Monday, December 04, 2006

Ug! A party...

The whisky had been blessed with magical powers, this night. So I tend to shy away from it and instead stick to the three bottles of Stella Artois and two bottles of real ale that brought. I sipped at the whisky instead, and insisted the the Colonel drank the lion's share.

The theme for the omens of the night, was Turkey. No sooner had I finished murdering 'thank you' in Turkish to a girl downstairs, than I found myself repeating them to a different girl upstairs. As all Turks seem to, she looked non-impressed with my pronunciation, but begrudgingly allowed that it sounded almost correct.

I had arrived upstairs, hoping for the toilet, bursting with urgency that only beer can bring to a man.

'Oh god, why do people wait until the last minute, to when they really need to go desperately, when at a party?' I ask the Turkish girl I haven't met yet.

'I'm a pretty nasty person,' she says to me, 'I wouldn't speak to me if I were you.'

Which is certainly an interesting conversational gambit. However, I take the bait.

'Surely, that's for other people to decide, not you?'

The door opens, and she gestures for me to go in first.

'See?' I tell her, 'You're not nasty at all.'

She gives me an icy glare of the kind only ever seen in science fiction films where the fearsome queen of the desolate ice-barrens is about to stab the hero through the heart.

Downstairs and I'm talking too much, loving the sound of my own voice -- I get cocky with alcohol, filled with the mistaken imagination that I'm pretty goddamm cool. I have advice for everyone, if they want and / or need it or not.

I find myself saying to Delia, 'Look, if your hiccup cure doesn't work it's because you're not in control of your body. Not in complete control. But look, this is your body, you should be able to decide if you hiccup or not...'

I'm surprised that people take the time to listen to me at all sometimes.

And so it continues until only a few of us remain and I'm drinking half a glass of flat cider, which is all I can find left on the house.

So we leave, in the pouring rain, at 5am.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

DIY - The Loft

I’d like to say that changing the loft insulation in a 100 year old house is fun, and full of amusing stories. But so far it isn’t, and there aren’t any. It’s simply dirty, nasty work in a loft full of cobwebs, dust and other unspeakable grime.

The loft was insulated, at some time in the past, with ‘Clinker’, which is defined as:

A local term used for remains of coal that have burned and the surrounding rock that has been transformed during the burning of the coal.

In other words, the Victorians and slightly later folk thought it a good idea to throw coal dust up there every now and then for good measure.

We filled 21 bin sacks full of the stuff. Never, ever been so filthy.

Now installing some kind of space-age (ha) insulation...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Attic #2

More attic misery.

Attic #1

The attic is a harsh beast, full of coal-dust and clinker, whatever that is...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

DIY - The back door

The back door is a little shoddy, truth be known. It looks like it’s been cobbled together from bits of old firewood and ikea furniture, and then added to over the years in an attempt to make it more secure / draught-free. It doesn’t open fully, grinding on the kitchen floor, yet when closed proudly boasts a one inch gap at its bottom, through which can been seen slugs and spiders, hastening inside out of the cold and wet weather.

There is also a large gap at the top of the door, which happily lets in rainwater, which has been soaking the wall above it.

Time for action. I choose 6pm as my start time, as it is just getting dark and threatening to rain. I open the door and the spiders and slugs hesitate, and then retreat to the walls to watch and wait.

First, apply insulating ‘tape’ around the door, in theory this provides a cushion when the door closes, and stops chill air whistling in as you try and cook lasagne, or something.

The instructions reckon that you should clean the area with white spirit and then dry thoroughly before application, but, I ask you, who’s likely to do that? So I wipe the area down with a damp sponge, then with a tea-towel (don’t tell the wife).

The tape goes on fine, this is pretty easy, I think.

Next is the bit of wood I bought to hammer on the top of the door. I measure the length and saw off an appropriate bit, sanding it some to remove the sharp edges.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, it’s going on well, bang bang, ah. As the door doesn’t open fully, there’s a part where I can’t access to hammer in a nail. I start to think that I should have used that wood glue I bought here. But I’ve hammered most of it on now, and it’s starting to rain, and getting dark, so there’s no way I’m taking it off now...

Ah, it’ll be fine, I think, and try to close the door.

It won’t close.

(With hindsight, I should perhaps have tried to close the door before putting the wood on...)

With some swearing and a bruised shoulder, I manage to close it just as the wife comes in.

‘Looks good,’ she comments.

‘Hmm,’ I say. ‘It’s a bit stiff.’

She tries it and is unable to close the door at all, bruised shoulders and all. She walks away with an air of ‘sort it out’.

I examine the door. The rain is getting harder now, and it is quite, quite dark outside. The wind picks up.

The wood seems to be sticking a little at the top, so I get out a rasper and start worrying away at the wood, taking all the edges off and rounding the bar. This generates a lot of wood shavings and eventually starts to ease the nails from their comfy positions so the whole thing rocks about. In frustration I rip it off, nails and all and retire to the cold, dark and wet garden to hammer all the nails back out of it and then swear at the wood as I rasp it to death.

All went well, and I was applying a bit of sandpaper to the diminished rod when the wife came out to ask how I was doing. Just as she does so there is an ominous crack from the stick, as it breaks internally and forever weakens.

‘Good,’ I lie.

The wood is soon nailed back onto the door, and is firm. It doesn’t rub anymore when the door closes. In fact, there are gaps all around. I suspect that it will still let in rainwater. Just a little.

The door still won’t close though. Well, not easily.

I notice that the door is sticking on the right hand side, next to the lock, where there is a bulge. I get out the rasper and take off a mm or so. It now sticks somewhere else, so I rasp that. Then it sticks somewhere else...

It’s a while before it dawns on me that as I remove the sticking bulges, the door is slipping on its hinges and so sticking somewhere new...

It’s positively cold now and the spiders want in. I shoulder the door into place with violence and lock up for the night. After all this, I realise, it’s actually just the tape that is making the door hard to close, and sigh as I sweep up the soggy wood chips.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


So my father is here, helping fix up the house, fitting new locks, pulling off my skirting boards etc.  And he brings some tea, as I don't have any (bare cupboards).  Yorkshire Tea.  An acquired taste, he says, as I pull faces drinking it.

Mustard comes round later and I offer tea, which he pulls a face at when he sips it. 

'It's an acquired taste,' I tell him.

It tastes a bit like off-milk, as an aftertaste.  I'm not sure I'll ever acquire it.  Nor is he.  It makes my mouth go a little numb, in fact.

Knowing my father, a thought occurs.  I say, 'So, how old is that tea then, Dad?'

'Not sure,' he says, 'I found it in the back of the cupboard.'

As I get up to examine the box he shouts after me, 'Tea doesn't go off!'

There isn't a date on the box I can see, but there is a special offer on the side, to send off for a nice, limited edition teddy bear, provided that your entry arrives before the closing date of 31st August.....   1999.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Moving: The movers are called

Moving home is supposed to be a stressful business.

It is.

Last night I spent half an hour calling a dozen moving companies in
the local area and arranging visits for 'free quotes' – this despite
the fact that I know in exact cubic feet how much stuff we have (after
having it shipped from Canada to begin with), I get the impression
that the movers don't believe me.

'Oh, right, most people don't know that,' they say, and then add,
'I'll have to visit, just to check you understand?'

So the over-the-phone quotes so far are between £750 - £1,500...

So I'm looking forward to two days of continual muddy shoes wandering
though the flat, with burly men sucking in air between their teeth
when looking at the wardrobe, etc.

Update will follow.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Inscrutable women

Watching 'A Cock and Bull Story' last night, Gillian Anderson, of X-Files fame, appeared.

'Wow, she's changed.' Says the wife.

'She has.' I agree.

'She's lost a lot of weight.' She adds.

'Hmm, she looks better now.' I say.

Quick as a flash the wife concludes, angrily: 'So you're saying that I'm fat?'

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Attempted Burglary

It's 5:30am and I'm not really sleeping due to this awful bug that is making me cough, sniffle and ache all over my body. My brain makes whooshing, throbbing motions and I try to drift into uneasy slumber.

I hear a kind of crashing noise in the kitchen. I suspect one of the many items of dangerously balanced, recently washed up items has thrown itself to the floor in an attempt at attention seeking. Curious, I get up and walk naked in the dark to the kitchen door and peek round it.

There is something at the window. My eyes adjust and I see a figure lurking there, with his hand through our cat flap, obviously trying to reach the window latch above.

My first thought is that it is my crazed neighbour from below, living out one of his psychotic fantasies, so I stride into the kitchen, and right up the window.

It isn't my neighbour.

He has withdrawn his hand and is squatting there in the about-to-break light on our balcony, a hundred feet up, on our fire escape.

'What the fuck are you doing!' I scream in a slightly hysterical manner.

He considers this for a moment then mumbles something like, 'I'm trying to get in, I'm staying here.'

'But this is my flat!' I scream.

He shows me his mobile phone. I stare at it. What the hell has this got to do with anything? I lock the cat flap, which he must have somehow opened from the other side.

'I must have the wrong flat,' he tells me, 'I must be below you.' And then gets up and walks casually down the fire escape. I watch him go and then stand there in the kitchen window for a minute or two longer looking out at the empty metal stairs.

After this I find it even harder to sleep.

In the morning I examine the cat flap and it falls to bits in my hands. He has pulled bits off and smashed it up. There is now a big hole in my kitchen window and no flap to cover it. I hastily make a repair with some duct tape and then put a big wooden board over the window before we go out to look at houses (which is another long story of disappointments, or, rather, broken appointments (as opposed to broken apartments)).

When we get back from hours of fruitless walking I bang on neighbours' doors in the building and ask if they have a guest who might have broken into my flat last night. They all seem a bit worried by the whole thing and no-one has a clue.

It all seems a bit fishy to me, so I go to the police.

Ah, the police, the stories I can tell of the police, but I won't right now. This time, it seems, the police are, wait for it, nice.

Of course, the police station closes at about 6pm. I have to use a yellow phone by the door which rings forever (so it seems). As I wait I'm happy that I didn't run here with a crazed axe murderer chasing me.

'Hello, Police.'

'Hi, I'd like to report an attempted break-in at my flat last night.'

'Please hold.'

Click, whirrrrr, ring ring [etc]...

[Automated voice] 'You are through to the non-urgent police reporting centre, please hold.'

When a voice finally does answer, I fully expect it to be an Indian call centre, but it isn't and the woman is jolly and sounds quite local.

I explain what happened.

'And why,' She asks, chidingly, 'didn't you call 999 last night?'

She takes it all very seriously despite my personal suspicions that the guy was perhaps just wasted and on a psychedelic adventure. She doesn't like the sound of it though and says they'll treat it as attempted burglary.

She laughs, 'I'm sorry,' she says, 'but the image of the man with his hand through the cat flap and you charging in there naked, oh, ha ha ha ha, ho ho!'

'Indeed.' I agree.

An hour later a policeman comes by the house and takes a statement, which then took an hour. My god, I think, how long does a serious crime report take?

He finished up by saying, 'Right, forensics will be round at some point, and then we'd like you to come down to the station to do some e-fits and line-up parades.'

'Really?' I'm quite incredulous. 'If this is just a drunken idiot, I'm causing a lot of work, aren't I?' I say, feeling guilty.

He dismisses this and tells me, 'No, there's something not right about this case and we're taking it seriously.' He then calls his sarge and tells here, 'Hi Sarge, just finished taking the statement, bzzzt, yes the cat flap case, bzzzt, okay, back soon.'

And leaves.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Manic-Depressive Neighbour

There was a buzz on the intercom and then a mysterious invitation to a meeting later that night.

'I don't like surprises, K,' I said, 'What's this about?'

'About your neighbours. It's in your best interest to hear what I have to say.' He crackles.

So I go, later, prepared for the worst.

He explains that he is a manic-depressive, but on good medication. He goes on to explain that because of his condition he has a unique insight into personality disorders. And because he is a (industry) contractor he is also an officer of the law.

I look confused at this and he tells me that all jobs ending with 'or' are officers of the law. I think of the rhyme, 'Soldier, Sailor, Tinker, Tailor', hang on, I think, what about a machine operator?

He goes on... and because he has this insight and authority (he comes to the point):

'L (another neighbour), is a psychopath, and I think he wants to harm me and my family.'

I consider this. L is a mild mannered young man who looks like a vegetarian Buddhist. I find it hard to believe that he is a psychopath.

He provides examples that are, perhaps, a bit of a stretch.

I let is pass and promise that I'll be careful. We move on to the recycling bins that he has recently thrown away (all of the building's). He justifies this firstly by saying that it is messy when they are left outside, then by saying that recycling is worthless and most of it ends off on the normal landfill anyway, and then finally by getting out a sealed envelope containing a lurid magazine calendar featuring gimp outfits and naughty nurses. It is, however, not obscene, merely rude and slightly disturbing.

He found this in the recycling, and this could fall into the hands of a five year old.

'So,' he says, 'what are a few bean tins compared to the corruption of a five year old?'

I have no answer for this. 'It's not my magazine,' I point out, 'and my recycling doesn't contain anything corrupting.'

'But I just told you, recycling is pointless!'

I don't feel included to argue. I make excuses, but he has something else to tell me.

'I want to offer you some advice, and you should take it, because I'm old and I'm an officer of the law...' (etc, loop) he goes on, 'when you see a little girl in the street, you must ignore her. Don't even look at her. Because she belongs to the father. And when you see a little boy, you must do the same, except you may look into his eyes for a few seconds before looking away. Because I saw you saying hello to that baby girl the other day. You mustn't do that.'

I splutter, 'Why on earth are you telling me this? What baby? What, our neighbour's baby? I didn't even know it was a girl K! I've only even seen it once in passing!'

'She was wearing pink when you saw her,' he says, as if that ends the argument.

'Fine, fine, I say.' Getting up.

'Ah, you're a sensible lad, taking my advice.'

'K,' I say, 'believe me, I'd rather get on with you than not. Anything for an easy life.'

He erupts! 'An easy life! For evil to triumph all that must happen is for good men to stand idly by! This world is full of fucking evil!' Tears are forming in his eyes. He shakes with rage.

I shake his hand and say goodbye.

'I've done my public duty!' He shouts as I leave.

Back in my flat I lock the door securely. Very securely.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Push my button

I don't know why, but two of the things that really get me worked up (and shouldn't) involve button pressing.

1. Pelican crossing.

For those of you not British, a pelican crossing is one where you push a button, wait a while, and then cross when the green man says it is okay (as opposed to a Zebra crossing where you can simply walk out into speeding traffic and demand that they stop).

Note the use of buttons. Now, granted, some busy junctions will automatically change and show a green man if you wait there for long enough, but on straight roads, away from junctions, you could wait until the end of time and the green man wouldn't appear.

Why then, do crowds of people stand at Peilcan crossings without pressing the button? Brighton train station is a classic example. It's often full of people standing there waiting, and no-one has pressed the button. I walk up and do so and instantly the lights change. The zombies standing around notice the effect, but not the cause.

2. Buses

On a bus, in England, if you wish to get off at the next stop, then you press a button and the driver is alerted to this fact. When you press the button a ding noise is heard quite clearly, and a sign very clearly seen througout the bus lights up, saying 'STOPPING'. In big letters like that.

Why, oh why, oh why then do people continue to press the button when it has already been done? When approaching a bus stop it can sound like a pinball machine, the amount of pinging that is going on.

Really, I think I'm upset that so many people don't seem to be aware of their surroundings. Going through life oblivious of the details.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Badly-designed disabled toilets

The only seat left on the train was the one next to the badly-designed disabled toilets. Badly designed? Yes, very. The door opens and closes electronically at a pace that tears at the soul. So you step in side and press the close button. And wait, whilst people stare at you, as the door creaks and creeps shut. Most people at this point get frustrated and foolishly try to press the lock button before the door has fully closed. This is a mistake. If you do this then the door finally closes and then starts to open again. Then you must then wait for it to fully open, and press close again and repeat the process.

Damn thing.

Anyway, this particular toilet was obviously out of order (all too common, that) and had been flashing as occupied since I got on about 30 minutes ago.

Now arrives the tall, lanky drunken man. He jabs at the button several times. Nothing happens. He goes to the other button round the side and jabs that too. Nothing.

He starts to hop from foot to foot. 'Shit, shit shit.' He mutters, and jabs the button again.

'I think it's out of order,' I say, causing him to whirl around and stare at me madly, jiggling.

After staring at me for a while he starts to jab the button again. He is making sobbing noises now and holding his penis like a little boy. He stood in full view, cursing, sobbing, jiggling and massaging his packet for some minutes. The door didn't open.

Eventually, he limped off to the next carriage.

Croydon Knife Crimes?

On my way home last night I passed through Croydon train station where the police had blocked off all the platform exits and erected large scanning devices of the kind more normally (for now) seen in airports. A sign nearby proclaimed that they were making my journey safer by checking that people travelling on the train with me aren't carrying anything nasty. Like knives.

I passed by without being hassled, but on an impulse turned around and approached two police nearby.

'What's the law concerning carrying penknives then?' I ask.

They squint at me, obviously thinking, he's got a knife!

'Two point, what is it?' Says one.

'Two point seven, I think?' Says cop number two.

I assume they are talking size of blade, and inches. But they don't know for sure, which is worrying.

'Unless it locks.' Says cop 1.

'Yes, unless it locks.' Parrots cop 2.

'Ah, I say,' pulling out my small locking penknife. They stare at it, as if it is a bomb.

'This is small,' I continue, '...but locks. So I can't carry it then?'

'No.' Says cop 1.

'You shouldn't have it.' Says cop 2. Cop 2 looks like she wants to take my knife away.

'So,' I say, putting it back in my pocket, 'I'll just take it home and not carry it again, eh?'

They stare at me as I walk backwards and escape.