Talking Shop #4

I work Saturdays in a shop on H____ Road in Hull. Let’s call the shop Oddbury’s. Every Saturday I write down the funny things I hear. These are real conversations with real people about the things they’re buying and what they mean to them. Names have been changed to protect people’s identities. Paul is my co – worker.

Saturday 13th February 2016, 11.12 a.m. Jim 62, works in a secondhand electricals shop, Paul 59, shop assistant, Trish 34 Housewife, Aaron 15 Trish’s son.

Trish: You got any better razors than these?

Paul: Those are good ones. I use those. You can’t go wrong for a pound with those.

Trish: I’ve had these before, to do my legs. Cut me to ribbons they did. I looked like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre betime I’d finished. Still, they’re not for me – they’re for him (jabbing a thumb at Aaron).

Paul: Oh right.

Trish: Yeah. He needs to sort his hair out, don’t you?

Aaron is dressed in a track suit. He is much taller than Trish. At about 6ft tall he towers over his mother who approaches the height of her son’s shoulder. He is wearing a beanie hat and has his hood up so we can’t see what’s wrong with his hair.

Aaron: Grunts and gazes up at the ceiling.

Trish: I said don’t you?

Aaron: Ignores her and carries on staring at the ceiling.

Trish: (Shouting) Honestly, I have had it up to here with him. He’s been suspended from school haven’t you? I said haven’t you? Tell the man why.

Before giving Aaron a chance to respond she continues…

Because of his hair cut, that’s why! Monday, I gets a phone call from the school. Can I go and pick him up? Can I hell like. What’s up I say? He’s got an extreme hair cut. I says, what the hell are you talking about? I mean, I don’t call a short back and sides extreme. I mean, he puts gel in it but what lad his age doesn’t these days?

Jim: They look like Elvis with these quiffs these young lads that I see around. That’s a throw back to when I was young. If I still had hair… (he motions to Aaron) … I say, if I still had hair…

Aaron completely ignores him and Trish takes up the baton again…

Trish: Well this assistant head, I’ve spoken to him before – last time he got suspended – Oh, it’s not the first time, is it? I said is it?

Aaron ignores her.

Trish: No it’s not (she answers here own question). Tell them what you got suspended for last time. Go on.

Aaron ignores her.

Trish: Well I’ll tell them. It was that, what was it?

Aaron: Jesus Army…

Trish: What? What did you say? You are a SARKY. LITTLE. BASTARD.

Aaron: You asked me!

Trish: It was this religious thing that they were having in assembly. What was it?

Aaron: (Infuriated)I just said! The Jesus Army.

Trish: Don’t you give me any of that backchat you SARCASTIC. LITTLE… you are a sarcastic little bastard and one day that tongue of yours is going to… Anyway, what was it? This religious organisation, I’ve no idea who they are. I mean, me and Aaron, we’re not particularly religious are we? I mean, I believe in God but I don’t particularly want it shoved down my throat and I don’t want it shoved down my son’s either so I’m happy for him to express his opinion but, tell them what you said.

She doesn’t wait

Trish: I’ll tell them. Well one of them, these

Aaron: Jesus Army

Trish: Blokes is up there on stage talking away in front of the whole school…

Aaron: Year 10

Trish: Or whatever, talking about God and what not, and the Assistant Head, the one I spoke to, he did tell me on the phone that this fella had a look of Jesus but I mean, that’s no excuse, and our Aaron’s got up – stood up, in front of the whole school…

Aaron: Year 10.

Trish: And shouted – ‘Get back on the cross Jesus!’

There is a stunned silence.

Paul: What did he get suspended for this time?

Trish: Well, let me get back to where I am… Where was I?

Jim: His hair, you were on the phone to the Head.

Trish: (causticaly) It was the Assistant Head. The Head won’t speak to me. Anyway… yeah, he’s said, (adopts a ‘posh’ voice) ‘well Mrs Rankin, he might have left home with a short back and sides but that is most definitely not what he has turned up at the school gates with.’

Pauses for effect. Now everyone is staring at Aaron who is smirking ever so slightly.

Trish: Well, when he got home… tell them… tell them what you’ve got…He’s only gone and got the German flag shaved into his head. The German bloody flag!

Jim: It’s all this Dutch Land ’93. They’re all into. My daughter is. It’s one of these foreign things on telly.

Paul: (Lets out a sigh and rolls his eyes) Deutschland ’83. 1983, not ’93.

Jim: It’s quite good actually. A fair bit of shagging in it.

Aaron: Let’s out a suppressed laugh.

Trish: (exploding at her son. This provocation is more than her nerves can take.) YOU LOOK – LIKE A. FUCKING. IDIOT!

Aaron: Alright…

Trish: No! It is very much not alright! And you are going to shave that stupid bloody thing off your head as soon as we get home.

Aaron: I’m allowed to express an opinion.

Jim: Oh aye? Which opinion are you expressing at the moment. You look like a Rastafarian with that hat on. Show us what you got…

Trish: NO! Do not encourage him… it’s more than my nerves…

Aaron whips off the hat defiantly and glares, shaking with rage, at his mother. His head is shaved to the skin apart from where he has left unshaven, standing proud, in thick, jet – black hair, the shape of an enormous swastika.

Jim and Paul burst into hysterical laughter, falling around on the counter. There are tears rolling down their cheeks.

Aaron storms out of the shop and shouts, ‘fuck off!’ after him.

Says Trish of her purchase: I’m still buying these. I’ll hold him down and shave his fucking head myself if I’ve got to. ‘Cos I tell you. I will not tolerate it. I will not tolerate him lying in bed at home for another week fiddling with his bits while he’s watching Jeremy Kyle. He can get his head shaved and fuck off from under my feet back to that bloody school where he belongs.

Overheard anything funny lately? Please share it with us below. It’s more fun when you play along at home!

Read more from Hull’s finest at:

Talking Shop #1

Talking Shop #2

Talking Shop #3

 

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Talking Shop #3

I work Saturdays in a shop on H____ Road in Hull. Let’s call the shop Oddbury’s. Every Saturday I write down the funny things I hear. These are real conversations with real people about the things they’re buying and what they mean to them. Names have been changed to protect people’s identities. Paul is my co – worker.

Saturday 13th February 2016, 11.12 a.m. Jim 62, works in a secondhand electricals shop, Jennifer 38, single mother and Paul 59, shop assistant

Paul alerts my attention to a car that has pulled up to the kerb opposite the shop. The driver is wearing a crash helmet! Jennifer gets out of the car and enters the shop, still wearing the crash helmet.

Jennifer: (muffled because she can’t be heard due to the helmet): do you sell sanitary towels?

Paul: Look out, it’s The Stig. Is this a robbery?

Jennifer: what? Oh this? (She wrestles the crash helmet off with some difficulty).

Jim: (to Paul) She could pull my helmet off.

Jennifer: I always wear a crash helmet in the car now since I got shunted up the back end last year.

Jim laughs at this and repeats: shunted up the back end!

Jennifer: Yes. It was at the roundabout near the Humber Bridge. I was waiting and then I set off to go and then I stopped and then… it just all went wrong. A Mercedes drove straight into me! Bang! Whiplash. And I cut my head open on the steering wheel. I was in hospital for a week.

Jim: my wife’s in hospital at the moment with a bad back.

Jennifer: Is she really? Oh the poor woman. Oh it’s a terrible place, honestly, it’s… the food is horrendous. But a bad back. That must be simply awful (makes sad face).

Paul: my ex wife was in hospital once with that – a bad back.

Jim: They call it sciatica. That’s what the doc says it is, sciatica.

Jennifer: Oh god! My Nan had that! She was really in quite a bad way and she got taken into hospital. I went to visit her on the ward but it was a very disturbing experience.

Jim: Oh?

Jennifer: Yes, one of the women on the ward was shouting out constantly. Just shouting and shouting, she was really distressed. And then she took her clothes off and bit one of the nurses!

Jim: A sciatica ward?

Paul: Are you sure that wasn’t a psychiatric ward?

Jennifer: Oh yes. That was it. A sciatictra ward.

Jennifer bought a pack of sanitary towels. Jennifer says: I know a lot of people think I’m slightly eccentric but I’m just me. I’m just a bit different and there’s nothing wrong with that. I was checking my make up the day that guy drove into the back of me so I suppose it was my fault but since the accident I’ve suffered with anxiety. I won’t drive anywhere without my helmet on now. I think it should be made mandatory. I honestly do. You wouldn’t be able to ride a motorbike without a crash helmet. A car’s no different. Apart from you’re inside the vehicle rather than sat on it.

If you liked this week’s you’ll love the last two in the series! You can read them here:

Talking shop #1

Talking shop #2

Talking shop - it's grin up north!

 

I’ve Never Kissed Jacob Rees – Mogg

I’ve never kissed Jacob Rees – Mogg. This is a matter of public record. And as an avowed socialist (well, I like to socialise) and a heterosexual man, there’s no shame in that.

The reason I bring it to your attention is on account of a non – story that broke across media outlets yesterday. You may have seen pictures of this T – Shirt in the paper or on social media:

I hope if you did see it you were sensible enough to turn over the page to search out a proper news story about something that matters like a humanitarian crisis or a war. There are a few to choose from at the moment but if not then you would have been regaled with statistics from a recent YouGov poll.

It has unearthed  fascinating evidence that UK voters are becoming increasingly politically polarised. 28% of Labour supporters said they would be unhappy if their offspring were to marry a Conservative and the number who said they would be ‘very upset’ is up from 4% to 10% since 8 years ago.So that’s less than half. Presumably the rest couldn’t give a toss.

Similarly, 19% of Tories would be moved to despair if their child brought home someone with leftist sympathies and a further 6% would be again, very upset.

This raises several interesting questions for me:

  1. Where do these pollsters find their respondents? If someone turned up on my doorstep with a clip board wondering how I would react in 10 years time or so to the political leanings of my now 8 year old daughter’s imagined lover, I would struggle to find the words to answer. Particularly if it was during the daytime. I mean, if they interrupted Doctors or Homes Under the Hammer  I’d be livid.
  2. How do you define ‘very upset’? If I was very upset I would start to cry and surely the spectacle of a parent crying at your new BF’s mention of the junior doctor’s strike or HS2 would be awkward enough to ruin any potential romantic entanglement?
  3. We are British. No one is ever going to bring up politics at the dinner table. And anyway, the turn out for the last general election was only 66%. Even if you did air your views, a third of the people dining with you couldn’t give two shits whether you admire Jeremy Corbyn or not and the other two thirds would be too embarrassed at your transgression to say anything. Cue the awkward scuffle of cutlery on dinnerware and someone commenting on how good the beef is to disperse the tension.

Enter ‘The Mogg’ into the debate. Rees – Mogg was one of only two actual MPs who seem to have responded to requests for quotes about this ‘issue’.  The other was Labour’s Stephen Pound. I say only two. It could be more but in my ‘research’ for this blog post I’ve read two articles both with exactly the same quotes from the same MPs.

Rees – Mogg is a politician whose back story reads like that of a character from a PG Wodehouse novel. Educated at Eton he went on to Trinity College Oxford and then into finance. Almost immediately upon his entry into the Commons he earned the status of a cult figure.

Rees – Mogg would take a fairly sanguine line where his daughter to bring home a Labour supporter, saying: “My eldest is eight but if they were to grow up and marry a socialist I should be absolutely fine with that. Of course during dinner discussions it is very unlikely they would ever be right, but you might convert them.”

For whatever bizarre reason I cannot tell you but this made me imagine what it would be like if I took Rees – Mogg home to meet my parents. As I’ve already indicated, I’m not gay, but I will admit to having a small ‘man – crush’ on the MP for North East Somerset.There’s something about Jacob’s penchant for three – piece tweed suits and double breasted jackets that I just find ineffably stylish. It’s not that he looks good in them. If anything the way the Mogg’s jackets are cut makes him look a bit like he’s wearing a smock of some sort – it’s just that Jacob doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He likes what he likes and if that’s a cut that was popular in the 1920s then so be it.

 

I found the picture below on his website.

 

 

Jacob Rees - Mogg and a chicken farmer
Jacob Rees – Mogg and a chicken farmer

 

I will admit to being a little bit jealous of the chicken farmer. So it’s not wholly inconceivable that I might invite him over to ours for a chicken dinner – Jacob Rees-Mogg that is, not the chicken farmer. But how would things go?

For one thing, there would be no ‘during dinner discussions’. Tea would be served on a tray in front of the telly and woe – betide the man who talks over Sarah Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare. Particularly if it’s to elucidate a finer point about European Parliamentary bureaucracy. I imagine Jacob crouching awkwardly on the edge of our shapeless sofa trying to balance a tray slopping over with gravy on his knee.

Secondly, Jacob would never be right. Neither am I ever right. Nor is my sister. My mother is seldom right either. The only person who is right in our house is my Dad. Dad is right about many subjects that he has no knowledge of: the wage structures of major sports clubs, the workings of all automobiles, women, how best to use social media (not at all), gardening, engineering – with a particular interest in large scale civil engineering projects, other cultures, foreign travel and of course politics.

Dad is the kind of man who would sport one of these T -Shirts:

Right wrong t shirt
Yorkshire Right. The rest of the country wrong.
the power of stupid people in large groups
Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.
Nye bevin quote
Nye Bevan rats quote
liberals_-_taking_part_-_yel_mens_4_1
The Liberals: it’s not the winning. It’s the taking part.
labour I prefer their early work
Labour: I prefer their early work

Tea at ours would be an intensely uncomfortable affair for Jacob Rees – Mogg. Thankfully, for both of us, it will never happen. We move in different circles and I don’t think we share any friends on Facebook. Still, if you’re reading Jacob, the offer’s always there…

 

Lost in Ikea…

ikea-map

I have long been a fan of the ‘heroic age’ of exploration: Mallroy and Irvine, Captain Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Ray Mears. These names echo through the ages. Finding the Poles and Everest somewhat inaccessible I have conducted some of my own, more modest, but nonetheless equally perilous, expeditions through modern life. Here I bring you my experiences and some advice for fellow explorers.

The map on first glance is not overly complicated though the ‘find your way in the Self Serve Furniture Area’ diagram looks like a schematic of a nuclear reactor.

The more you wander the show room though, the more the map starts to take on the appearance of a diabolical maze. The clean, ordered white lines of the Showroom and Market Hall diagrams, and the gently meandering dotted white line that marks out your seamless progress through the store, bears no relation to the reality of the situation you find yourself in when ‘on the ground’.

Upon arrival in the entrance foyer you are immediately presented with a scene reminiscent of the American withdrawal from Saigon, minus the helicopters. The flow of humanity through the seemingly haphazardly arranged layout of the store presses you onward. No beating against the tide here. Missed the stylish chrome towel rail you saw on their website last night? Can’t find that discounted storage unit that you thought would be in the ‘bedroom area’ but wasn’t? Thinking of turning back for a second look? Forget it.

I turned back, like a salmon seeking it’s spawning ground. I decided to swim against the tide to locate a desktop lamp that I thought would look nice on our kitchen table. The name of the item was a string of vowels, some with umlauts hovering over them, no consonants, which made pronunciation inadvisable. Asking for help was rendered futile. ‘Are you looking for the Äeoiae or the Øöeaüo?’

I saw grown men weeping.

Advice for fellow explorers

Items to pack for your journey:

  • Tamazepan or Valium and/or sizable hip flask containing spirits depending on the length of stay.
  • Mindfulness colouring book and pencils in case things really do get testing.
  • Compass, in case you find that the map you pick up at the entrance doesn’t match the layout of the store (as I did). I had to escape through a ventilation duct.
  • Credit card: just as the 1921 expedition members to Everest found the silent whiteness of the ice – bound world they discovered powerfully alluring, deciding to go back several times until most of them were dead, so will you find the siren call of cheap, minimalist Swedish designed furniture difficult to resist.

 

 

Review: Marie and Me, The KonMari method

Every week I try a different self – help guide’s life advice. Here’s how I got on with Marie Kondo.

Here’s the thing with me and Marie: at first everything was great between us. There was the initial excitement of a new relationship, the butterflies in the stomach every time I opened ‘The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying,’ counting down the seconds until I could get home from work to be with her. Then there was the physical stuff: tearing our clothes off the shelves, arranging our cups in the cup drawer, folding our socks – all the usual ‘new relationship stuff’. After that though, things fizzled out a bit between us.

Don’t get me wrong, Marie’s a great girl. She’s upbeat (relentlessly), she’s organised (goes with the territory really), I mean – she’d never forget to remind you it was your mum’s birthday. And she’s got a great sense of humour too, I think. When she’s in the mood she can say some pretty funny things, possibly unintentionally, but nevertheless – she’s entertaining company. And she smiles – a lot.

But that’s kind of the thing really. You could never take Marie down the pub to meet your mates. You’d always be a bit concerned she might say something odd. Robbo’s pulled a muscle playing footie for instance. Marie’s advice is along the lines of: ‘a firm but gentle massage by human hands does more to loosen knotted muscles that being pummelled by a massage machine.’

Fair play you think. Nothing too controversial in that. ‘The energy that flows from the person’s hands into our skin seems to heal both body and soul,’ she continues. She’s had a fair bit to drink  by this point: ‘The same is true for our clothes.’

Sorry? What was that Marie? ‘When we take our clothes in our hands and fold them neatly, we are, I believe, transmitting energy…’ and on she goes.

And then there’s the jealously to deal with. My wife Annie was well and truly sick of Marie by the end of the week. ‘Marie says this, Marie says that… why don’t you just go and bloody well live with bloody Marie bloody Kondo? I mean, where have all my hair grips gone?’

Oh sure though – credit where credit’s due. If Marie’s taught me one thing I’ll take away from this it’s that focusing on what you want to keep and the joy that those items bring you is more important than the tidiness aspect of it all. Just don’t let the lads here me saying that.

With less stuff to sift through I spend less time worrying about what to wear, which shoes go with which shirt, whether the lime green cords really go with anything. I’ve kept a few shirts and jeans that just go with each other and to hell with it.

We ‘Kondoed’ the kitchen and the bedrooms and the house feels fresher. We threw away enough paper work to build and igloo out of and about a dumper truck full of crappy plastic toys. That bit felt liberating. Now that we’re liberated and the house is very spartan it could, ironically, pass for the interior of an East Berlin condominium circa 1978. It feels a bit cold without all our old stuff.

On the plus side. Now that we’ve got nothing left we’ll need to go shopping. Just for some essentials. And I love a good shopping spree.

Next week my self – help binge continues with Paul Arden’s ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.’

Clear out confidential…

So it’s time to embark on ‘Kondoing’ our home but there’s a stumbling block already. We’ve decided that clothes are the Achilles heal of our tidiness problem so following Marie Kondo’s advice to work on one category at a time we’re starting with a whole scale clear out of our clothes.

ugg boots 2

My initial skepticism about the KonMari method overcome I am enthusiastically ditching my clothes by the bin – bag full. The vile lime green and black checked Burberry shirt – does it ‘spark joy’ KonMari asks? Presumably it did around 15 years ago when I paid £215 for it at Birmingham Bullring but I have worn it a handful of times and it has languished in a early – noughties ghetto in my wardrobe for a decade and a half. I feel a small tug at the heartstrings as I pitch it into the bin bag but as soon as it disappears inside the guilty feeling is replaced by a strangely vertiginous rush of euphoria. Turns out that throwing away, donating, disposing, consigning one’s possessions to oblivion is actually quite addictive.

The kids have got in on the act too. Gretchen (who we call G) is sifting through piles of decapitated and limbless barbies, dismembered teddies and broken roller skates. She draws the line at disposing of Mifkin, her 9 year old Steiff bear who, having very little fur left and only one, leering glass eye, is frankly terrifying, . She does, however, consent to have him washed so at least we can rid him of the faint whiff of piss that clings to him. Small steps.

All is going so well until I check on Annie’s progress. She is sat on a vast clothes mountain on our bed, her head only a foot away from the ceiling.

‘How’s it going?’ I ask.

‘Good!’ She is reading a copy of Take a Break magazine. ‘Have you heard about this woman? She didn’t know she had a mouse living in her hair for three months until it fell out one day!’

‘I meant with the clothes. Have you thrown any away yet?’

‘Some. A bikini. A pair of pants with some brown stains on them.’

‘What about these boots?’ I ask.

‘THOSE?!’ She is incredulous. ‘They’re Uggs! They were really expensive. And you bought them for me.’

It’s true, they were, and I did. We got them on our honeymoon in New York. I remember the exact day, the weather, how much fun it was to wander around Manhattan visiting all the shops and how happy we were, high on the euphoria of being newly married and in The Big Apple. If you parachuted me into Central Park tomorrow I could find the exact Ugg shop we purchased those from. Holding them in my hand awakens some of those memories.

But the zip is broken now and in any case, they are pink and Annie hasn’t worn them in the five years she’s owned them because pink doesn’t go with anything she owns.

‘I can get the zip replaced,’ she says, raising her eyebrows in a mock sad expression. I feel like a mean spirited bailiff stripping a penniless woman of her television or something.

‘OK! You can have those,’ she says springing down from the clothes pile, ‘but I am keeping these.’ She clings a vile pair of luminous orange Crocs to her chest as though they were a naked baby.

‘They’re vile Annie.’

‘But they’re mine!’ she says defiantly and flounces out.

Small steps.

 

Das Boot

I recently re – watched Das Boot in it’s entirety. For a bit of light relief. Worryingly, I identified quite strongly with the U – Boat captain. Especially during the scene when they are stricken on the bottom of the sea waiting to be torpedoed.

DasBoot-Still1
Worryingly, I identified quite strongly with the U – Boat Captain.

‘Know how you feel mate,’ I said to him, even though he couldn’t hear me – he being stuck on the bottom of the sea in the straights of Gibraltar and me being at home in Hull. And what with him being fictional and all…

But the point is, I feel like lately things have been building up on me. Not fathoms of sea water but small everyday things. My wife is not speaking to me now because of the £300 fine she got for not insuring her car (that’s correct…). All of the lights in the kitchen don’t work. Today I had to wear one blue sock and one black sock to go to work because I couldn’t find a matching pair. I imagine that Capt.-Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock knows exactly how I feel.

Fair play to him, he probably had more on his mind than mismatching underwear but that’s not the point. He was in what one might, without fear of understating the case, call a tight spot. And I feel like, over the years, I have let things tighten around me without really noticing it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing my plight with that of a stricken submarine crew (well, I am a bit) and I’m not unhappy, or at least, I don’t think I am. I mean, I don’t really think about it at all, I just plow through the days in the same way that everyone around me seems to.

What started as mild procrastination has got out of hand. Now I am faced with something that I can’t get a handle on. When I think about what needs to be sorted out I can’t see a way in. I can’t think how to get started. And if I do get started, what will I uncover? I haven’t checked my bank account for months. I daren’t log in to Experian to check my credit rating and I stopped opening mail about a year ago.

Once I’d put the kids to bed on Friday I sat at the kitchen table and decided to make a list of the top 10 things that I would change about my life, in priority order:

  1. To be happy
  2. To not be nearly bankrupt
  3. To not feel disorganised
  4. To have more time with my kids
  5. To have time to be creative
  6. To feel physically healthy

And I couldn’t think of any more…

Staring at me from the page the list didn’t seem unmanageable. ‘This is a start,’ I told myself, feeling almost proud. ‘And making a start is the hardest thing to do,’ I said, looking at the short list.

And then I thought, what now?

Typical Friday meltdown part 3…

‘Look after your sister,’ I tell Gretchen and I go to hunt for the insurance documents in a pile of stuff, well, it’s more of a sizable mound of stuff on top of the Welsh dresser.

‘The pile’ (it has a name) has a permanent home on top of the Welsh dresser. The Welsh dresser is neither Welsh, nor a dresser. I don’t know how to describe what the Welsh dresser is in terms of its’ design, or indeed, its’ intended function. It’s kind of a tall, deep, white box that stands on legs. We bought in the sale from Ikea about 18 months ago and having neither drawers nor shelving and being too deep to reach the bottom of without climbing into, it is possibly the most impractical object we own.

It cost and arm and a leg and ironically one of its’ legs is broken so it lists quite heavily to one side, meaning that any object placed on top of it will slide towards the wall where it irrevocably becomes part of  ‘the pile’.

The pile has been with us for as long as the Welsh dresser has. From the moment we brought the Welsh dresser home it began to gather bits of paperwork, odd socks, bits of plastic stuff (the kind of thing that is left over in the box after you’ve assembled a piece of flat pack furniture but doesn’t seem to be indicated in the instructions anywhere), pamphlets, books, magazines, ties, bras, combs, unpaired gloves, pregnancy tests, a variety of chargers and adapters, school reports, recipes clipped from the Sunday lifestyle supplements. As much as the Welsh dresser attracts the kind of items that can only be classified as ‘stuff’, its’ gravitational field seeming to exert a particularly potent effect on the subcategory of stuff labelled ‘crap’, in some way it also acts as a repository for our failed aspirations.

The reason the pile is home to so many clippings from The Times Magazine about pilates, or the benefits of swimming, which are the best colours to paint a hallway with no natural light and how to make a magical tagine to go with sweet potatoes, is because we cut them out and place them on a vast to – do list, which is kind of what ‘the pile’ is. It’s where good intentions go to die. Whenever a piece of correspondence, such as a letter relating to a recently expired car insurance policy, is placed on ‘the pile’, what the person placing it there is saying is, ‘I firmly intend to deal with you, soon.’

‘You got it yet?’ says Annie dashing through the door.

‘I think it’s in here somewhere,’ I say looking at ‘the pile’.

She looks at me uncertainly. ‘Well he’s getting pretty insistent.’

‘Do you want to invite him in for a cuppa whilst I start looking?’

All hope drains from her eyes. ‘I’ll just have to accept the fine then,’ she says, throwing her arms up.

I nod, resigned to this. ‘How much?’

‘Three hundred quid.’

‘Fuck that,’ I say. ‘Go and stall him.’

The pile was quite benign at first but turned malignant, starting to metastasise other rooms in the house. There are offshoots of the pile in the kitchen, the downstairs toilet, several surfaces in the living room have semi – permanent piles of their own and every drawer you open has versions of the pile.

The insurance documents could be anywhere in the main tumor of the pile or in one of its matastases.

Two minutes later and Annie’s back. ‘He gave me the fine,’ she says flatly. Her eyes are ringed with black smudges of mascara. She looks like she’s just come in from an Alice Cooper gig. ‘And six points on my licence.’

‘Shit,’ I say, ‘when do we have to pay the fine by?’

‘I don’t know Ludek. I don’t care either. I’m fed up with this.’ She stomps upstairs.

‘Shall I make you a cup of tea?’

A door slams and is followed by the sound of Annie flinging herself onto the bed. There is a short hysterical scream, and then silence.

‘It’s not my fault,’ I shout, to no response. The kids and I stand at the bottom of the stairs listening for a while.

‘Is mum mad?’ asks Gretchen.

‘I don’t think so, really,’ I say, ‘I think she’s probably just tired.’

‘Is she going to prison?’

‘Only if we’re very lucky.’

Gretchen doesn’t laugh at this. She walks off into the living room and quietly pushes the door to behind her.

Bobby has stopped crying now. She hugs my leg and I pat her on the head to reassure her. She sighs loudly.

‘Done a poo poo in my nappy,’ she says.

 

Typical Friday meltdown part 2…

‘Shut that bloody door!’ I shout out of sheer panic, just as an officer in a high – viz jacket steps into the living room, radio crackling. I marshal my facial features into an expression which I hope says a mixture of:

  1. Is there a problem here officer?
  2. There is nothing you can book me for, literally nothing (I am at least 45% certain of that)
  3. I haven’t just woken up. Honest.

‘It’s about the car insurance,’ says Annie, biting her bottom lip.

The lawman is looking around the living room. ‘Please don’t look at our living conditions,’ I want to say but my mouth is just moving. I try to force a sound out.

‘It’s actually you that we want to speak to miss,’ he says to my wife.

Annie gives me a look that says, ‘Please swap bodies with me.’

‘The insurance is with Hastings Direct,’ I tell him, hedging my bets. It could be with any of the major insurers but I have seen a Hastings advert recently; probably in between episodes of Peppa Pig.

‘If you could get the documents…’ he says to me and walks off to the patrol car parked on the drive. ‘Could you come with me please miss?’

Annie gives me a panicked look over her shoulder mouthing, ‘Is it insured?’

‘Hope so,’ I mouth back, as reassuringly as one can when mouthing the word ‘hope’ to one’s spouse who is being ushered into the back of a police car.

This doesn’t inspire confidence in Annie who starts to cry. This is fucking embarassing, I think.

‘Naughty man?’ asks Bobbie.

‘Is mummy being arrested?’ asks Gretchen.

‘I don’t know,’ I say to myself. Realising I have said this aloud I reassure the kids, ‘No. Definitely not,’ I say, ‘definitely not.’

This has the exact opposite effect from what was intended. Gretchen’s eyes well with tears.

‘Naughty man? Mummy go naughty man?’ asks Bobbie, a note of confusion evident in her tiny voice.

‘Erm…’ I say, not reassuringly.

Gretchen has started to cry properly now. When I say cry, what I actually mean is howl. I should say something about Gretchen’s crying at this point. She is 8 years old now and to my mind should have knocked all this crying malarkey on the head a long time ago. Recently though she has redoubled her endeavors in this field.

She has adopted a technique of throwing her head back, opening her mouth wide, scrunching her eyes up until the first tear comes (which can take up to half a minute to achieve) and then letting out a sound akin to a Vulcan bomber taking off.

The Vulcan bomber is now revving its’ engines. To this cacophony Bobbie now adds her own falsetto cheeping. ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy…’ she goes.

‘Don’t worry my darlings,’ I say, but the gentle tone I adopt in these situations is lost in the din of screaming and wailing.

From the kitchen window we can see Annie in the back of the patrol car, the loose bun in her hair waggling around when she variously nods and shakes her head. There is more shaking than nodding, which is concerning.

The patrol car still has its’ flashing lights on. I note that in the houses opposite neighbours have also come to their windows. I wave to Duncan and Mandy across the road; a gestured designed to let them know that this is all fine, just a mix – up, nothing to worry about. At all. But they don’t see me. Either that or they’re pretending they haven’t seen me. Or, alternatively,  they hate me, and this is the confirmation they were waiting for that I am a social deviant and someone they wouldn’t want to be associated with. Come to think of it, that would explain why they do seem to avoid me.

 

 

Typical Friday meltdown part 1…

So I am on the last minute picking Bobbie up from nursery again. ‘Don’t be the last one there, please don’t be the last one there… again,’ I repeat to myself as I hop up and down on the door step.

The door swings open to Jenny, Bobbie’s key – worker giving me that ‘tut – tut, it’s one minute past six,’ look that I’ve come to recognize so well.

‘Sorry,’ I begin, instinctively, ‘got held up at…’ but Jenny couldn’t give a Castlemaine XXXX if I’d been held up at work or at gun point. She wants to go home. Bobbie is overwhelmed with gladness to see me. ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy,’ she shrieks down my ear – hole, accidentally headbutting me as I pick her up to give her a kiss.

‘She’s had two poos,’ says Jenny.

‘Great.’

She looks at me like I’m a moron.

‘One of them got stuck.’ She wrinkles her nose up in distaste, ‘it was massive.’

‘Sorry ’bout that,’ I say, unsure quite why I’m apologising. After all it’s not like I took a shit. Jenny is probably 19 years old and has an NVQ in childcare. I am 35. I have two degrees, I am an assistant head of a large science department in a secondary school. I am married, have two kids, a mortgage, two cars, a dog.

I am terrified of Jenny.

Anyway, I tell myself, trudging down the path with Bobbie squirming under one arm and the car seat under the other, Jenny’s shift doesn’t finish until 6.30, don’t know what she’s got to be so huffy about.

Let’s be clear: Jenny hasn’t actually said anything judgmental, or even huffed. What she actually said was, ‘Bye – bye Bobbie. Have a great weekend!’ But she said it in a way that meant, ‘fuck off and don’t be late again next week.’

We push through the front door of our house, literally pushing it against a pile of junk mail, shoes, parts of a pram, an umbrella stand. Our front room looks bomb damaged. I sweep some stuff off the sofa so we can sit down.

Bobbie’s favourite episode of Peppa Pig is teed up and ready to go. I prepare to do the Friday night slump. Bobbie loves this little ritual of ours. ‘Daddy fall over, Daddy fall over,’ she shrieks with glee.

I stand about three feet from the sofa with my back to it. Check behind for clearance. Bobbie claps her hands excitedly, ‘go on Daddy, go on.’ I let all 6 foot three inches of my sixteen and a half stone frame fall backwards. One of these days this thing is going to collapse is the last thought that flashes through my head as my body impacts with the decaying leather sofa. A loud crack and a partial collapse of the sofa indicates that today is that day.

Bobbie launches herself onto my lap causing the sofa to subside a little more. ‘Mummy is going to be so pissed at you,’ I tell her. Bobbie gives me a sweet smile and giggles.

‘Pig?’ she says, pointing at the telly. I have found a compilation on YouTube that has about 4 and a half hours of Peppa Pig episodes strung together. Who uploads this stuff? And why? I mean, what’s in it for them?

Who cares. It will keep Bobbie quiet for approximately six minutes of those 4 and a half hours. The theme tune kicks in but my eyes have already started to close. I hear Daddy Pig’s mellifluous baritone drifting through my dream: ‘It can’t rain for ever,’ he says.

I want to scold him for his hubris. Oh you silly, rotund porcine. Don’t you know not to tempt fate like that?

And suddenly I am dragged from slumber like a drowning man pulled from a warm pool of mud and thrown into a freezing shower.

‘Ludek – wake up!’

It is Annie, my wife. My senses are instantly tuned and on red alert. Something is up. I detect a certain wildness about Annie. Her eyes seem to be saying, ‘Fucking get up. Quick!’

The front door is still open. Gretchen, my step daughter is almost certainly dawdling, gazing up at the stars or writing rude words in the dirt on my car. It is freezing. ‘Close that bloody door…’ I am about to shout when I become aware that the living room is pulsating with a feverish blue light.

Bobbie’s little face is a picture of confusion. She looks at me. ‘It’s the Police,’ Annie says, bottom lip wobbling, ‘they’re here. They want to talk to you about something.’