Tuesday 4 December 2007

What the trouble is

The trouble is that I start drifting away on a stream of consciousness and forget what I was supposed to be writing about. Like yesterday, when what I meant to report was that I had been for lunch at my club in Newcastle (remarkable value, as ever) with The Luckiest Man in the World. So far in 2007 he’s accepted an unsolicited offer for his London house that would allow any normal person to retire in extreme comfort; and now the investment bank that employs him is paying him to go away. Don’t even think of entering the Lottery this week; it’s got his name on it. Even if he doesn’t actually bother to buy a ticket.

Before lunch I went to Robinson’s Bookshop in the Grainger Market and bought a book about trainspotting. And if anyone saw me, it’s for a Christmas present. All right?

The Grainger Market seems to have changed remarkably little since I used to go there with my mother on Saturday mornings forty-odd years ago. We always went to R.A. Dodds, Meat Contractor (someone must have thought it sounded much grander than “Butcher”) to choose our Sunday joint. Before that we’d have an hour watching the Pathé News, Look At Life, Laurel & Hardy, Tom & Jerry and Tweetie Pie at the Tatler or the News Theatre, and afterwards we always bought a box of cream cakes for that day’s tea from Tilley’s in Clayton Street.

In December 2007, there are still Geordie gadgies in flat caps to be seen in the Grainger Market, blending perfectly with Marks & Spencer’s Original Penny Bazaar. I failed to take my usual nostalgic walk past it but then I didn’t need to, as I went on to the vast shop in Northumberland Street, which seems to have become a Penny Bazaar writ ever so large. A pair of gentlemen’s leather gloves, sir? Whatever were you thinking of? Fortunately the store I still think of as Bainbridge’s came up with the goods.

On my way into it, I encountered a truly horrific sight: an elderly woman who had had her nose completely removed. In its place was a flat rectangle of plastic in that shocking pink colour which is always ludicrously described on packets of sticking plasters as “flesh”. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Fortunately I had put some distance between us before it occurred to me that I could have said, cheerily, “Chin up, love, it could be worse. You could wear glasses!”

After lunch my friend and I walked down to Robert Steedman’s bookshop in Grey Street, a favourite place to browse for as long as I can remember. It has closed for good. I expect it will become a bar. Every other building in that part of the street seems to be a bar. And you can never have too many of those, can you?

When I got home there was an e-mail from my man with the Hotline to God, reminding me of the precise date of the Apocalypse: 23 December 2012. He didn’t specify whether it would be morning or afternoon, which is going to make it a bit of a tense day, I imagine. If waiting in all day for a store delivery van is anything to go by, it will happen at the precise moment when you have lowered your trousers and sat down on the lavatory. Which will add nicely to the trauma.

Still, it’s good timing so far as I’m concerned. I’ve always hated Christmas since I stopped being a small child. The really bad news is that we won’t avoid the London Olympics. Yesterday afternoon I came across the following very telling lines in the Prophecies of Nostradamus:

In the twelfth year of the century
That begins with number twenty
Fans of human suffering
Will find that they have plenty.

From around the land of England
Great wails shall rent the nation.
A stadium running two years late
Will bring total humiliation.

Although the Games shall go ahead
Within the building site
The massive organisational balls-up
All British hopes shall blight.

They run, they jump, they throw and kick
They row and swim and pedal.
But however hard their athletes try
They’ll never win a medal.

Oh yeah, but I don’t need to worry about any of that, do I? Because I’ll have been dead since 4 February, just missing the start of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year on the 6th of the month. What frightfully bad timing, with me being such an ardent monarchist.

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