Thursday 31 March 2011

Mad March, Grumpy's Alternative News.

Lets get rid of good old USA for starters. Where else would two idiots shoot each other over dog mess on a lawn (Mississippi). And where else would would you get a live sex act with a mechanised phallus as part of your university course. (North-western University, Illinois.) Or a man drive 40 miles with his wife on the bonnet of his car. She was trying to stop him from driving. She fell off when he stopped (Los Angeles). The whole place strikes me as mad. It loses £262 million when a Nasa satellite finishes in the Pacific instead of orbit, (it was intended to study the impact of aerosols on the Earth's climate) and spends another £276 million on a small satellite, Messenger that hopefully will orbit Mercury. If it works they probably think it's money well spent. Presumably you have to be an 'Ivy Leaguer' not to see that in a troubled world there are better priorities. Talking of The Ivy League, one question in the entrance exam (SAT) concerned reality television; which explains a lot. Not that Nicole Impresia is impressed. She is suing an academy for placing her daughter with children of lesser academic ability. Mother claims it is affecting her chances of Ivy League entry. By the way, daughter is in a nursery in Manhattan being only four years of age! Before we move on, an American who is worth saluting. Kelly Gneiting, a sumo wrestler from Arizona became the heaviest person to complete a marathon. He weighs 400 lbs but completed the Los Angeles Marathon, (time 9 hours, 48 minutes). Well done, son! The animal kingdom is always interesting. I thought that the rescue of a porpoise three quarters of a mile inland after the Japanese tsunami was heartening. And the mysterious death of the famous polar bear, Knut was sad. Plus the severed thumb, probably from a crow that fell from the sky in Ilford was weird. (It led to a killer's conviction.) Talking of crows, Percy, a one-legged crow has turned up in Felixstowe again after almost four years. Perhaps things are looking up for animals in general. A man in Beijing has adopted more than 140 stray dogs since 2009. He spends around £500 a month on dog food and rent. And a plan to move stray dogs to a site outside the city of Moscow has been dropped. (There are around 26,000 stray dogs in Moscow.) In Holland a crime force has been set up dedicated to fighting crimes against animals. Plus a business man has set up a pet first-aid course in Essex to teach cardiopulmonary resuscitation on dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits etc (using dummy animals). Adders are under threat in Britain. So they are rounding some up and moving them. This entails trapping them and collecting DNA samples before release; any takers? Finally, the Queen is being replaced on Fijian currency by geckos, snakes or parrots. I'm not sure how she'll take that!

Talking of money (currency, please keep up!) Spanish police are investigating the theft of £1.2

in cash from a convent north of Zaragoza. Evidently the nuns kept it in plastic bags. Oops! A thief stole £172,ooo by sneaking into the cargo hold through the toilet on an Air Antilles aircraft bound for Saint Martin. A computer hacker in Devon stole £7.4 million in 'virtual' poker chips from Zynco. Strangely enough, you can't cash them in, only spend them on poker games! Footballer Stuart Downing realised there was £700, 000 in real money missing from his bank account when he checked. His agent denies fraud! Luckier was Steve Whiteley, who won £1,445,671.71 for a £2 stake at Exeter Racecourse. Very similar (£1.6 million) to the amount the head of Copland Community School in Wembley is accused of defrauding. And again similar (£1 million) the speed cameras cost on the A537 in the Peak District. Sadly they never led to a single conviction. Cash is king some say. Not in Mr Kevin Cash's case. The property developer, worth £500 million, flew into a temper tantrum when his roast chicken dinner was served at the wrong time according to a housekeeper at a tribunal in Reading. Finally 'Psst, wanna buy a Stradivarius?' Thief John Maughan asked just that in an internet cafe when he tried to sell a Stradivarius violin (value £1.2 million) he had stolen. He wanted £100 but the buyer turned it down because his daughter already had a recorder!

Now for some final titbits that caught my eye. A woman in Southwark has failed her theory driving test 90 times. And a man in the West Midlands has failed the practical test 36 times. Mind you, I think a Halifax burglar is a bigger failure. He fell down a 30 foot well whilst escaping on a job. He had to use his mobile phone to summon help. A feminist group in the Ukraine has protested against a New Zealand radio station' competition to win a wife. A new Radio 3 adaptation of Wuthering Heights contains the f-word several times. (evidently to give it a grittier feel.) Budapest is naming a square after Elvis Presley because of his support for the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. Essex police and council chiefs have been using 'Sniffer wardens' to catch employees smoking in company cars. A new cycle bridge in Cambridge was found to be two feet too big when they lowered it into place. Whoever made it would do well at a concert in Manchester in July. It's to be held in complete darkness; Amadou and Mariam, both blind will star.

Another mad month. As Arthur English used to say, 'Play the music and open the cage.'

Friday 25 March 2011

Spring hath Sprung.

The last week in March, the clocks go foward; the sun shines; spring has arrived. Gardeners of the world, awake, for its down to the allotment we go. A 'gardening' story to amuse.

“We can live without our friends, but not without our neighbours.”
- J Kelly, Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs, 1721

“Every white hath its black, and every sweet its sour.”
- 18th century proverb

Colourful Neighbours

In a peaceful village, in a row of terraced cottages there lived two old men. Mr White in number seven with the black front door, and Mr Black at number eight with the white front door. One, a retired blacksmith with long white hair and his faithful companion, an affable black Labrador called Satan. The other, a retired white-collar worker with short black hair and a placid white Bull Terrier called Whitey.
Mr White had arrived, many years previous, from Blackheath in Suffolk, or was it Blackmoor in Somerset. Followed not so long afterwards by Mr Black, retired after a working career spent in Whitehaven in Cumbria, though he claimed to be a true Cockney, his birthplace, Whitechapel.
They settled into the village amicably enough, joining in the various activities so typical of village life, even to the extent of acting in the Christmas pantomimes. Mr Black was excellent as Grumpy in Snow White whilst Mr White’s Sinbad the Sailor was much admired.
But their real expertise lay in their love of the land, bringing to the village horticultural skills both admired and envied.
Perhaps here were sown, literally, the seeds of animosity. For it became evident that both men had in their nature’s a competitive streak that struck stone dead the idealistic viewpoint, ‘It’s not the winning that matters, but the taking part.’ Mr White and Mr Black were both of the considered opinion, “ What a load of old codswallop!”
Keen gardeners, both had allotments and greenhouses and were gifted with green fingers, so to speak; therefore ensuring both vied for top position at the flower, fruit and vegetable show, the annual highlight of the Allotment Association’s year.
Meticulous gardeners, greenfly had no place on the pair’s allotments, though it had to be said, Mr White constant battled with persistent blackfly, whilst Mr Black waged war consistently against the assiduous whitefly. Mr Black’s celery was the whitest ever seen, whilst Mr White’s aubergines were the colour of coal, and his blackcurrants had no equal. Plus beans, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, parsnips; potted plants, all were grown to perfection. Other locals could only envy their expertise. The dynamic duo were not as green as is cabbage looking.
The much- prized cup for ‘best in show’ see sawed between the two neighbours. In the early days of their arrival amicably enough, but as the years passed, the strain began to tell. Now in their seventies, both men showed early but distinct signs of paranoia, especially in the weeks leading up to the vegetable shows.
Each spied on the other, net curtains a-twitching, journeys to the allotments monitored and crops inspected. Carrots and leeks grown in chimney pots surreptitiously watered at dead of night. How you may well ask, but you don’t really want to know!
Until one Friday before the show was, for Mr White, the blackest of days. Inspection of his allotment revealed catastrophe. Languishing leeks and fading fuschias; poorly plants personified. Black rage enveloped Mr White. His thoughts turned in one direction only. Who would benefit from his demise, surely one person and one person only?
Mr White hurried home, as fast as a seventy year old can. He knocked on Mr Black’s white front door, barely able to contain his rage. A dog within raged also, as the door opened to reveal a bemused Mr Black.
“You need a whack, Black.” Mr White’s enraged greeting took Mr Black by surprise.
“You’re a sight, White. You’re definitely not right, White.” Mr White was taken aback at such accusations, definitely, he thought, a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The two old men faced each other, years of frustration surfacing. Mr Black turned white with rage and temper, while Mr White’s black looks were intended to frighten his septuagenarian foe. The police were called, threatening both with a trip in a Black Maria.
Both were red in the face, though this matters little to the story. Neither for that matter is it important that the action took place in front of the village green. Or the fact that Mr White had yellow jaundice as a child and Mr Black once had scarlet fever! That the sky was blue, whilst grey smoke billowed from the terraced chimneys; or that grey doves sat on the red slates of the cottages and a blackbird sat in the cherry tree.
No, the important fact was that Mr White’s chance of success in the forthcoming show was no more. Equally important was the accusation that Mr Black was responsible.
The Allotment Committee called a meeting and discussed the issue in great detail. But there was no evidence that Mr Black was the culprit of so heinous a crime. Mr White of course thought their decision was a whitewash, but the committee could reach no other conclusion, the evidence was far from black and white.
The effect of the whole affair was catastrophic. Already somewhat unstable, the bizarre behaviour of the two old adversaries became the talk of the village. Mr Black painted his front door black, Mr White his front door white. Both gave up gardening, taking up other interests. Mr White studied accountancy at evening classes, learning how to stay in the black instead of the red. Mr Black studied the history of television, becoming an expert on The Black and White Minstrels.
Then a strange thing happened. Mr Green at number nine was taken ill, in fact very ill. He had been in hospital many years previously but had been given the green light regarding future health. Realising he had not long on this planet, he wrote a letter to the Allotment Committee admitting he was responsible for the destruction of Mr White’s crops prior to the show the previous year. Mr Black too was targeted, but Mr Green had lacked the opportunity of a second uninterrupted allotment visit. Mr Green had been a show winner prior to the arrival of the green-fingered duo, Mr Black and Mr White. Clearly a case of succumbing to the green-eyed monster, jealousy.
Shortly afterwards Mr Green retired to the allotment in the sky, where all the crops are prize winners and potato blight and the cabbage white butterfly are no more.
The two old men made up, after all those years of animosity. No more black looks or white lies. They visited each other, happy now in each other’s company in the twilight of their lives. Enjoying together Cilla Black on their black and white televisions, drinking White Horse Scotch Whisky, sharing black puddings and boxes of Black Magic and holidaying together in Blackpool or on the Isle of Wight.
Happiness at last, no longer in each others black books, two old men happy in each other’s company; an old white man and an old black man, Billy Black and Chalky White.

(From 'There's Nowt so Strange as Folk' by Ken Stevens.)

Saturday 19 March 2011

Arise, Sir Ben. (Or Should it be Saint Ben?)

I have a friend called Ben. And I am proud to call him friend. I collect memorabilia; Ben collects old people; he has had at least three that I know of. Always neighbours, he visits them often; he fights their battles with the local council, usually concerning matters of care; He gives freely of his time well beyond an ordinary man's call of duty.
Ben is seventy one. He has also had, in the not too distant past quite a serious knee operation. This never stopped him caring for Guy, his most recent 'adopted' geriatric. Guy was a single minded gentleman whose life was much enhanced by Ben's equally single minded care in all things. It is no exaggeration to state that, without Ben, Guy's life would have been shorter and
certainly less fulfilled. They were in many ways a 'couple'. But a couple of what? You may well ask!
Guy was seriously limited concerning mobility and extremely elderly but this did not stop him exploring Derby and district. How could he fail to do so with a wheelchair to hand and Ben 'to boot'. Not the easiest of outings, Guy was no lightweight and Ben's knee surgery was not to be easily dismissed. But Ben usually made light of the problem. Even on the occasion a tyre fell off the wheelchair. Fortunately most young men are fit. At least that was so in the case of the two young men who lifted the wheel chair plus occupant into the air whilst the tyre was carefully replaced prior to the journey home. Not easily daunted were our intrepid travellers, though the trip to the supermarket nearly became 'a bridge too far'.
Guy had a penchant for fresh fish so, on a hot summer's day a trip to the local, though not too local Asda was welcomed by Guy with relish. A pleasant visit, mission accomplished, salmon to hand, the intrepid pair triumphantly set off for home. Only Ben has never been a driver, so he returned the way he knew as a passenger in his wife's car. Literally over the aforementioned 'bridge too far' which leads directly onto the A52. Now the A52 is a dual carriageway, Derby to Nottingham, very fast, very busy, no hard shoulder, no provision for pedestrians, (in fact pedestrians are forbidden). All facts lost on our doughty duo. Reminiscent of Batman and Robin, Laurel and Hardy, Mutt and Jeff; take your pick. The speeding traffic, inches away were ignored by the intrepid pair as they ploughed on with thoughts of tea and crumpet, or, in this case, fresh salmon sandwiches. That is, until the shrill sound of a siren shattered the air waves. How many passing motorists had rung 999 we'll never know; a fair number I guess. I'm not sure who was the most shocked, our intrepid duo or the passengers and driver in the police car who pulled in behind Ben and Guy. I know who was the most amused, the lady police officer who, though concerned, was nigh on having hysterics at the absurdity of the situation. Ideally, as the police suggested, the 'journey' needed terminating forthwith. Only it proved impossible to transfer Guy to the attending police vehicle. (an ambulance visited the scene, albeit briefly and was assured its presence was not necessary) Guy was for the first time concerned, for it was a hot day and salmon does not stay fresh when subjected to extreme heat! The answer was simplicity itself. A police escort to hold back traffic, allowing the dynamic duo to continue their way to the slip road ahead. A slow, laborious journey not helped by Guy dropping his walking stick several times as he concentrated on NOT dropping the salmon, a far more important item. To stop all traffic from overtaking was excellent. To stop traffic in BOTH directions from moving in order to allow the duo to cross the carriageway and exit showed the British police at their finest. Guy found the whole thing great fun. (He later suggested it was the best day he'd had in years.) Ben was embarrassed, and implored the police to not inform anyone concerning their unfortunate escapade. But as the lady constable informed, 'Keep it secret, the whole episode has been recorded on camera.' (Presumably for posterity, I personally have been surprised it has not surfaced on You Tube.)
An eventful afternoon worthy of a drink. Only the pub Ben and Guy called at on leaving the A52 was closed due to some problem with licences. Plus a detour to another pub proved no more fruitful, the time now way beyond the dinnertime opening hours. A can of beer on arrival home after an eventful day out Ben's only material reward for services rendered. Neither Ben, Guy or myself are religious in the accepted sense. But I tell you something, if there is a God up there in the sky, he was certainly looking over these two on that hot summer's day. And undoubtedly a good time was had by all.
Guy recently died. Sad in a way, but close to ninety years of age, the end of a long , interesting and happy life. Ben, no scholar, told me that Guy was having a 'humourist' funeral. I thought about it and concluded this would give anyone a cheerful send-off. I presumed you told the deceased's favourite jokes, sang happy songs and perhaps read excerpts from funny people, bits of Spike Milligan, and the like. In a way it was a pity Ben meant a 'humanist' funeral. All the same evidently it was far from a miserable affair and I'm sure Guy would have approved. And I trust there are other old people out there who lack that personal touch. If so please ring me for Ben's number. For I swear he's looking for someone else on whom to lavish his special brand of geriatric care and attention. Well done Ben, thou good and faithful servant.

Sunday 13 March 2011

I Remember It Well.

Are there certain dates that will forever stick in your mind? Are there certain events you will never forget? And are there certain dates and events that have changed your life forever?

How many of you can say with certainty what you were doing on a given day ten years ago? Twenty years? Thirty or forty years, or even fifty?
On Tuesday the 10th March, 1959 the Tibetan people rose up against the Chinese invasion of their country in what was to become known as the Lhasa Uprising. On this same day I had an altercation with a builder's lorry whilst hurrying to work on my 197cc Francis Barnett motorbike. The lorry won comfortably.
The young lady on the back of my bike was mercifully thrown clear. Myself and the bike finished up underneath the lorry. After the impact, as the steam settled I vividly remember looking up at the lorry underside, too close to the hot exhaust for comfort. Actually comfort is completely the wrong word. I was pinned under the bike and I distinctly remember holding my breath in the mistaken belief that if I breathed it would be my last. I had passed so far under the lorry (from sideways on) that the wheels passed over the edge of my helmet. Was it luck, providence that I survived, you tell me. A posse of men were summoned, they lifted the lorry (who needs Superman, the British public are wonderful when they need to be) and I was pulled clear.
My passenger received a serious laceration but fortunately nothing more. There seemed no lack of volunteers to examine her legs. I had a badly broken leg and ankle and less serious, as far as I knew, head injuries. (Who knows for certain whether they were accountable for some of my 'actions' over the past fifty years.) I remember some fool of a woman's audible comment 'Ooh, look at his face.' Consequently I refused to remove my arm from covering my face until I arrived at a hospital. Silly woman! The main feeling I remember is of acute embarrassment at the whole affair. I would have left the scene had I been remotely able. All in all not a day easily forgotten. The ride to hospital was uncomfortable in the extreme, a trip in the back of the lorry would have been less bumpy. But my surgery and treatment in three hospitals, brilliant. Hurray for the NHS.

TNU 137
Some people believe in superstitions. In the village where I was brought up, many country folk were seriously superstitious. Take salt for instance. To spill it was bad luck. So if you did spill it, you threw some over your left shoulder where the Devil was waiting. Put it on the step of a new house and no evil could enter. (And did you know that salty soup is a sign the cook is in love.) No may blossom was allowed in the house; knives and forks were not to be crossed when set out on the table; no job was to be started on a Friday. Don't open umbrellas in the house; don't place a hat on a bed; don't place your shoes on the table and of any case don't place shoes upside down. Don't, don't, don't! Notice how it always leans towards fostering goodness and defeating evil.
Not surprising in view of the dictionary definition.
Superstition - any belief, practice or rite unreasonably upheld by belief in magic, chance or dogma.
An unfounded belief that some action or circumstance completely unrelated to a course of events can influence its outcome.
It is interesting that whilst the most cynical of individuals will profess a disbelief in superstitions, they are often the ones who touch wood for luck, cross their fingers, also for luck (behind their backs, out of sight of course) and will invariably avoid walking under ladders. We all know its a load of old rubbish of course, but we still hedge our bets. We may be clever, but matey, we ain't that clever.
My bike always was a strange old machine, a real bucking broncho at speeds over fifty. Yet I loved my 'Franny' Barnett. Though after the accident I was not quite as in love with motorbikes as I had previously been. Besides the fact that my beloved steed, number TNU 137 was somewhat mangled.

Jinx - evil eye, hex, spell.

I didn't need much persuading to give it to a family friend, a Mr Vince, who was a top class engineer. Over a period of time he rebuilt TNU 137 so that it was in fact in better condition than when I purchased it second hand for the princely sum of fifty two pounds. (I knew nothing of its previous history except that the headlight had been dented at some stage, presumably a non too serious event compared to my 'happening'.)
Jinx - dictionary definition. Something or someone believed to bring bad luck or misfortune.
Only Mr Vince never rode TNU 137. He took ill unexpectedly shortly after completing the restoration and sadly died not long afterwards. The bike languished, forlorn and unloved in Mr Vince's garage for many a while.
Jinx - in popular superstition and folklore 'an object that brings bad luck.'

My cousin Dennis, whose influence was instrumental in me buying the bike in the first place, negotiated with Mr Vince's widow and bought the machine, no doubt at a bargain price. Some bargain. Dennis was an experienced motorcyclist, unlike myself and was happiest tinkering with motorcycles for hours on end. One cold winter evening he tinkered just once too often and it almost signalled his end. TNU 137 was always an awkward customer where starting was concerned. (many two stroke motorcycles of that era were so.) It often necessitated several and occasionally numerous kick starts, a nuisance, somewhat tiring and creating exhaust fumes of considerable magnitude. No matter, no danger. Unless you were in a garage with the door closed. The garage complete with a paraffin heater, lit to warm cold December evenings spent in an otherwise unheated garage. Inevitably an explosion occurred , the heater igniting the fumes. In a closed garage the heat and flames were spectacular. Dennis was lucky to survive and had to endure months of repairs to his hands and face. TNU 137 survived almost intact.
Jinx - a spell or period of bad luck.
The bike was in fact repaired, again and Dennis did in fact use it, though whether his heart was truly with that machine I never did know. I doubt he needed much persuasion to sell it, particularly as Wraggy, a family friend showed interest in buying. All that was needed was a test drive and the deal would be done. So Wraggy vanished up the road out of sight on TNU 137, face beaming at the possibility of owning such an astute purchase. And we waited and we waited and we waited. We wondered why such a short test drive should be taking so long. That is, until a crestfallen Wraggy reappeared pushing his would be purchase. Evidently he had barely left the street when he was accosted by two observant policemen in a squad car, Wraggy's driving style no doubt would have attracted the attention of even the dimmest of traffic policemen. Wraggy had of course no licence and was also therefore not insured to ride any motorcycle, never mind TNU 137. No one was amused by this debacle, least of all Wraggy. But he need not have worried. Or perhaps he did just that. Poor old Wraggy, not so old Wraggy dropped dead one afternoon before his case ever went to court.
Jinxed - to bring bad luck or misfortune. (Perhaps from Jynx, genus name of the Wryneck, a bird used in magic.)
I know the bike was afterwards used by the son of Dennis, David, who is my godson. Not on the public highway as David was still a schoolboy. And I know it was in a head on collision on a local allotment with an elderly lady in a car who had lost her way. I kid you not, though to finish up driving a car on an allotment is seriously strange. Especially where TNU 137 lurked. Fortunately the only human injuries was the boy's pride.
I often wondered what happened to TNU 137. It may be still out there. But in the unlikely event that you are offered a small, green, vintage, battered motorcycle, do yourself a favour. Check the number plate. And if it happens to be TNU 137 do yourself a favour and run away; fast

(These two pieces taken from posts two years ago. Apologies but the date set me off; so again, have you anniversaries, good or otherwise you never forget?)

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Wherefore Art Thou.

I 'lost' my wife in town last week. And as anyone who reads my blog knows, a somewhat regular occurrence. (My wife had actually taken longer than I expected to retrieve a parcel from the 'returns' section of the Post Office.) Not for the first time it set me wondering how this must feel like in real life when someone vanishes, never to return. Some time ago I sat in Derby town centre 'people watching'. The following short story resulted from this experience. I have published this before on my blog but some considerable time ago. I appreciate that people in the main are too busy to read at length, but if the comments (if any) are favourable I will include other stories from my 'literary attempts' occasionally. Last time posted only two comments received. Is this all my attempts at emulating my literary heroes deserve! (Stand up the person who said 'fraid so!)

Wherefore Art Thou

'Old men are twice children'

Greek Proverb

In a way it’s a funny thing to have someone go missing on you in broad daylight. Only funny is the wrong word to use.
It began so innocuously. “I’m just going into Marks to get some paste.” The old ladies’ message was simple, unexceptional. So unexcitingly familiar that the old man’s attention, honed by over fifty years of somewhat uneventful marriage, was non-existent. So routinely ordinary that he as usual made no comment. Not even enquiring as to the type of paste to be purchased.
“You sit on the seat there and I’ll be back in no time.”
Probably the hundred thousandth request, order, instruction, command in a marriage approaching twenty thousand days!
Not one to argue, of any case glad of the rest from the humdrum tasks required of 21st century man, Edward, the old man did as he was told. “She who must be obeyed,” he thought to himself wistfully.
Edward surveyed all around him with interest, anything was preferable to queuing in boring old M and S.
People of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds passed by; some hurried, others sauntering, seemingly with all the time in the world. Men in turbans, women in chadors. People in uniforms: nurses, care workers, shop assistants, but not a police uniform in sight. Blonds with black roots, shaven headed men and dark men sporting afros. Mobile phones in constant use, conveying messages seldom of importance, in Chinese, Urdu, Russian, Tamil and even English! Drinks were consumed and the cans or bottles discarded; sometimes in the bins provided, more often not: Pepsi, Coca Cola, Lucosade, Carling Black Label and supermarket cider.
Adolescent, pretty black girls greeted each other, like long lost friends meeting after years apart. Young lovers caressed, oblivious to those around them! A proud father pushed his offspring in an expensive, state of the art buggy. The wife issued instructions before vanishing for equally expensive hair and beauty treatment.
“Make sure he keeps his hat on, don’t feed him chips and watch out for him chucking his dummy!”
Grey suited businessmen passed by, attaché cases to hand, their earnest talk concerning high finance and credit.
A balloon seller plied his trade, his brightly coloured offerings attracting children’s pennies, or rather parent’s pounds.
Young men handed out fliers advertising ‘Monday Madness, Funky House Dance, RnB, with student DJ Tom Ralston.’
Chinese musicians played haunting oriental music on obscure instruments, inviting passers-bys to purchase CD’s, ‘one hour long, price £10.’
An abundance of T-shirts and leisure tops on show, their messages often obscure: International Karate Open and Weekly Warrior, both worn by extremely slightly built individuals. A football shirt announced Sandu no 10, probably self-explanatory. But what, Edward wondered, was the significance of the number 54 top of a rather large middle aged lady; or for that matter, number 93 on the back of a lady of similar proportions? Racing Extreme, Hey Ho Let’s Go, Guns and Roses other adult choices, plus a very pink Glitter Princess, a child’s choice.
An overweight, obviously unfit, ill individual walked slowly, with difficulty up to the bench housing Edward and another elderly gentleman. Reluctantly he flopped down, produced a crumpled cigarette from his pockets and lit up. Coughing loudly he inhaled, to the distaste and dismay of his fellow travellers.
Edward left the bench and. walked slowly up the street, unhurried, taking in the street’s offerings.
Nationwide, Nat West, Lush, Top Shop; Miss Selfridge, BHS and Shoe Zone; Manor Pharmacy, Reveal Records, Optical Express and Bradford and Bingley.
Ann Summers, their customers, usually confident young women, striding in without a moments hesitation. But occasionally middle-aged ladies, ill at ease, heads down, hoping that no one had witnessed their entering an obvious den of iniquity!
Sales and offers designed to seduce, reminding of the adage, ‘Let the buyer beware.’ The NTL sales van suggested in large letters on its side ‘Save money now.’ Ilkeston-Co-op Travel exhorted, ‘Seven nights on Malta, £149, pay nothing until next year.’ BHS offered ‘30% off some items, 75% off others.’ A large street sign reminded that ‘insurance is free on a Kia car.’ Going Places told of ‘Commission Free Foreign Currency.’ ‘GNT’s gold card discount, 40%.’ The Works, ‘the place for half price artist’s materials.’ The Carphone Warehouse informed, ‘Free calls for life for BT customers.’ One hour film processing and instant food. Live now, pay later, a world beyond Edward’s comprehension!
His wandering had tired him and he was grateful to find another seat, this time empty and a fair distance from his original resting place.
The ornamental clock at the end of the street struck the hour, interrupting Edward’s deliberations. He had become so preoccupied with his observational perambulations that he had clean forgotten why he was in the town in the first place! No mean feat where Doris was concerned. He was unsure how long she had been gone, for he wore no watch. Doris always said he would only lose it, of any case she decided who did what, when, and where so as to make a watch, certainly from Edward’s viewpoint, redundant.
What if she didn’t come back! The possibility, never before contemplated, amused. him greatly. No more nagging. No more, “Wipe your feet! Take your shoes off! You’re spilling that! Why can’t you be more careful?”
No more, “You’ve had two pints, why do you want any more? Slow down, you’re going too fast! Mind that cyclist! Don’t talk with your mouth full! Don’t slurp! Don’t slouch! Stand up straight! Don’t mumble! Stop scratching your head! Where’s your hanky? Don’t interrupt, in fact don’t breathe!”
Time continued to pass, and almost imperceptibly Edward’s mood began to change. Unsure as to how long his wife had been away, he felt the first pangs of uncertainty and anxiety. The sun beat down, increasing his discomfort. His choice of clothing betrayed a septuagenarian tendency to expect inclement weather, whatever the season, and dress accordingly. “We don’t want to be bedridden with a chill, and thus a nuisance to others do we?” his other half was wont to impress upon him, if even so much as an open necked shirt was suggested as summer apparel! The old man sat uncomfortably in his woollen vest, woollen socks, and woollen shirt, his unbuttoned topcoat his only concession to summer days. He began to sweat, in part due to the weather, but also induced by feelings of panic.
A thousand thoughts raced through his mind.” Where was she? Surely a pot of paste didn’t take this long? How long was it? The Lord only knows. Perhaps she’s been kidnapped? But who would kidnap a seventy year old? Why would they do that? For ransom, surely not! How would he raise money if it were so? Murdered because the ransom was not forthcoming, fed to the pigs like Mrs Muriel MacKay, the kidnapped wife of a newspaper magnate!”
His imagination knew no bounds. ”Perhaps she’s run away, left me for another man? Surely I’d have noticed the tell tale signs? Mind you, she had seemed happier recently. Perhaps it wasn’t just the new wallpaper. Has she had an accident? Is she stuck in a lift? Has she lost her memory?” The questions hurtled round the old man’s mind, increasing his discomfort.
He realised, with not a little embarrassment, that he could not remember what his wife was wearing. Fifty years of complacency, fifty years of taking his wife for granted. Never ever apart, yet never really together!
He thought of telephoning but to whom he had no idea. Plus he didn’t own a mobile phone, didn’t carry a mobile phone and, equally important, he’d no idea how to use a mobile phone.
He thought too of the police but it was not a serious possibility.
“You’ve lost your wife, sir, now when was that, sir? You’re not sure when, sir. She’s gone for some paste and not come back. Oh dear, it’s not exactly crime of the century, is it sir! Give us a ring if she doesn’t turn up in, say, six months, sir. Good day, sir!”
As his discomfort increased, Edward imagined those around him were becoming less acceptable, more threatening. He noticed an abundance of tattoos and body piercing; tattoos on ears and necks, chests, breasts and legs. Piercings through lips, noses, eyebrows, tongues and torsos.
An old man, the worse for drink leered at a minimally dressed pubescent child. Cyclists weaved through the pedestrians, causing women with children and pensioners alike to scatter. Four teenagers, one noticeably pregnant, mouthed obscenities at passers-by, their actions creating both fear and consternation.
A teenage beggar rose from his position in a shop doorway, collected up his blanket, lit his umpteenth cigarette and went on his way, his flea ridden dog in tow. No doubt to his home in the suburbs, and probably his plasma television with its ultra sound system.
Harassed mothers harangued misbehaving offspring, increasingly tired as the day wore on. A very disabled young man struggled to manoeuvre an ancient wheelchair over the block paving, a surface unhelpful to his endeavours, onlookers indifferent and uncaring. The Big Issue seller stood, tattooed and silent, arm held out but his wares disregarded, his plight ignored.
People at the cash dispensers clutched purses and wallets tightly, eyeing up all and sundry as they withdrew their fortunes, seeing danger where it probably didn’t exist. Even a single, grey, ladies boot lying on the pavement became an ominous object, its owner unknown, the reason for its solitary existence suspicious.
Edward noticed the St Peter’s Church banner extolled, “Cling only to what is necessary.” The banner for the local newspaper informed, depressingly, “Petrol breaks the £1 barrier,” and “Archdeacon pleads for return of grave body.”
Edward tried to remain calm, in control, but numbness overwhelmed him. His heartbeat increased and he fumbled for his tablets, his hands visibly shaking. He took two tablets, though his prescription forbad it.
He became aware of a warm feeling and he realised with horror that he had wet himself. His anxiety increased, He felt lost, lonely, dependent, helpless and not a little fearful. His heart pounded, and, as if in sympathy, the sky darkened and the sun vanished behind the gathering clouds. A light breeze signalled an oncoming storm.
Tears welled up in his eyes and he began to sob. Those around him became blurs and he felt himself fading. He tried to fight, but to no avail. He tried to call out, but no sound came. He saw the outline of a female apparition, surely an angel, coming towards him. He held open his arms and the apparition called his name. “Edward, where on earth have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

Thursday 3 March 2011

February, a Monster of a Month. Grumpy's Alternative News.

I see the world is still full of idiots, so lets get rid of them first. The Members of Parliament who made fun of a fellow MP's speech impediment (the MP in question suffers from cerebral palsy) are pathetic in the extreme. No action was taken, which tells you much about the people who are in charge of us. (Plus at least six of them are using 'the system' to keep their finances secret through so called 'blind trusts'; including cabinet members Kenneth Clarke, Chris Huhne and Francis Maude.) The people in charge of Barnsley charged a resident £4,000 for a 1.7 square foot of land to complete an extension. In Oldham councillors have suggested a 'fat tax' of £1000 in order to fight obesity. Kebab and fish and chip shops would be particularly affected. Undoubtedly 'Big Brother' is watching you in Oldham. A parish council near Norwich ordered a bowls club to stop giving council staff £20 at Christmas for keeping the bowling green so well, its a bribe you see, or so the council decreed. HMS Cumberland was diverted to the Libyan coast to evacuate Britains (and others) from this warring country. And where was it going, on its way to be scrapped of course.
The EU looks like its going to decide we in Britain can't discriminate between sexes concerning insurances of cars or anything else for that matter; the fact that our female friends are a proven better risk no matter. The mayor of Chita (Siberia) upset many, (I hope it was all) by voicing regret that the authorities did not have the power to shoot the homeless. Not that our American friends fare any better. Texas looks like deciding some 500,000 students in 38 universities can carry concealed weapons. No matter that 70% of Texans oppose it. In all these cases the suggestion is that those in charge know best. All these cases, important or otherwise suggest 'power corrupts'.
Various 'titbits', totally unrelated that caught my eye. Sumo wrestling in Japan is in disarray with allegations of match fixing. If it's proved bang goes hundreds of years of history. I wonder if Sumo wrestlers get bad backs. A fossilised spine found in northern Spain suggests man suffered from bad backs 4.4 million years ago. I bet the people from Newcastle-under-Lyme get bad backs, they top the bin league table with nine separate receptacles for rubbish. You'd need a beer after taking that lot out on collection day. Though probably not 'Purple Hand' brewed in Mexico City. It's the first beer ever brewed specifically for the gay community. Evidently it tastes like honey. Oh well, whatever turns you on! It's no doubt less harmful than smoking. Which is why America's First Lady is so pleased President Obama has finally quit smoking. Mind you, I then read he's 95% cured. What the heck does that mean. Not that anyone would believe him anyway. Apparently 51% of Republicans believe that President Obama was not born in the USA. Amazing country, amazing people. Doesn't it make you proud to be British! Especially as almost everyone attending a conference at Hugh Hefners Playboy Mansion went down with a form of legionnaire's disease. Daren't say too much, can you come up with your own headlines. I bet Hugh Hefner was annoyed. But not as annoyed as the man who attacked patients with an axe at a medical centre in Madrid. Evidently he had problems getting an appointment!
Animal stories are always interesting even if they show you how preferable animals are to humans. I was saddened to read around 100 sled dogs were slaughtered after a tour company's bookings dropped following the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. And I confess I was less than upset when a man attending a cockfight in Delano, California was stabbed to death by a bird that had a blade attached to its foot. And should I have been amused by the elephant in Pilansberg Game Reserve than mistook a car for a mate, resulting in one overturned car. Less traumatic but again galling, the rare tortoises found in plastic lunchboxes air freighted from Thailand to Coventry. Much more heartening the seal operated on in Paignton Zoo, vets inserting drug implants to save its eyesight. Plus the fox found on the top floor (1.000 feet) of the unfinished Shard Skyscraper in London. (and later released onto the streets of Bermondsy). I noticed the donkey (mentioned in a previous post) whom idiot Russians sent up in a para sailing stunt has died; at least he ended his days in a donkey sanctuary.
Another interesting selection (in this the year of the rabbit, heralding, according to the Chinese a year of peace and prosperity.) And non more so than the newcomer to the Hastings Blue Reef Aquarium. In English, a wedge tail triggerfish. no problem, except that its Hawaiian name is a humuhumunukuapua'a.
Plenty to ponder. In many ways the saddest item was concerning the young lady who travelled to the USA for an illegal buttock enhancement procedure and died from a heart attack after the 'operation'. What a dreadful waste of a young life. The strangest bit of news, the blessing by Roman Catholics bishops of a new iPhone and iPad that allows users to make confessions with a virtual 'priest' over the internet. And two less than world shattering pieces of news. Did you notice James Marcus Smith was charged with benefit fraud in Worcester; who you might ask. Rememember him under his stage name, P J Proby? And I bet you didn't know British postmen use two million red rubber bands every day. The Royal Mail bought four billion rubber bands over the past five years, total cost almost £5 million. And finally one piece of news Grumpy couldn't resist. A snowdrop with a 'sad face', right grumpy has been bred by a snowdrop collector, Joe Sharman and is now part of the national collection at the national Cambo Collection in Fife. (Galanthus elwesii, priced around £100 per bulb.)
Me, I'm off to buy my tickets for the 2012 Olympics, on sale from the 15th March. On second thoughts, with the opening ceremony tickets costing between £20.12 and £2012; men's 100 metres final, £50 t0 £725; number of people registering an interest in tickets 1.7 million, I don't think I'll bother! I predict a shambles is in the making. As George used to say, 'Evening all'.