Monday, September 29, 2014

Downward Dog

I was pleased to find out that the yoga class was in the other church hall – not the hall of the church I have stopped going to. (I really just wanted to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ once a week and try and put myself into a spiritual zone. I didn’t want to join the 5 a side team or go on long walks in the country.)

It had been a squeeze when the class was held in the local gym – the clank of the free weights and the sound of MTV had rattled my karma.

I was pleased to see more men at the new class. I was even more pleased to see that they were older than me and that the teacher had to give them special attention and kind words of encouragement.

I usually get near the front of the class, so that I don’t have to peer out past somebody’s rear-end to see what the teacher is demonstrating.  The ‘Downward Dog’ position is then useful – as I can look back through my legs to see the older guys struggling. This heartens me. 

I’m not proud of this.

I was the same during my finals at university. I went into a ‘History of Ideas’ paper with little preparation – but when the young man beside me burst into tears half-way through the allotted time I found myself perversely inspired. Using the few quotes I could recall from ‘Freud Made Simple’, I was able to spin out my thoughts onto several supplementary sheets.

The yoga teacher is a better person. With an expression that showed genuine concern, she uttered words that caressed the strugglers and put me to shame: 

‘Just do what you can. Remember – every snowflake is different.’

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Whisky and Savlon

I live in a very quiet village – officially a ‘dormitory village.’ Most of the houses were built just after the railway station. Only the station platform survives. There are many old people.

There are downsides to living among so many elderly people – they speed-dial the GP surgery as soon as the switchboard opens and pinch all the appointments.  

There are upsides as well – the seniors smile at my children and say sweet things. They also drop their shopping lists around the village – mainly in the woefully understocked and farcically overstaffed local Tesco. My favourite recent find is above. It is written on a page taken from a reusable diary from the last century. 

Milk – essential for tea and coffee which have already been bulk bought for fear of running out. My parents still manage to have at least 2 jars of ‘Mellow Birds’ coffee in their cupboard at all times.

Brown Bread – unlikely to be the very earthy stuff coated in bark-like matter, but a nod towards the need to stay ‘regular’.

2 Tins Oranges – more roughage. Also has the potential to be fashioned into something approaching a ‘dessert’. Peeling fresh oranges must just seem an unnecessary fuss when you reach a certain age.

1 small tin ham – not expecting any company and not fond of leftover ham stored in the fridge.

Tissues – for use while sniffling in the GP waiting area (see above). Can be blown into like a little bugle of triumph while listening to younger villagers being told that all the day’s appointments have gone.

‘Iron Bru’ – he got the ‘Bru’ bit right, but we all know that it’s ‘Irn Bru’. Curious choice for an elderly chap. Perhaps it’s a mixer for….

Bottle Whisky – why not? If I reach the lifestyle signified by this list, I’ll have strong spirits too – probably listed above ‘Milk’.

Savlon Cream – hot on the heels of ‘Whisky’ - I wonder if an allergic reaction is expected….

Monday, July 28, 2014

'But we cannot cling to the old dreams any more...'


‘He looks more or less the same as he did in 1985.’

I had made my way to the front of the crowd to get a closer look at Johnny Marr. I had hoped that he would look ravaged and old – as ravaged and old as I look. I thought I might even get close enough to see his roots.

‘Did you have a boogie Daddy?’

My daughters were dancing about in their little festival hats.

‘No I didn’t have a ‘boogie’ darling. Most of the songs are Smiths songs – they weren’t written for to ‘boogie’ to.’

I looked around. Many of the mummies at the ‘family-friendly’ festival had indeed succumbed to the urge to ‘boogie’ – or just jiggle a bit if they were carrying infants. Most of the men were singing along with far away looks in their eyes. A few of them swayed dreamily until children tugged on their cargo shorts. A couple of them got really carried away in their reverie, waved their hands about and tossed quiffs that they no longer possessed.

Maude was sat on Lenny’s handcart. Ever the prudent Scot, Lenny had brought his own hand-powered transport and only attracted a few dozen perplexed glances from the hordes of families who had shelled out at ‘Mr Trolley’ for a natty pull-along cart. The carts came in handy to transport camping gear and/or well-dressed children with names like Oscar and Martha. The carts even came with a canvas roof which gave them the look of miniature pioneer wagons.

Many parents had been to the festival hat shop and had found it hard to resist the owner’s patter:
‘Come inside and get yourself some ‘Hattitude’!’

Brisk business was done in cowboy hats that would soon adorn wardrobe tops all over North London - once the dust had settled in the wake of a middle-aged stampede to see if Johnny’s roots were showing.

‘So, why did you come all that way back to us? I thought you were enjoying being at the front.’

‘The walkie-talkie started flashing and I couldn’t hear what you were saying. Thought it might be urgent.....’

‘I was just asking if you were having a good time, silly!
Anyway, now you’re back could you go and get some more doughnuts and don’t let Casta carry the chocolate dip this time.’

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Conveniences I have known #1

In the 80’s I worked in the National Health Service. I was a Clerical Officer. My sister Bernadette got me an interview as she was already (and remains) a hospital cashier. I worked in a converted Victorian house in South Manchester. The majority of the permanent staff was female: they had 2 toilets and the chaps (of which there were 4 in all) had one smaller toilet. The male toilet was also required by male visitors attending meetings and the doctors who popped in to pilfer stationery and borrow sphygmomanometers (which I kept in a special drawer and enjoyed mentioning in all their polysyllabic glory). 

The male toilet was also used if there was a run on the 2 female conveniences and a female colleague was ‘caught short’. Because of this eventuality a female member of staff had installed a small poster. The poster had been customised and bore an image of a cute baby elephant which was standing on its hind legs to wee into a toilet. The baby elephant looked back at the viewer with a cheeky look. The poster’s text read thus:

‘If you sprinkle when you tinkle
Be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.’

One only noticed the poster on exit. I did always wonder if a visiting ‘tinkler’ would actually tarry to the ‘wipe the seatie’.

The organisation was managed by a nice chap called Ray. If South Manchester Health Authority could be thought of a foreign empire, then someone had seen fit to banish Ray to an outpost where he could do little harm. Ray’s preoccupations in the absence of any meaningful decision-making became more and more domestic – which felt apt in what had been, and still felt like, a house. I accidentally fused the building by inserting a fork into the toaster in the basement kitchen. Ray appeared in the dimly lit kitchen holding his cigarette lighter in front of him. He had the look of an old family retainer who was disappointed by the actions of a guest who had failed to understand the workings of the house.

I realised that Ray really didn’t have enough to do when he conducted an investigation into the ownership of an unflushable stool in the male toilet. Each male member of staff was summoned to his office. In my case, this involved Ray calling the switchboard in the old parlour to ask the receptionist to send up the ‘one who can’t work the toaster’ who works in the old dining room. She shouted through from the old parlour with her hand over the receiver.

I noticed a paperclip on the carpet as I entered Ray’s office. I bent to retrieve it.

‘Leave that there,’ he said. ‘That’s been there for a week now. That ‘cleaner’ Alma has been too busy talking to spot that. Anyway, that’s not why you’re here.’

I awaited something momentous. The possibilities were:

 a dressing down for the toaster incident

 a rebuke for not keeping a straight face when Ray lost a filling for a week and whistled when he spoke

 admonishment for isolating the most innuendo-strewn patient record card I could find and keeping it in a special drawer for my own amusement on slow days (a Mr Newdick who really lived on Knob Hall Gardens, God rest him)

'Now, young man,’ my boss began with great import.

‘This is serious. Was that you? That thing in the gents’?’

Friday, June 27, 2014

'Job Ready'

When I first came to Newcastle I was seduced by the majestic sweep of Grey Street on a lovely spring day.

‘I could live here,’ I thought. And so I did.

I was back on Grey Street this morning, but it felt different. I was scheduled to sign my life away as a temp.

‘You will need to come in and fill in all the forms. 
So you've been doing the childcare - very brave! 
Is that your daughter in the background? 
Eee! She sounds lovely. 
A bit distressed.... but lovely.’

The girl had a sing-song Geordie voice. Of course she did.

I’ve been fruitlessly applying for jobs for some time now. I rarely even get the courtesy of a response. I feel like the Celie character in ‘The Color Purple’- the one who writes letters to God.

‘Just go and see some agencies. Temp a bit. You can catch up with the housework at the weekend.’

Maude, as ever, gave astute counsel.

I approached a busy junction in central Newcastle and felt a little fazed. I don’t get into the city much and it all felt a bit hectic.

I could see into the temp office from across the road. It had a cheerful colour scheme of bright primary colours and young people were moving around inside, carrying pieces of paper.

I was a few minutes early and well-dressed urban types were enjoying coffee outside Blake’s CafĂ©. I wasn’t early enough to do the same. I was early enough to stroll up and down outside for a while looking a little odd.

The young people carrying the pieces of paper didn’t look very formally dressed. This was good news - as I had opted for chinos and casual shirt.

A part of me had a very potent urge to just strip off on Grey Street. To strip right off and announce myself in the office in a state of absolute nudity. 

I would be 80-odd kilos of pink flesh thrown into glorious relief against the cheery coloured interior that was fooling no-one. 

I would be a newborn delivered into the world of work.

‘Livery me as you please and point me at a job!’