Monday 22 September 2008

What fresh hell is this?

I remain blissfully ignorant of my weight; I consumed perhaps 9.0 units of alcohol yesterday (or, to put it another way, one bottle of wine); 1,232 days left; Handbridge.

Sitting scribbling in the LTCB’s house was pleasant enough during the school summer holidays, but the quality of my writing life has deteriorated considerably since the inmates of the local comprehensive returned to their remedial classes. Now herds of feral youths spend much of the day grazing noisily on the street outside, scattering cans and chip wrappers like confetti. Today things took a marked turn for the worse when a small gang of them discovered that the alleyway to the rear of her house provided an ideal refuge for shouting, smoking, eating chips and chucking things at each other. I observed them from behind her bedroom curtains as they amused themselves by tearing berries off the bushes in the lane and attempting to lob them through her open windows. They did not succeed in doing so, which was fortunate; though perhaps not as lucky as the fact that none of them spotted me and reported me to the police as a paedophile spy. Personally, I think that this lot would cure even Gary Glitter, and should be made available on the NHS as aversion therapy for anyone with unnatural urges towards children. Or indeed, for anyone who thinks that is a good idea to breed.

The lady who took the unobtainable dog pictures yesterday afternoon had warned us that the proprietor of the local delicatessen is an evil bitch whose shop must be avoided at all costs, even if it should be the only thing standing between us and a miserable death from starvation. I took this warning seriously, but had to weigh it against the chance to try one of the very tempting sausage rolls I had spotted when we were in there on Saturday. The sausage roll won. I felt better about it because I did not come into contact with the proprietress, who was far too busy jabbering on the phone to a supplier, and was served with painful slowness by a grey-haired, bespectacled bloke who looked like he really ought to be lecturing in a polytechnic rather than serving behind the counter of a shop. Perhaps he was until he got an ASBO for spying on schoolchildren.

I concluded that the sausage roll was probably worth compromising someone else’s principles for.

At 5 o’clock my thoughts were rudely interrupted by the LTCB ringing to suggest that I might like to meet her at the station (or “train station” as she insists on calling it, to avoid any risk of confusion, such as turning up at an electricity sub-station in the hope of catching the 17.34 to Crewe). This would enable us to sort out some railway tickets that I needed to exchange, having incompetently booked them for the wrong date, and found myself for some reason unable to amend online. So I duly trekked across Chester and met her in a fair simulacrum of hell, with ear-bursting building work making it more or less completely impossible to make ourselves heard at the ticket office counter. Luckily I was eventually able to communicate successfully through sign language; I was particularly proud of the way I rendered “dickhead” when explaining my mistake in booking for the wrong date in the first place. Then the LTCB drove us home, just as soon as I had sedated the dog to get him in her car. He has not had much experience of her driving, but it has evidently made a considerable impact. Which, funnily enough, was exactly what I was dreading throughout our mercifully short journey.

This evening we went to a local pub to meet some old friends who live nearby. I had not seen them for the best part of 20 years, though we had kept up the annual ritual of exchanging Christmas cards. Luckily we both have websites containing our photographs, eliminating the risk that I would fail to recognize the handsome, curly-haired youth I knew at school, simply because he had aged 35 years, gone bald and compensated by growing a stubbly beard. Having arranged on the phone to meet at 8.30 I had had the presence of mind to call in at the pub at lunchtime and establish when they took their last orders for food. The woman had answered, predictably enough, “It’s 8.30 on a Monday” (and on every other day, too, so far as I could see) but had indicated that they would allow us some leeway if I booked a table. So I did. Mine was the only reservation in her book. But by the time we arrived my friend had gone through the same thought process and made a booking, too. As they had arrived shortly before us, it was naturally down to me to go to the bar and break it to them that we had double-booked and that 50 per cent of their entire evening’s trade was cancelling. I thought this might have occasioned some disappointment, but in fact they could not conceal their delight that there was less cooking to do and the chef would be able to knock off a little earlier than he had feared.

I puzzled about this attitude until we came to leave and the landlady, who had evidently overheard at least some of our conversation, asked which one of us was from the North East. In fact 75 per cent of us were, which was very gratifying for her as she was a Geordie herself. We spent a little time swapping notes about the Old Country, while I kicked myself for not asking “Are you a Geordie, by any chance?” a little earlier, when I encountered her distinctive Tyneside response to work and money. The desire not to do the former always far outweighs greed for the latter. I’m exactly the same, which is why I am tapping away at this pointless, unremunerative blog rather than knuckling down to something potentially profitable.

We had an excellent meal and exchanged some fine reminiscences, while the LTCB came into her own as a source of useful contacts for my friends’ daughter, who is hoping to make her career in the same line of work as the LTCB. Luckily they revealed that both their children had attended the local comprehensive school before I embarked on too long a diatribe about the anti-social behaviour of its current generation of terminally thick pupils. Indeed we parted most civilly, almost fondly, apart from my friend’s wife chucking in an unsettling throwaway remark about my apparently having become “more civilized” since we had last met. I racked my brains as to what I might have done to offend when I went round to their house for dinner in about 1990, but soon gave up. Let’s face it: the possibilities are almost endless.

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