the instructions for the whirlpool bath until after we'd pressed all the buttons and twiddled all the controls, which resulted in the jets squirting so hard water went out the window. The place was saturated. The LOML and I, no doubt partly due to the complimentary decanter of sherry and bottle of pink champagne, were helpless with laughter. It was she, inevitably, who thought of jumping into the bath to cover the jets with water. She's clever like that. Fortunately, there was room for me too. And lots of complimentary Molton Brown smellies.

So, there you go, forty. Nothing more to report, yesterday's news is today's chip wrappers.

I am now officially a Grumpy Old Man. And considering that sort of subject is a prime inspiration for material for this sort of blog, perhaps no bad thing, huh.

*I don't think you can be too on holiday. I suspect that I'd like to try, however.
**I'm sure that this is where all my money is going. I seem to be haemorrhaging (spelling***) cash, generally, and it's as easy to blame something with the genus Equus as a small Homo, or two. Um. I may wish to rephrase that.
***I can spell gonorrhoea without looking in a dictionary, too. Unless you're American, in which case I can't.

May 04, 2006

Down and up

I had a conversation with a client on the phone yesterday.
"I'm really sorry I haven't been back to you," I explained, "but the contractor who is going to quote to build the stuff has cried off our site meeting three times".
There is a slight silence at the other end, and a warning bell tinkles faintly in the distance. I plunge on.
"Still, we haven't forgotten you, har har har, and I'm just ringing to say we've arranged a meeting tomorrow at midday if that's ok with you."
She replies. Her tone is smug, her speech rapid, her speech waspish.
"I'm sorry but you're too late, we've given up waiting and we've arranged for someone else to do the work and they're starting on Monday."
Nur na nur na nur nur nur, she might as well have said after this. Her tone of voice said it for her.
"Oh, dear, right." I say. "Okay, I see. Well." I should just put the phone down on the condescending bitch. But my immediate reaction is oh no, I've fucked up and I should be apologising. This is the wrong reaction, with hindsight, I shouldn't be doing anything of the sort, but I'm like that and I didn't get a chance to think. "Right then. Oh dear. Well, I'm really sorry about that, like I say we had to cancel quite a few meetings, so, right, no hard feelings, I expect I might have done the same if I'd been you, really ... right. Best of luck with it then."
"Yes, um, bye."
Why the fuck did I say that? I wouldn't have done the same thing, no way. Just me accepting guilt wrongly again. It's only been a couple of weeks, for fuck's sake, it's not as if I've left them hanging in some sort of limbo. They were so nice when I met them. I hated the tone of her voice - she really enjoyed that. Bitch.

This sort of thing sets my mentalness off. It's only a small thing, should be water off a duck's back. But in my mental way I find myself staring into space a lot for the rest of the day, hearing the smug " ... we've given up waiting and we've arranged for someone else ..."; it's running through my head. After a while I can't do anything useful and just want to go and lie on the bed in a foetal position. I don't, of course, that would be ridiculous, but it's what I feel like doing.

I can be so mental, me.

And theeeeeen, something happens to lift me up again. Today, while voting for various worthies at the village hall, I am stopped by Morris Dancing Dave. He really does morris dance. What was that about trying everything once?* At the moment, he has the Village Job of raising the flags on Important Days on the top of the church tower. His knees are giving up a bit though now (too much morris dancing, no doubt, though how much is too much would be an interesting debate - feel free to contribute) and the stairs are incredibly narrow and twisty at the top and make his knees hurt, and he wondered if I'd like to do it instead.

Now, I have a slight quandary, as Dave is The Enemy in that he's one of the group who oppose anybody building anything anywhere in the village. BANANA - build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything, we call it. He wants it to become a sheltered retirement community for rich old people, obviously, and has recently successfully argued that the affordable housing association scheme should not go ahead. So, no place for young people to buy then. I take the opposite view. Still, he's a decent enough bloke despite this.

I have a further quandary in that I'm an atheist, and this is the church flag, but still, I reckon having a key to the belltower, and wandering down to the church of a Friday evening the day before Her Maj's official birthday, or Ascension day, or whatever, and climbing up the windy windy steps and sticking the flag on the rope and hauling it up, and then no doubt stopping for a swift half with an aquaintance or two in one or both of the pubs I have to walk back past on the way home, [breathe] would be a good thing. And it's Contributing. And it's a Privilege to be asked, I reckon. I must be getting Responsible, or something.

So I think that I will justify it by claiming to be representing the LOML when I'm doing it, cos she's a sidesman or whatever they're called, and goes to church. Come to think of it, I don't think Dave goes to church much either.

When really I'm doing it cos I reckon it'll be a laff.

*except incest and morris dancing. Wasn't that the quote? I'm sure someone will fill me in on whom it was. I can't be bothered to google it up.

May 03, 2006

And after the whimsy

Bunch of nonsense yesterday. Was in a funny mood. Sorry. Comes of getting old. Thanks for allowing the self indulgence.

Today: snap, back to reality. Been to see a new client this morning, nice chap, completely unrealistic aspirations re budget. Arse. I had to tell him so, too. Unprofessional not to. Still, I might be able to cobble something together for him for cheap. So, not an ideal client.

Another client last week, tons of money (and I mean tons) but no sense of style. Or taste. Or practicality. (Can you have a sense of practicality? Well, if you can, he hasn't). His solution: keep throwing money at it until it sorts itself out. While this could be a lucrative thing for me, it doesn't sit easily with my conscience. So I'm working on him about methodology and iteration and so on, and with a bit of luck we might end up at the same place without all the trial by error.

Just read the above back, and I sound like a total arse. Office bullshit. "Methodology and iteration". What the fuck does that mean? What a twat. Trouble is, it's difficult to talk about work without giving away what I do - you know I'm a designer, cos I've said that before - but I'm reluctant to give away more than that cos you might be able to find me a stalk me and murder my children in a bizarre and perverse ritual. Or something.

Ok, so enough about work. Social life status: healthy. Barbeque at weekend at mates' house. Fun was had. Good one. It was Mr and Mrs Mumbling Nige's house, if you must know. Trouble is, the subject of this blog came up, and now they know they're called Mr and Mrs Mumbling Nige which is a bit rude of me since they are so nice and put on such a good time at the weekend. I had a cake and happy birthday sung and everything. Sorry, Nige.

I've got another social event before this birthday is finally put to bed. Posh black tie dinner with the LOML and some as yet unknown friends at the fancy French hotel locally. (Duh. I mean I don't know which of our friends yet. It's a surprise. You can't have friends you don't know. Except on here, I suppose. Do we know each other? Hey, I like to think so). Anyway - the hotel dinner. Is followed by staying over. In a room with a whirlpool bath. Not the friends*, just me and the LOML and a big bath. Mmmmm. Looking forward to that.

And then after that I won't be special any more. I shall be just another forty year old bloke living his life.

Crisis? What crisis? No crisis here.**

*Although you never know, I could be persuaded ... no. Leave it.

**And no, I'm not changing my blog name. We've become attached. We've bonded. I couldn't.

May 02, 2006

That's that, then

There you go. The kids are at school, the LOML's gone to work. Normal sort of day really. Oh, and I'm forty. Did I mention?

The countdown's over. The worry might as well cease. Nothing can be done. Fatalism rules at Crisis Towers. "Ah, well, fuck it, never mind" is now the mood of the day. Carry on.

So, no more mithering and brooding; nothing any of us can do about it: first day of rest of. Life begins at. Other trite cliches too, possibly.

Let's raise a quiet, slightly rueful, but nonetheless content and optomistic glass to the world: remorselessly, unstoppably carrying on turning anyway. I'll pop the corks, you fetch the glasses.

"Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear Crisis, happy birthday. To. Meeeeeee"

*much later: wanders off into the warm, velvet darkness, dinner suited, black tie undone round neck, half full bottle of cheap champagne in one hand, other hand in pocket, smiling and whistling quietly to himself along to the classic disco music you can hear over the shouting, singing and laughing of all his friends at the party. Nobody notices him leave except for the beautiful, bright eyed, dark haired girl who knows him better than anyone. She quietly raises a glass to the closed door, smiling, and lets him go. She knows she'll see him later.*