Friday 25 April 2008

And you, perverts

13st 9lb; 5.0 units of alcohol yesterday (a rising trend that clearly needs to be Stamped Out); 1,379; Enfer.

It occurred to me that I might have caused needless offence yesterday (so what’s new?) by appearing only to welcome new readers of this blog from around the former British Empire, and indeed beyond it. I would therefore like to make it clear that I also greatly value the handful of loyal friends who have been following this account of my descent into total madness from the outset. And those who have joined the party ever so briefly as a result of typing into Google “dogging Northumberland”, “sick pussy”, “nude opera Lesley Garrett” or “Lesbury bukkake party”, to name but a view. But mainly “dogging Northumberland”, to be honest.

When I wrote on St Patrick’s Day that the Wooler Common car park appeared to be the dogging capital of Northumberland, I intended it as a joke. But thanks to the miracle of the internet, by now it probably is precisely that. There must be a lot of elderly couples driving up there for a nice thermos of tea and a packet of home-made ham sandwiches at lunchtime, wondering why there are a couple of strange men in parkas, wearing steamed-up Coke bottle glasses held together with sellotape, standing staring in through their windscreen and engaging in an activity they last witnessed on that rather distressing occasion when they took Auntie Mabel to the baboon house at Edinburgh Zoo, and she said how much it reminded her of dear old Uncle Jack, God rest his soul.

I hope they never find out that I am responsible.

I’m going away for the weekend, so felt obliged to do more than the usual quota of writing today, in the way that Banksy probably goes out and covers numerous walls in an absolute frenzy before his annual fortnight in Torremolinos. I couldn’t think of anything worth putting into next Tuesday’s newspaper column, mainly because my mind was chiefly preoccupied with what I’d like to put into … let’s not go there, in fact. However, I finally drew inspiration of sorts from the fact that the ballot paper for my postal vote in the forthcoming local elections has been sitting on my desk over a week now, covered in strident warnings to act immediately and avoid delay at all costs. On the one hand, I can see that it defeats the object of the exercise if the recipient just sticks his ballot paper behind the clock and forgets to do anything with it. But encouraging people to vote before they’ve even received election communications from most of the candidates also seems somewhat anti-democratic. As well as negating the effects of the traditional, shock eve-of-poll revelation that the favourite to win the seat is in fact a financially corrupt serial sex offender.

Yes, well, I told you I was struggling.

The lovely man who has been painting the interior of my house all week finished his third and final room this afternoon. As he was packing his stuff into his van, he and one of my neighbours stood and calmly surveyed the scene as huge clouds of acrid yellow smoke billowed from my sitting room chimney, after I had stupidly set it on fire by lighting my woodburning stove and leaving it unattended. They seemed to think it was deliberate.

I couldn’t complain, because I wondered much the same thing when I went out to the shops last October and saw flames leaping through the windows of my next door neighbour’s workshop. On reflection, “Do you know that your shed is on fire?” was probably a pretty stupid question to ask as I burst through their front door after an unaccustomed burst of speed up their garden path. They were entertaining a couple of elderly visitors and their reaction was immediate and decisive: they all looked at each other helplessly. So I repeated my question, even more forcefully, and one of them said “What’s he saying?” and their younger (but all things are relative) visitor shouted “Something about his shed being on fire”, so I virtually screamed “No, YOUR shed!” This finally got the message through and they all tottered incredibly slowly to the back door, with me bringing up the rear, and my neighbour went “Why, yerbugger!” (the traditional cry of surprise and distress among the indigenous population of Northumberland) and turned on a trickling hose, which was about as effective as calling on the services of an elderly man with severe prostate trouble.

So I asked whether I should call the fire brigade, and it was generally agreed that it would be a bloody good idea, licensing me to call 999 for the first and so far only time in my life. I discovered that you get put through to the desired service very quickly indeed, but are then unable to talk to them because a disembodied voice is reciting your own telephone number back to you with the sort of ponderous slowness usually reserved for the “please choose from the following options” section on premium rate phone lines. I should think this would prove a touch irritating if you were dealing with something slightly more serious than a shed fire, e.g. having a heart attack or listening to your golden haired children screaming to be rescued from an advancing blaze.

Not that there would be much hope for them if you lived where I do. When the fire engine eventually turned up half an hour later, the fire was long out but the firemen, sorry firefighters, enjoyed a nice cup of tea and got to play with their thermal imaging equipment in search of lingering “hot spots”. They explained that Alnwick was only a part-time “retained” fire station so they were allowed five to eight minutes to assemble, and it was then “a fair old drive” out to us, made no quicker (though obviously much more fun) by turning on their siren and blue flashing lights.

I made a resolution then to ensure that I never, ever set my house on fire. Since writing about it in this blog seems to have had such positive effects in getting my weight down and opening new avenues of amorous opportunity, I thought I had better record it here in the hope that I might actually be able to stick to it in future.

Oh, and I managed to get the chimney fire under control, thanks. So all ended well, even if the painter did miss a golden opportunity to come back and start all over again next week.

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