Finding Nemo…

Finding Nemo….

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Finding Nemo…

It’s a handsome fish, the mullet, I mused, as I gawped through the reinforced glass at the Hastings Aquarium. Well proportioned, classic piscine looks, nice even silvery colour. Your sort of quintessential fish, really. There was a fish that had everything going for it, but it had been entirely overshadowed – by a haircut. The world was a confusing and unjust place, I thought, as I propelled a pram full of new born baby boy.

The aquarium usually just made me hungry, but today something was amiss. Fish are supposed to be relaxing, but looking at all that busy seafood, hoovering up gravel and wafting about their tank in urgent circles, I began to feel a strange pang of anxiety. I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass as a turtle paddled by. I looked like a bemused gurnard.

I moved on to the reptiles. It was no better. Looking at the coiled African rock python I could only think of it slithering up my trouser leg, following the musky scent of a succulent, alopecias rodent laying dormant in its frowsty gusset…

“Look! Nemo, Daddy!” said my five year old daughter, pointing excitedly at a clown fish. Now there was a fish with good press. All the kids loved the clown fish. Just because it was gaudy orange and had a swim-on part in a movie. I bet they didn’t even realise they were talking Latin. Stupid kids… Not my five year old, you understand. She did know she was talking Latin. I’d explained at length. She didn’t know what Latin was, but that would come. In time… I said I thought the mullet was better. And less of a show-off. I felt a curious connection with the unassuming mullet…

Where was all this insidious anxiety coming from? Well, I’ll tell you. I blame my son. He’s only 14 days old, but I hold him responsible. Looking at that little feller, I keep wondering whether I’m fit. Not that sort of fit. I’m definitely not fit – I haven’t done any exercise for about two months. No, I mean, you know, fit to be respected, looked up to… What’s he going to think of the old man when he’s older?

I hate to say it, but I didn’t feel this pressure when my daughter was born. Curious really. I mean, I suppose I felt subconsciously that my wife was the prime role model. Saying that out loud makes me wince a bit, but that’s the truth, frankly. Now, suddenly I feel someone’s thrown me the ball… God, why did I use that metaphor? Hang on. That’s the whole bloody problem, isn’t it? I think that’s it. I feel a brooding sense that as the boy grows, I’m going to have to pretend to like sport. And, in particular, bloody football…

Strangely, I did rather like team sports at school. Especially rugby, but that was because I was good at it and could always run off on my own and grab the glory. Or palm people in the face. That was quite nice too. And the shorts. Properly short, with a drawstring and pockets. The perfect trouser, in my opinion. Especially if you have hot legs like I do – not in the Rod Stewart sense. My legs just get really hot. I don’t know why. But I digress…

I don’t mind ‘doing’ sport – especially solitary exercise, like running, where you don’t have to do all that physical bonhomie and roar at each other and ruffle people’s hair and stuff. The thing that I’m really worried about is having to pretend that I actually understand all that inane razzmatazz around football – let alone actually like it.

There’s no chance this side of eternity that I’m going to be able to rouse any credible enthusiasm about some educationally subnormal gang of bladder-kickers. That popularly accepted virtuosity that footballers are imbued with just isn’t really perceptible to me, to be honest. I mean, why not celebrate someone who can do a ’round the world’ with a yo-yo? What about spending years of social interaction droning on about people who can catch a stack of ten pence pieces that they’ve balanced on their elbow? How about devoting whole newspaper supplements to someone who can flip a pile of beermats on the edge of a table? I mean, if you can honestly admire someone who’s good at punting a ball about, you can make a hero out of someone like that too, can’t you?

But there’s the rub… Football’s the lingua franca of bloke-kind. It’s the social grease that lubricates a billion vapid and good natured masculine interactions. If I had a quid for every time I’ve been asked, ‘who do you support?’, I could keep up an enthusiastic bombardment of coins from the terraces for the full ninety minutes. I just can’t do that footy banter. I only know two teams, for God’s sake – Fulchester Rovers and Accrington Stanley. I couldn’t tell you who was winning the league or who plays for what team… It’s just not something I can summon interest in. It’s like the half roll of clingfilm in the kitchen drawer. I know it’s there, but I can’t conceive of an occasion where I’d be moved to talk about it. So, what the hell am I going to chat about with my son?

My son’s going to start coming home from school talking about ‘footy’ and expecting me to take him to watch a match and eat a pie or something. God forbid, he’s going to start asking me who I support. What am I going to say? “You, your sister and your mother”? It’s not going to wash more than once, is it? (And of course, frankly, it’s not even a particularly robust claim, at present… ‘Audacious corporate buccaneering’ etc etc…)

This is the thing about becoming the father to a son. Suddenly, you’re back at school again. It’s all about feats of strength and burping contests. You’ve got to show the kid the ropes, teach him the law of the jungle etc. And when, at 42, you’re still working it out for yourself, it’s a daunting prospect. I wonder if I can hire a tutor? Or maybe I just enlist a suite of God Fathers to school him in the masculine arts? Roger Moore for classes in wit and charm; a bit of instruction from Henry Cooper to deal with the bully in the playground; Sartorial matters? Alan Wicker, obviously; Manly prowess and insouciant swashbuckling, Maj. Digby Tatham Warter (who took on the Waffen SS with a furled umbrella*); bedroom arts and seduction..? Um… I can probably save some fees there – home-schooling: learn from the master, eh?

Big sigh…

Funny isn’t it? When you lay out the curriculum, it’s pretty tough to be a bloke. All those arts and sciences to master, all those heroes to live up to, and so few opportunities to do so… These days there’s never a Hun pillbox to assault when you need to prove yourself. Never a bar to drink dry, nor an arctic expedition to mount. Never a cup final to win – Oh, hang on… Do I suddenly get this football thing?

Men need someone to look up to, a fantasy to project their idealised self upon. All the little fish in the great global pond want to believe that one day they might be the big fish – otherwise, what’s the point, for God’s sake? I suppose football offers the most attainable of all fantasies, because all you need to be able to do in order to potentially live the dream, is propel a ball with your foot. Perhaps it says something about the endearing modesty of most blokes. They don’t idolise nuclear physicists, statesmen and visionaries, because they can’t really sustain the conceit that they could ever realise those fantasies. But with football they can. In a way, I’m slightly embarrassed to say my idols aren’t footballers. I’m afraid they’re closer to the physicists, statesmen and visionaries mentioned above. So what sort of bloody ego-maniac am I? Sweet Jesus…

I realised I’d circumnavigated the aquarium when I found myself staring again at the mullet. I wonder if he dreamed of being Nemo? Are all the little mullets dreaming of being Nemo? The latter’s all I’m ever likely to be – in latin, that is. A nobody. Still, perhaps life’s easier if you can just accept that. If I’m ever going to be a hero, it’s only ever going to be to this little boy. Time to stop dreaming. Perhaps it’s time to start liking football too…


To my mind the mullet has trumped the clown fish for all time, since it was once the subject of a Dick Emery verse, that has stuck with me, inexplicably, for at least 30 years. I’ve no idea why. It goes thus:

Tupper’s Fishcakes are the best
They’re filled with cod and mullet
They fill your stomach with delight
As they slip down your gullet.

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White Meat in the Summer Heat…

The Italians, my Grandad assured me, are somewhat short of martial spirit. He based that on their performance against the 8th Army in North Africa, so I can’t say for certain whether that trait endures seventy years later. What I can say is, the ‘Macaronis’, as Grandad liked to call them, still enjoy a few choice reputational hallmarks today. Aside from its history and its art, Italy’s primarily known for corruption, male peacocking, meatballs and the goosing of ladies bottoms. A noble suite of national attributes, to be sure. But, I tell you what, I’ll give them something, they can dress.

And that sartorial acumen sets them in stark contrast to we Brits, especially during the summer months, when things really seem to unravel.

The English high street in Summer is like an animated butcher’s window, a writhing tableau vivant of shouting, sniffing, sweating, gristle. Scalded red or painted orange, there’s always too much flesh on display these days, because Brits have lost any sense of modesty – though most have plenty to be modest about. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no body Fascist, but if I had to choose between Leni Reifenstahl and the suety British endomorph, I might well recoil to the right… Sure, be comfortable, let a little air circulate around the dewy and tendrilled clefts, but don’t confront me with your corned beef legs, your blubbery belly-pork guts and your meat hygiene stamp tattoos. And ladies, be advised, I don’t need to see the jowls of your arse breaching the hem of your high cut shorts. Quite apart from it not being particularly attractive in most cases, we hardly know one another… I mean, for God’s sake, leave something to the imagination. It’s just no fun. If the erosion of modesty continues, I expect to see women walking round sporting uterine retractors in ten to fifteen years… (too much?)

The Brits are made for rain and rime, not Indian summers. We invented balaclavas, cardigans, wellies and duffle coats. That’s what we should wear. All year round. If you wear a duffle coat, not only you can you not get sunburnt, but my eidetic memory doesn’t have to have the image of your tripey Costa-carcass seared into it like griddle marks in a burger.

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A Certain, Je ne sais wha..?

When I go into Patisserie Valerie for a coffee, I ask the staff for a, “café au lait”. I say that primarily because I want a coffee with milk – a ‘white coffee’ as we’re more accustomed to say in England. I don’t say it because I’m a ponce. And if I wasn’t in a place that styled itself, ‘a patisserie’ (French for Greggs innit), had a logo featuring a can-can dancer, sold croque monsieurs and displayed a bloody great basket of baguettes in the window, I wouldn’t sodding well say it at all. I’m decent enough to indulge their commercial conceit; I’m actually playing along with their, hon’-he-hon’ masquerade…. But having deliberately lured me into their faux Gallic environment with their artful cultural cues, how do their staff habitually greet my request for a, “café au lait”? I’ll tell you. They look at me like I’m fucking mad. Excuse my French.

Then I order a latte.

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The Metaphorical Zulus of Calamity (Part Deux)

Part Two:

It was Saturday morning and I was on light duties. Actually, given the paucity of work secured by my recently-founded media start-up, I had been on light duties for some months now (qv. ‘audacious corporate buccaneering’). However, aside from the monthly anxiety as the mortgage payment fell due, I have to say, this was a lifestyle that I was growing pleasantly accustomed to. For the last twenty minutes, I had been reading W.E. Fairbairn’s, Get Tough!, a WW2 commando training manual that I’d found in the Cancer Research shop. Having carefully followed the intricate line drawings, I reckoned my hand was now a deadly weapon. At least it would be if it weren’t presently fumbling for the lavatory paper. I parked the manual on the edge of the bath, did the necessary and rose with difficulty from the toilet. My leg had gone dead. Ironically, I’d been reading about how to inflict just such an incapacitating blow on a Nazi storm trooper. If they’d known this unforeseen side-effect back in 1941, they could have just air-dropped the literature straight into the German latrines and spared our boys the commando course. Still, it’s all hindsight…

Luckily for me, there were no Nazi storm troopers in this placid quarter of South East England. My only foes in an otherwise benign environment were the HMRC and, more especially, my neighbours, Mr and Mrs Scumbag (qv. The Metaphorical Zulus of Calamity (Part One…)). Between myself and the Scumbag gang there was unfinished business. Bad blood, if you will… Mrs Scumbag, the sort of Ma Baker figure of the clan, had recently inflicted a cruel humiliation upon yours truly, cutting an explicit (yet somewhat primitive) image into the back of my head with her hair clippers. This in response to my having denounced her squalid refuse tip of a garden to the council. Unbeknown to me, however, Mr Scumbag clearly had allies amongst the municipal apparatchiks, and had been tipped off as to his accuser… Since then, things had gone from bad to worse and we were now pitted against one another in an un-neighbourly Cold War.

A pile of pink refuse bags and a discarded bathtub formed the original casus belli. They still remained in the garden, marring the view from my bay window. However, having warmed enthusiastically to the conflict, the Scumbags had apparently re-arranged the refuse sack under cover of darkness… As I took a long refreshing gulp of tea, I looked soberly down onto their creation. The pink refuse bags had been arranged into two neat heaps and standing upright between them – erect, if you will – was the discarded bath tub… Naturally, it was angled toward my overlooking window, designed to inflict the maximum insult. It had succeeded.

As I surveyed the scene, their massive, witless status dog galloped out through their French windows; it sniffed, cocked its leg and peed into the discarded bathtub, unconsciously rubbing salt into the wound.

Since I rarely encountered Mr or Mrs Scumbag in person, merely observing them and their augean habitat from afar, I was unlikely to have the opportunity to karate chop either of them in the throat, as per Major Fairbairn’s direction… This was a matter of regret, but vengeance would surely be mine. The insoluble question was, how and when I would know its delicious savour…?

As Mrs Disappointed departed with the child for dance class, I ascended to the roof of our venerable homestead to try to make a more enduring repair to a split in the lead flashing. I’d promised to address it properly last weekend after we’d awoken to find a little torrent gushing through the light socket. In the darkness at 05.45, playing my torch across the ceiling as the drips rained down, it had been very much like Das Boot, which lent a sort of invigorating drama to the calamity, and I’d definitely enjoyed the event much more than my wife and daughter. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t quite got round to fixing it properly.

Once aloft, the sun was shining, and the valley of the roof, with its ancient graffitoed lead and its warm terracotta tiles, seemed a cosy little eyrie from which to survey the world. Had this been the town’s last redoubt back in Major Fairbairn’s time, it occurred to me that with a PIAT at one end of the valley, I could command the entrance into town, knocking out Hun panzers as they crawled ominously forward like iron armadillos. From the other end of the roof, a redoubtable Vickers would dominate the High Street of my picture postcard home.

Even now, said High Street was being infiltrated by early Summer’s first wave of latter day invaders: [Vichy] French school children were honking their way forward in undisciplined knots. Depressing the imaginary barrel of the Vickers, I gave them a long, sweeping burst that would undoubtedly have sent them reeling back to the coach park in a cloud of garlicky flatus… The busload of Japanese would be harder to deal with, of course. I imagined them scrambling up the drainpipe or bounding across the rooftops howling “Banzai!” whilst swinging their Nikons round their heads. I’d quickly traverse the Vickers back round to dispatch the first wave coming up through the loft hatch – budda-budda-budda!! But as I struggled to feed in another belt of .303, they’d undoubtedly overwhelm me in a jaundiced wave of Oriental mayhem… After that, it would be hand to tiny hand, and I’d need every single one of Major Fairbairn’s deadly ‘Defendu’ moves to survive… As I mentally chopped, thrusted and parried at the deadly little men of Nippon, Mrs D hollered up to me from within:

“Have you fixed it?”

Still alert from the fantasy fray, without missing a beat, I paused for effect as if I were otherwise engaged. I gave a little dramatic groan of exertion and responded, “I think I need to go to the DIY shop. I’m just coming down.”

“OK. You’ve got a parcel down here.”

A parcel? What could it be? Something from Ebay, of course, but what was it?

“I’ll leave it at the bottom of the ladder, I’m popping out to the shop!”

I tore down the ladder and located the unassuming parcel. Tearing it open, I remembered. Successive doggy encounters on my weekly death runs along the river had convinced me to take radical action. I turned the article over in my hand, testing the smooth action of trigger mechanism, raising it to eye level and panning it across the landing, taking aim at a pile of laundry… It weighed well in the hand… The “Mutt-Away”. Only £29.99 for complete canine confidence… It was a shame about the big orange trumpet-like protrusion on the end, which spoiled an otherwise pleasingly gun-like appearance, but if this sub-sonic dog repeller worked, it made no odds… In fact, it helped even the odds. Make my day…

Placing the Mutt-Away in my pocket I returned to the roof to tinker. Whilst up there, I paused to survey the Scumbag’s gypsy encampment from a fresh perspective. From this angle, I could see a rusting cement mixer and an old washing machine I’d not previously noticed. Out came Mrs Scumbag for a Benson and Hedges. She was accompanied by the dog, which started nosing round the detritus, apparently working up to its morning constitutional.

It was at that point that I wondered… Peering over the apex of the roof down into the Scumbag cantonment, I pondered on the range of the Mutt-Away. There was only one way to find out, but for maximum effect, timing would be crucial… As Mrs Scumbag drew deeply on a gasper, utterly unabashed by the priapic totem towering beside her, I levelled the Mutt-Away. From my ‘grassy knoll’, I waited: poised, unseen, devoid of mercy… The moment drew nigh. The dog squatted and began to extrude a great Cumberland sausage onto the patio close to the French doors. ‘My God’, I thought, ‘What do they feed that thing?’ (Chips probably…) My finger curled around the trigger and at the optimum moment, squeezed…

At my end, nothing happened, not a sound. But approximately 25 yards below, a sub-sonic blast from the Mutt-Away had triggered a deliciously explosive spectacle. Mrs Scumbag shrieked and dropped her coffee as the great oaf-dog bounded past her into the house, trailing the stub of a second tail. She leaped after the dog, trying to drag it back into the garden before it clenched. I squeezed the trigger again and the dog reared and lunged back into the house, dragging Mrs Scumbag off her feet. Hysterical shouting and the tinkling of glass could be heard. I pointed the Mutt-Away skyward and blasted off a little sub-sonic feu de joie… A seagull squawked.

Taste my wrath, Mrs Scumbag…

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Careless Whiskers…

It transpires that I’ve made an error of judgement… It’s all rather grubby..

The recognition really only struck me as I reclined in my chair and pushed away the cardboard recepticle in which had lately resided one large cod and chips. Having earlier finished my last Baghdad cigar in the unexpected sunshine, and having also endulged in a solitary pint of Harvey’s, I daresay the mixed miasmas in my threadbare Georgian precincts were fittingly Hogarthian – though more disreputably Gin Lane than Marriage a la Mode…. That having been said, the cat didn’t seem to mind at all… He was as affectionate as ever. All over me, in fact. It was rather unseemly…

Earlier, whilst I was at the pub, I read an article in the Guardian’s Sunday supplement about a woman who’d been raised by monkies. (I think her foster family have been writing some of their political commentary this week, but I digress.) You see, the lady had found companionship with animals. They had hugged her in her hour of need, picked nits out of her hair and shared their bananas. Animals can be very obliging when you’re at a low ebb… I think they have an eye to the main chance, and I realise now, the same’s happened with me. The cat has well and truly got his claws into me…

With my wife and daughter away in the New World, I’ve been fending for myself these past four weeks. Yes, just me against the wilderness of washing machine and ‘WIGIG Wall’ (the local inconvenience store’s, ‘When It’s Gone It’s Gone’ discount aisle). I quite like shopping, actually, and it’s also a chance to banter with the checkout girls, always so full of effervescent aphorisms, like, “Would you like a bag?” or “Any cash-back…?”… I did venture an insouciant, “As long as it’s not my own!” yesterday, but through the mental opacity of a Saturday morning hangover, I might as well have been reciting Virgil to Debs at till one. Though that would have been incomprehensible, unfunny and poorly conjugated, so that’s not a great analogy. But let’s not get tied up in trifles. Or, maybe ‘bogged down’ in trifles. Anyway, how we do laugh…

Thankfully, if I can’t find companionship at Bludgeons, I have had an ever-ready companion in my cat. This last month, we’ve set aside many of our differences and actually grown rather close. I’ve ceased to upbraid him for showing off, and have even begun to tolerate his attendance on the dinner table, next to my plate, ogling my food. I seek his counsel on many of the small affairs of the day and tend to give him a running commentary of my inclinations and pending actions: “I think I’ll have a cup of tea” or “now, I must go to the post office later.” In a somewhat pitiful way, I suppose he’s taken up the mantle of my wife… Not only is he the first ‘person’ I greet in the morning, we eat together and lounge together. He also frequently joins me when I’m on Skype to my parents, though admittedly, he doesn’t say much.

Anyway, that’s the rub, you see. Inadvertantly, I’ve reordered the social hierarchies of the happy home… I’ve realised that not only has he become my trusted confidante, he’s also been my faithful dining companion for a whole month, which is presumably centuries in cat years. He’s invested in this relationship… I suppose, I’ve lead him on… We’ve been thrown toghether in adversity, and little by little I think the boundaries have been blurred… Most worryingly, perhaps, I’ve caught myself addressing him by my wife’s litany of pet names…

The problem is, Mrs D is home in a few days. She has an instinct for these things, she’ll know immediately that something’s been going on. Not exactly infidelity… I mean, it was just companionship… One thing just lead to another… I mean, what was I supposed to do? I was lonely!

I’m already trying to cool things off a little and he can sense I’m being aloof, I know. I’m just hoping he doesn’t make a scene. I can probably keep the cat off the table and reallocate his spot on the sofa, so I might get away with my dalliance yet…

Just as long as I don’t call my wife, “Tiddles”…

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Thatcher in Falklands Shame! (A nonesense pastiche of this week’s commentaries)

Stunning new revelations have emerged regarding the dispicable cruelty of the late Definitely-Not-Missus-Margaret-Lady-or-Baroness Thatcher – or “Thatcher” for short. Not only has it emerged that she forced Jimmy Saville to abuse millions of children against his will, tied Sepoys to cannons during the Indian Mutiny, conceived the Final Solution and trained the 9/11 bombers, it has now been revealed by a reliable and entirely impartial source (Mr K. Livingstone Esq), that she personally launched the torpedo that sunk the Argentine pleasure cruiser General Belgrano.

As is now well known, the pleasure cruiser General Belgrano was in fact on a mercy mission to the Falklands, packed to the gunwales with prime Argentine corn beef to sustain them during the Coal Martyrs Rebellion..

The Daily Working Man’s twelve year old political communist  columnist communist , Owen Johns, takes up the story:

“The murder of the Argentine pleasure cruiser Corporal Belgrano was a catastophic catastrophe which still poisons British society with poison. The cargo of prime corned beef was a genorous gift from the Argentine people, each of whom had humanely slaughtered their first born cow in an act of solidarity with their compadres in The Islas de Las Malvinas Islands. But the bond between these two working peoples runs even deeper…

Eleven years before the sinking of the Belgrano, in a little-known precursor to the later atrocity, Thatcher had ruthlessly confiscated school milk from the ragged and barefoot children of Port Stanley’s coal mining communities. Being barren and expressing only Sarson’s malt vinegar, Thatcher! needed fresh milk to wean her own scaly lizard children. Uncaring that the ruddy-cheeked scamps of Stanley’s coal mining community used municipal milk to flush the coal dust from their big working class ears, she pitilessly stole their birthright. (In a pathetic footnote, many of the children have since become profoundly deaf, and in despair have cut off their ears and sold them to Romanian bacon factories.)

Like a hatchet-faced milk vampire, Thatcher! siphoned the creamy beverage out of the veins of Port Stanley’s coal mining community, grinning verminously from under a metaphorical milk moustache, which made her seem a bit like a man. In fact, she really did seem a bit like a man. At taxpayer’s expense, she then had it flown 8000 miles back to London in a Handley Page Victor refuelling aircraft, which circled Carol Thatcher’s head and squirted milk at her face.

Outraged by this ruthless act of lacto-larceny, the Argentine people vowed to assist their brothers in The Las Malvinas by any means necessary. Smashing Admiral Thatcher’s! Maritime Exclusion Zone, they ran illicit beef milk into Port Stanley to sustain the undernourished children. The little working class tykes would rush down to the quayside, their clogs sparking off the cobbles, as they shouted, “Merci monsieur!!” It was a heart-warming spectacle, and it didn’t matter that the milk tasted faintly of chorizo.

Eleven years later, the brave Argentinianites tried to run the blockade again, but this time they did not have fortune nor the laws of war on their side… Oh no…

This time, Generalismo Thatcher was ready, and deliberately sank the Cross Channel Hovercraft Belgrano, even though tins of Fray Bentos cornbeef could clearly be seen stscked on the deck of the ship…

Attacking a cornbeef mercy ship, laden with meaty humanitarian aid (and incidentally full of Palestinian orphans) is in contravention of all the laws of war. But even as Brigadier-General of the High Seas Murder Fleet, Thatcher! leafed through the Articles of War to double check that she was indeed perpetrating a heinous violation of all that is sainted, she resolved to make one last sickening gesture…

Pulling a piece of chalk filched from the stationery cupboard of the lately murdered GLC, she scrawled a heartless message of hate on the warhead of the torpedo. It read, according to one eye witness (Leading Bilge Technician Livingstone), ‘Take this from Maggie, you filthy Argie sea-gauchos!’ Then she rammed home the torpedo and coldly unleashed the terror weapon, slaughtering literally millions of  Argentine sailors. and scattering mercy meat to the heavens.

I’ve completely lost the thread now, but that pretty much tells you all you need to know about the woman who destroyed Britain and sank the Falkland Islands.”

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