Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Elephant and Castle

A few years back I wrote a series of semi-fictional stories about the six years I spent in the curious west Wales town of Carmarthen.

This particular one seemed to strike a chord with a few people so I thought I'd share it. As I have nothing else coming to mind to fill my 100 days of happiness attempt!

The names and streets were changed to reflect the alternate vision of Carmarthen I had, a kind of narcotic theme park, a Shangri-La. The Elephant and Castle was a real pub, and was a home from home for me and several others like me. I miss it still.




Last Night An Elephant Died or Why I Can’t Bring Myself To Watch Terminator 2.

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old man’s sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes , and joys, and cares long, long forgotten.
   ``Your lip is trembling,'' said the Ghost. ``And what is that upon your cheek?”
   Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.
   ``You recollect the way?'' inquired the Spirit.
   ``Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!'' observed the Ghost. ``Let us go on.”
   ``Remember it!'' cried Scrooge with fervour; ``I could walk it blindfold.”

                                                                                    Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.


The Elephant is a strange pub. I say is, though it hasn’t opened its doors since 1992. It doesn’t exist anymore, it’s a block of offices now which, considering its previous incarnation as a shelter for those hiding from the worlds of effort and responsibility, seems a cruel joke.
            Walk through the town centre, up past the Town Hall, left into George Street. Ignore the nicer pubs, the wine bar, the cinema and the theatre – greater entertainment lies beyond. Keep going to the end, there’s a grim little side street called The Calling, like something out of an Expressionist film – crazed diagonal walls leaning into a path designed for drunks to automatically straighten themselves. At the end of this path lies The Elephant.
            The Elephant has a thick door made of oak and reinforced with the kind of metal you’d see on a medieval castle. It’s open most hours though. Step inside and you’re greeted with a dimly lit paradise, a glaucomic Heaven. The bar is U-shaped. It is a place that could not survive in today’s age of ubiquitous chain-pubs with the disgusting aroma of microwaved food. The Elephant doesn’t serve food; it’s here to get men pissed. No women drink here. It’s not a rule; it’s just something you don’t see.
            The landlord, Graham, looks like Jimmy White. That’s if Jimmy got bored of snooker and snazzy waistcoats and had decided that a day spent behind a bar reading The Sun and shouting at invisible snappy dogs was a better life.
            Nobody under the age of 50 drank here. This was a pub for the vocational drinker. Men who had seen their best years slip away in a long drawn-out haze of divorces, sackings and enormous bar tabs. Guys like Hywel, a man who you could see must have been handsome once but now, in his autumn years has the red jowls of a bloodhound stood too close to a sunset. Or Johnny Horses, a man who I presumed had a thing about the nags or connections to some of the successful stables on the outskirts of town, but who merely turned out to have the coolest name ever.
            Me and my mates drink here. We should, of course, be at college. Or doing something constructive with our youth but we’re here. I should introduce them really. Garry’s wiry, whippet-thin with a permanent rollie hanging from his lips. He’s only 21 and already he has smoker’s fingers, permanently stained with the same faded gold you get in old books. The Monk’s carved from wider wood than Garry. He’s a year older than me and Garry; this is enough for us to call him Dad sometimes. That, and the fact that he dresses like a Dad. He’s always got a cardigan on or a nice shirt from Marks and Spencer. Proper shoes, no trainers.
            Whenever we enter the Elephant, we respect the unwritten rules of the establishment. We don’t sit at the bar; we sit round the far side by the jukebox and the pool table. The scruffy end. The tables are giant pennies. We sit on old milking stools. The pool table has bright blue baize which is Graham’s idea of decorating. The jukebox is old school. Vinyl. The most recent record on here is ten years old, Going Underground by the Jam. The rest is classic Sixties pop and rock – Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Kinks. We feed the jukebox with fifty pences and he nourishes you in return with seven songs. Crackling through the speakers like a transmission from sometime before you were born, the music helps to give you the impression that the Elephant is a time machine.
            Not just travelling to the past, mind. To go to the bar is to stare into your future, ordering your fourth pint of the afternoon you’d sometimes find yourself staring across at Johnny Horses or Bill or Jock or Dai – guys sat in the darkness, silently contemplating their mortality through the muddied reflection of their stouts. They look back at you – you are the ghosts of Christmas past.  But the pints come, Graham gives you your change, asks you to pick a number for the Christmas raffle game he’s pinned above the till, and you think about Christmas and your mates and it’s all good again – Marley’s ghost has gone back to the spirit row.
            Years pass in this fashion, endless games of pool, drunken conversations about everything from the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the pointlessness of owning a kite. When you found out you were going to become a Dad, you came in here. When your son was three weeks old, this was the first pub he entered (don’t tell his Mum). All manner of celebrations, consolations and consultations took place in this church.
            Gradually, the regulars accepted you. Accepted a pint from you if you were buying. Offered them back. Nodded by means of greeting as you stumbled in, and by means of farewell as you staggered out.
            You invented your own games here. Such as Cross-Country Darts. The rules of Cross-Country darts were not dissimilar to the traditional game. Three arrows. One dartboard. It was the distance they had to be thrown from. That and the run-up from outside the pub, around the bar and at the exact moment the ancient dartboard came into view; the darts must be released at once, not individually.
            The best score was an astonishing 73 from the Monk, involving a triple 20 that brought tears to the eyes of all who witnessed it. A 13 proved an unlucky omen and the third dart smashed the little light bulb above the scoreboard.
            In the Elephant we were accepted.

A typical Carmarthen summer morning. Me and the Monk are standing underneath his enormous umbrella outside Smiths when Graham runs up to us.
            “You coming tonight lads?”
            “Not tonight, Graham. Bit skint this week,” I say.
            “Try and come, it’s invite only. Special occasion.”

The Elephant doesn’t do weddings. Or birthdays. It’d be hard to tell if there was a wake taking place there. Special occasion? Poverty be damned. It’s a date.

Later that evening, the three of us are making our way down the Calling in single file. As we finally turn the corner onto Catchpole Street we notice the Elephant’s lights are off and the curtains are shut. The medieval style fortress door is closed too.
            I knock.
            The little window at eye height opens, and then shuts. The door is opened and we are ushered in. The door clangs behind us.
            Before us, the Elephant – always dingy is now positively subterranean. Candles are lit across the bar. This isn’t a pub, this is a séance.
            The big telly has been taken down from the corner and placed upon a table opposite the bar. They don’t show football or rugby here as that might attract the wrong sort of crowd. People. The only thing that’s ever on that telly is old Westerns or American daytime dramas like Quincy and the Rockford Files. They had Strike It Lucky on one night and a lot of money changed hands with Johnny Horses leading the betting.
            All the old boys are here tonight. Graham’s laid on a spread. Homemade cawl, fresh rolls and, it transpires, free beer. The telly is showing a video of Terminator 2. The old fellas like a bit of nuclear holocaust with their soup.
            “What’s all this in aid of then?” the Monk asks.
            The old fellas turn for a moment and, on realising that it’s us, go back to watching children evaporating on the telly.
            “I’m doing a bunk, lads.”
            “What?”
            “This is the last night. I’ve got a taxi coming at midnight and I’m off..”
            “What?”
            “Have a few pints on me, lads. You’re good guys. Have a drink.”

We drink like condemned men, I feel like something terrible has happened. The scruffy end of the room is in darkness, the dartboard and the big pennies already falling into memory. Doesn’t seem right sat here without music. All we can hear is gunfire and the slurping of soup.
            When Graham lets us out, we say goodbye like we’re going to see him in the morning. No one says anything as we trudge our way back up the hill through town. It’s dark, it’s wet and it’s late. Everyone goes to bed without saying anything.

The local paper the next week mentions the closure of the Elephant. There’s rumours of hundreds of thousands of pounds owed to the brewery. Talk of drug dealers, gambling debts and vengeful ex-wives. Taxis to Heathrow, flights to Brazil.
            The letters are taken off the pub and a for sale sign drilled to the wall. Occasionally we saw Johnny Horses in the street and would exchange cursory nods.
            I failed my degree and the Monk failed his.

           

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

British Passports for Beautiful British Hands


Well done Britain. Looks like you’re gonna do it again.

You’re going to do what you always do and take as your source of information the same elite bunch of very rich, ambitious, powerful liars you always do.

And now you’re going to get what you always get in return from that lot.  Nothing, zilch, nada. Probably even less than that.

We’re about to tell the second largest economy in the world to go fuck themselves.  And why? It can’t really be because of 1,000,000 immigrants waiting to scale the White Cliffs of Dover, or the apparent myriad forms of red tape that prevent us Great Britons from living a life free of political interference. It can’t be because of that, because they’re both inventions of the media, and you’re intelligent people trusted with the vote.  So why?

Leaving the EU won’t solve your concerns about immigration. Incidentally the phrase “concerns about immigration” – that’s the new “Some of my best friends are black” and saying it sets off alarm bells. Leaving the EU will absolve a few British politicians of any desire to show distress the next time (and there’ll be plenty more next times now) a few kids drown on a Mediterranean beach.  “Not our problem” Nige will say, now that his dog whistle racist bullshit has been validated.

Leaving the EU won’t make us any better equipped to deal with terrorists. You know, the terrorists we helped create with our attempts to destabilise the most volatile region on Earth. Those guys, the ones the “immigrant problem” are running for their lives from. But we’ll be able to extradite people on the flimsiest of pretexts now. No more pesky European Human Rights to hold us back now. And now there’s a CCTV in every home (although you call it your internet) we will all be safe. Safe from the ideological madmen hell bent on ruining our way of life. Or at least the Muslim terrorist flavoured ones, right?

Leaving the EU won’t protect our borders.  5000 miles of beach. That’s quite a lot of water to patrol. Where’s the profit going to come from? Because that’s the only thing that really motivates your Borises, your Nigels. Where’s the moolah?

Leaving the EU won’t solve our housing crisis. Building homes will do that. Affordable homes. Leaving the EU won’t solve the strain on the NHS. Properly funding the NHS will do that. That money we’re apparently going to save on EU membership isn’t going to the NHS. That’s going to fund further tax breaks for the richest in society – the only people Boris and Nigel ever care about.  And if you believe otherwise, well more fool you. Best of luck with avoiding illness, unemployment and other woes that can befall pretty much anyone.

Oh, do you think they really give a shit about you? Do you think the UK is now going to suddenly fly all the foreigns back to where you think they came from? Oh, bless.  It isn’t going to happen. And now the funny man with the silly hair is going to be Prime Minister soon. He is funny, isn’t he?! So funny. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about the funny man and all the hilarious things he’s going to do when he’s in charge.  And soon lots of other people will have those tears too.

 

Monday, 13 June 2016

INGUHLUND

(OFFSTAGE - an insistent bass drum bangs, a sole trumpet plays the refrain from the Dambusters March, the sound of smashing glass, of screaming. An idiot choir bellows the strange and primitive chant of ING-UH-LUND)

There is a violence and a racism ingrained at the heart of much of what might be called English culture. That's what's shaping this referendum, that's what's fuelling these idiots in France.

It starts with the royals, works down through the politicians, cops and media and ends up with pricks in Union Jack t-shirts singing Ten German Bombers and No Surrender to the IRA. We commandeer the local pubs, chuck a few chairs about, and it's all OK because its banter and lads and all that fucking tired shit.

Our royal family hunt defenceless animals and get celebrated as "characters" when they make racist gaffes. Our captains of industry fleece pension funds and dodge taxes, our media hack dead kids phones and ruin countless lives. We celebrate wealth and privilege without challenging it. We have Children in Need as an annual event, a fucking televised celebration of our continuing to elect governments in thrall to the idea of a Great Britian with a seat at the Security Council and a fuck off warship ready to send innocent kids to their maker at a moment's notice. Paedophilia isnt a barrier to office, it's one of the perks. We call our soldiers our brave lads and then fail to look after them when they return home. The two best selling papers in the UK are obsessed with demonising foreigners as terrorists, thieves and cowards.
 
Our nation's greatness, politically speaking, came from building an empire based on exploitation, enslavement and murder. We didnt fight the Germans in two World Wars for any other reason than that they threatened our cash flow. We didn't defeat them for any other reason than the intervention on our side of bigger military forces. And yet, our obsession with the myth that we showed Europe who the top boy was, that we were the sole saviours of the day persists.

No surprise then that when our football fans go abroad, they feel entitled to wreck the place and get caught up in all manner of idiocy. The Russian hooligans came with an agenda, getting a reputation as the "top boys" of Europe. Had our own "top boys" not behaved with such vicious recklessness the last 40 odd years, the events of the last few days may never have happened. The parallels between hooliganism and our colonial past are clear - we cover up the crimes of Empire with "Boy's Own" adventures, we let our hooligans off the hook with adjectives like "laddish", "high spirits" and "boisterous".
 
Quick aside - hey Wales fans - when you stop needing police shipped in from other parts of the UK whenever Cardiff play Swansea, when there isnt a single sad little SOUL CREW book for sale in every bookshop in Cardiff, when you've sorted your own little hooligan problems out, feel free to tell us how great your fans are. You've behaved impeccably so far this tournament, and credit to you for that, but let's not pretend that this somehow makes you the better nation. Because once you start to believe that kind of stuff, you're on the road to being just like the hooligan neighbours you affect to despise. It's not such a great leap from Facebook groups like "Welsh not English" to ones like "Britain First."
Our arrogance, our much trumpted superiority to "Johnny Foreigner" couldn't be better summed up than by us having a referendum about being part of Europe - shouldnt it be them having one about wanting us there at all?

Come June 23rd, there's a reasonable chance that all 3 British teams will be out of the European Championships one way or another. I suspect that the relief felt by terrified locals, sick of cleaning up after us will be echoed all across Europe if we kick ourselves out of the EU too.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Alan Shearer's Euro 96


Being the kind of wallow-eyed sentimentalist that gets all emotional over hearing the theme tune to Animal Magic or stubbing my toe on a discarded DAT player, Alan Shearer’s Euro 96 on BBC last week was the kind of television designed to fill my Proustian jug with alcopops and tears.
20 years on from the last time that England reached the last four of a football tournament, big Al took a road trip to meet various survivors of that glorious summer that made Gina G a household name.

Alan met Terry Venables at his worryingly remote hotel in Spain, Paul Gascoigne on a symbolically empty stage in Newcastle, David Seaman in a haunted dogging spot.  Only the perennially 30 year old Teddy Sheringham, swinging his way round a golf course, seemed relatively untroubled by the events of 20 years ago.
Venables, who now resembles a kind of semi-retired owl, claimed that it was the best time of his life but his eyes spoke of sleepless nights filled with what-might-have-beens. Gascoigne’s demons go much deeper than footballing regrets but the agonies felt by us all as his outstretched toe failed to connect with that Shearer cross seemed to still be terribly close to the surface 20 years later.
Contributions from Baddiel and Skinner, whose “Three Lions” became the anthem of the tournament, and commentators John Motson and Barry Davies added some nice perspective but it was interesting to note those absent from proceedings. England’s captain Tony Adams, whose own troubles with alcohol peaked soon after the tournament wasn’t included. Stuart Pearce, whose penalty against Spain was perhaps the most gutsy kick any footballer has ever made, and Gareth Southgate whose penalty miss proved fatal to England’s hopes – these would have been the ones to catch up with, to see how it feels to carry those burdensome memories alone for so long.
And without these perspectives, what could have been a genuinely interesting programme, proved to be a little bit of historical revisionism. Feel good stuff admittedly, for which fan cannot resist watching Gascoigne’s impudent brilliance against Scotland again and again, but detrimental to the programme overall.
There can be no denying that Euro 96 was a wonderful tournament to be an England fan. It was mainly because of the dross served up since Italia 90 up to and including half time against Scotland that made what happened in the following 10 days or so feel so special. This was a country celebrating not being world beaters but not being entirely shit either. Those ten minutes against Holland remain burnt onto the retina as being a moment when pre match optimism seemed delightfully negative. Sport is full of who knows and what ifs. It's what makes remembering events from 20 years ago such a bittersweet experience. But to gloss over the past is damaging and makes our memories less valid.

If Italia 90 was the start of football's image rehabilitation then Euro 96 and Three Lions was the last piece of the jigsaw. Within a year of Southgate's penalty miss we had New Labour in power. A repackaged working class product sold to the middle classes in an acceptable form. Just like the Premiership. After Venables, England went for their own Tony Blair figure in the form of Glenn Hoddle, a young, confident purveyor of vaguely Christian-bollock-speak. When Diana died, Michael Owen filled the void. When England shellacked Germany in 2001, the possibilities for the national side seemed limitless. 10 days later was 9/11 and England sneaked almost apologetically into the World Cup thanks to a 93rd minute free kick from David Beckham against those titans of European football, Greece.
 
And just as we flexed our shoulders on the world stage and pretended to be a minor superpower, so our footballers went to tournaments and did likewise. We have only won one football tournament and that was down to a home draw and a beneficial linesman decision. 1966 was the start of something awful in this country’s psyche, the beginning of a national obsession, the idea that our optimism could somehow manifest itself in the England team not being rubbish at football, that Johnny Foreigner could be subdued with rolled up sleeves and robust tackles, that the only thing that stopped us winning trophies was corrupt officialdom, foreign underhandedness and just darned poor luck.

It wasn’t just a patriotic short sighted devotion to our national team that was born in 1966, David Cameron was too. And if you can draw a comparison between an overpaid, undertalented, PR obsessed loser like him and Roy’s lads then you’re a better man than I.

We’ll come second in the group and lose to Portugal on penalties. But I'm more worried about Brexit in the group stage.

 

 

Saturday, 28 May 2016

With Apologies to Bob Dylan

Seeing as it was Dylan's 75th birthday this week (and anyone who doesnt like at least one Dylan song is lying btw) and the Chilcot report is imminent, I tried to combine the two with a rewrite of one of my own favourite Dylan songs.



It's all over now, Tony Blair

You must sssh now, save your words, the time’s arrived.
But whatever you wish to say, it’s not a time for lies
Yonder lie the orphans in the sun
Stolen from their parents by your gun
Look out Chilcot’s bout to lay it bare
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

The dossiers were dodgy, still you spread alarm
So take what you have gathered from Kazakhstan
The suicidal expert neath the tree
Is waiting for your date with history.
Those WMD’s were simply never there
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

All your wounded sailors, some without a home
Sit unloved and unwanted like a millennial dome.
The bodyguards that stand outside your door
Will not take bullets for you anymore.
You went to war before the enemy was there,
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

Leave London behind, the Hague it calls for you
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you
The hate cleric who’s preaching holy war
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
A million dead but you simply didn’t care
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Squirrels


There’s a guy I pass every morning on my way to work. I don’t know his name, age wise I’m guessing somewhere in his thirties. Possibly younger. Sleeping rough will age you pretty quick I’d imagine. Most people pass him, don’t stop, too busy, morning commute, worries of their own. I get that. Occasionally I do the same.

About a fortnight ago, I saw a couple of guys shout a ton of abuse at him. I didn’t challenge them. I wish I was brave enough but I’m not. But I gave the homeless guy a couple of quid and muttered some kind of platitudinous nonsense about hanging in there. Before I could get up, the guy shook me by the hand and thanked me and told me to have a good day.

Anyway, I make a point now of checking in on him each morning. He doesn’t beg. He doesn’t shout abuse or stink of drink. He just sits quietly, staring at the reconstruction of our city’s transport hub. I stop by, wish him well, and give him a couple of quid or a coffee from the Starbucks next door.

Over the weekend I mentioned this guy to my wife. We know full well how easy it is to find yourself in that situation. A couple of years back, through no fault of our own, we were evicted because our landlord had been caught cheating on his partner and was forced to move out of the family home.  He’d grown up in the house we rented and was able to evict us (and our 9 year old daughter) on grounds of his own impending destitution.

Nowhere comes up for rent at Christmas. The local authority said they could put us up in a hostel thirty miles away. Our bond turned out to be next to useless as the landlord hadn’t registered it with the deposit scheme as he hadn’t informed his mortgage company of his renting out to us.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, a kindly friend of a friend put us up in her granny flat for 6 months. She didn’t know us, met us the once when she heard of our impending destitution and put us up. Charged us a pathetic fee for the electric and water and said we could stay as long as we wanted. An act of kindness that I cannot possibly ever come close to repaying and one I will never forget.

It’s all too easy to slip through the safety net now that the government has cut the webbing. Claimants are scroungers, benefits are a burden to the taxpayer and the system is now so wedded to a labyrinthine set of rules and regulations that it’s easier to be sanctioned for being over paid than it is to make a successful claim in the first place.

Anyway, I digress. I mentioned the homeless guy to my wife and last night, she made up a small hamper to take to him. Nothing fancy, just some fruit, a couple of sandwiches and some bottles of water. So I give this to him this morning but I don’t want to just hand him a bag of food and fuck off. Least I can do is find out a little about him, shoot the shit for a second.

6 months ago, Lee had a job. And a flat.  And one day he got ill. Phoned in sick. Presumed it a stomach bug. It didn’t get any better. Collapses at home, gets rushed to hospital. After a few days it’s revealed to be Crohn’s disease. There are some long term implications for him and some immediate complications to try to remedy. He spends 10 weeks in hospital. During which time he loses his job and his landlord evicts him for non-payment of rent. Eventually well enough to leave hospital, he discovers that his life has turned to shit.

The local authority decides he has made himself “intentionally homeless” meaning they don’t have to look after him. The DWP decide likewise. So Lee’s life is entirely dependent on people handing him food and money. He isn’t so much caught in the cycle as kicked out of it completely.

We used to give a fuck about people in this country. And now we don’t. We buy the occasional Big Issue, text a fiver to Comic Relief and tell ourselves we’ve done our bit. The fifth richest country in the world lets people die on the streets because it’s easier for a junior civil servant to hide behind a piece of procedure than do something human.

I’m a prick, trust me. I wanted to walk away from my chat feeling like I’d done something to help this guy out for a few hours. I walked away in tears, disgusted at my own inadequacy, shocked by his tacit acceptance of this unnecessary cruelty. What do we do?

This isn’t Tory bashing. This is the system. And it’s in this context that a Ken Loach film about victims of that system can win the Palme D’Or. The safety net is non-existent. People hide behind their mortgages, their holiday brochures and they kid themselves that they’re immune. Nothing can touch them. And it’s bullshit. With the rolling back of the social security program there has in turn come a reduction in people’s sympathy for those less fortunate than themselves. When we reduce acts of kindness to the pressing of a red button on your TV remote then it’s fucked. Empathy is just weakness leaving the bank account.

And then, I swear to God, this happened in front of me. I’m crossing the High Street down by the Philharmonic. A squirrel runs into the road in rush hour. It darts in between all the vehicles like it’s a cartoon. Before finally coming to rest before the front wheel of a Cardiff Bus at a red light. It sits there shuddering, exhausted. Soon the lights will change and it will surely be crushed. I’m screaming at the squirrel like a lunatic from the roadside. And it just won’t move. So I run away. I can’t bear to be around. I literally sprint 100 yards over into Custom House Street and I’m welling up.

Maybe the squirrel will have come to its senses. Maybe it made its way safely to the pavement once I’d stopped screaming. Or maybe, like Lee, like thousands of Lees across this rich and pleasant land, it sits there and waits for the inevitable.

 

 

 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Return of the Roses

I don't listen to the radio much these days. I wait till Mother's out. She only leaves on pension days or if there's a funeral .

Anyway, here's what happened. I remember it like it was yesterday. Which it was. So, it's pension day and it's the usual rigmarole. Mother's found two reasons to leave the house at once. She's just heard Elsie Blenkinsop is being cremated at St Anne's Friday week. The hallway smells of Mr Sheen and the disability scooter is gleaming.

"Who's Elsie Blenkinsop?" I asked.

"You know Elsie. She lives with her daughter Karen in Rossiter Street. She wears a cagoul all weathers and plays the triangle in the Salvation Army outside Cancer Research."

Still none the wiser. I'm more of a YMCA man myself.

"They're cremating her at St Anne's. I need a new hat. If there's not one in town, I might get the train to Leeds."

I said, 'Leeds. Mother, you've not set foot in Leeds since Dad bought that Millenium Bug book in Waterstones there’

£14.99 it was. My father thought his toaster and microwave would both retire at the century's end. Mother made him take it back. She made quite the scene. I hadn't heard language like that in a shop in all my life. Well, not since Betty Wombwell's colostomy bag had exploded all over the pic and mix in Woolworths.

She said, 'It’s fine. I'll be alright. Maureen Hepplewhite from the Bingo. You know her. I'm meeting her outside TK Maxx. I won't venture into Leeds alone.’

I said, 'Well if Maureen Hepplewhite's going you better zip up your pockets." Maureen had taken to shoplifting like a duck to water since her husband had died plane spotting in Filey.

I kissed Mother on the cheek, as she settled herself down into what I secretly referred to as The Chariot.

A day to myself, how should I spend it? I switched on the radio, the digital one by the condiment rack. I selected 6Music, a little blast of excitement might inspire me. They'd just played a record by the Kaiser Chiefs, whose singer I'd once swam against in a schools gala near Hunslet, when it was announced that this evening there would be an exclusive play of the first Stone Roses single in 22 years.

A modest Proustian rush. 19. Just sacked from the local tailors for poor tie keeping. On my way home I bumped into Michael Simmonite and his sister Paula. Twins. They'd both gone to university that summer. He was doing Geography in Lancaster and she was doing everyone in the UEA.  They were wearing tie dye tshirts and flared jeans. They looked ridiculous.

Anyway, they were keen to tell me all about "uni" and we went to the nearest pub for a pint and a ham roll. It was only half one. I felt decadent. It didnt suit me. Anyway, Paula goes over to the jukebox and puts some money on. First song crackles through The Dusty Farmboy's rickety speakers.

The song was "One Love" by the Stone Roses. I didn't care much for music, I'd been exposed to Showaddywaddy as a young boy and presumed it to be punk rock. Which, to all extents and purposes, I suppose it was. Anyway, what with an undigested ham roll in my system and the best part of a half of mild in me, I got quite carried away and started tapping my foot. One thing led to another and five pints later, I was, well I won't say violated. But there was a distinct lack of consent on my part and Paula was a big girl. She threw shot for West Riding and there had been talk of an appearance on Look North.

Anyway, the years pass and all I have to show for a record collection is a car boot purchase of the best of the Stone Roses. Mother never liked music and she took Dad's Mantovanis to the Harelip Relief shop.

The day passes without incident, Mother was out looking for a hat, and I spent several hours failing to add an extra hole to my brown belt. Suddenly there's a commotion. The doorbell rings and it's Mother, she can't find her key and her face could pass for a strawberry compote.

"What's happened?"

"I tell you what's happened, I have just spent three hours and forty minutes in the police station in Leeds."

"What? Were you mugged?"

"No, but that Maureen Hepplewhite should be strung up. She's only stolen the charity dog off the PDSA counter. Stuffed it in my rear basket."

I felt a shiver.

"I'll put the kettle on, Mother."

As I retreated to the safety of the kitchen I could hear my mother shouting out down the centuries - "Your father's working late", "Your nan's died", "Your tea's gone cold", "The police let her off with a caution." I reached for the tea caddy and spooned three large heaps into the pot. My mother doesn't like tea bags, says they remind her of nappies. The tea caddy's got a picture of Napoli on it for reasons I've never fathomed. Nearest my mother's got to the Bay of Naples was when she won a year's supply of Dolmio in Take A Break.

I switch the radio on and, as luck would have it, the DJ announces the Stone Roses new record is coming on. I fetch Mother's cup from the draining board and a packet of Rich Tea from the cupboard. The music starts and I'm about to lose myself in another slice of what could have been when the moment is broken by Mother's arrival at the serving hatch.

"Turn this shit off Alan."

"Yes, mother."


.