Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Monday October 27th

I had arranged to meet Adrian at Rim's Motors, in Barry, at eight o' clock in the morning. Allowing for rush hour traffic and Cardiff's never-ending roadworks, I got in the pick-up to start the seven mile journey at five to eight. When it comes to punctuality, I am a hypocrite of scarcely imaginable proportions. I can honestly say, that I have never arrived anywhere early in my life, and that furthermore, I can count the times I have arrived somewhere on time (since leaving my parents' home in 1990) on the fingers of one hand. In fact the thumb of one hand would be ample. I don't do this to annoy people, it is just that I always, always, think of something else I need to do before I leave the house. Aside from my usual OCD routine of checking everything at least twice, this could include such vital, last-minute, tasks as, cleaning the hob, removing all of the empty blister-packs from the first aid drawer, wiping the coasters or organizing the contents of the bathroom shelves.

Conversely, if someone has told me that they will call at a particular time, or I believe that the service that I receive, say in a shop, or at a restaurant, is not sufficiently prompt, then I take it extremely personally. With friends this will normally manifest itself as sarcasm. With strangers this will at first manifest itself as sarcasm, but will quickly escalate to verbal abuse and the threat of physical violence and/or property damage.

I arrived at Rim's Motors at eight twenty. Rim's is Adrian's MOT garage of choice, and there can be no higher recommendation. Exhibiting his planning brilliance, we then travelled together, in the pick-up, to his house. We then changed vehicles, getting into his green Transit, but not before he showed off his new white Transit which he had purchased for £400. (Both Transits are parked on the grass verge at the side of Adrian's house. Technically this is a public area, but dual-use verges seem to be very much de rigeur in Adrian's neighbourhood. Some verges double as worn tyre depositories, some as white-goods storage areas, and others as open-air carpet remnants showrooms.) Once inside the green Transit we set off for the address that Adrian was working at that day. It was in Cardiff. We passed my front door at approximately nine o'clock, arriving at the address at nine-thirty.

The job of the day was to replace a kitchen, at a flat in the North of the city. I didn't know what to expect when we opened the door of the property, but as we stepped inside, my involuntary 'f*ck me', summed it up rather well. To say that the flat was a bit messy would be like saying that Kerry Katona is a bit common. I don't think that the it had ever been cleaned. The rooms all looked like they had been set up for a 'Crack Den Monthly' photo-shoot. The bathroom was particularly bad, but the kitchen really took one's breath away. But unfortunately not one's sense of smell. Years of burnt grease, decaying food and the stench of human misery hung heavy in the air. At one point the landlord turned up to 'see how things were going'. What little respect I had for this charlatan quickly evaporated, when he revealed that he lets the flat to his brother. His brother! He made himself a glass of coffee (there were no cups), then said that he had intended to have the flat thoroughly cleaned, but that there had been a leak in the ceiling and he had been in dispute with the management company for months over the matter. Well that's fair enough then. Let your sibling continue to pay you to live in squalor, because, before he moved in, there had been a small leak. He then tutted, complained that his brother could have cleaned up a bit, before putting out his cigarette on the vinyl floor in the hallway. He lit another cigarette, and walked out, bidding us good day. What a ...

In the afternoon Adrian treated us both to lunch at his favourite Scottish-themed restaurant. We both had Big Mac Meals and both 'went large', but not before I thoroughly cleaned my hands in the confusing and ineffective soap dispenser/sink/hand dryer.

Over lunch Adrian and I had a little chat about religion. Adrian was explaining that Jehovah's Witnesses do not think that they are a 'chosen' or 'special', people, merely that they are the ones who God, aka Jehovah, has called to do his bidding. This was a perfectly good explanation of their viewpoint, not needing a simplified version to be understood. However as, for whatever reason, people of a scientific leaning do not appear to gravitate towards Adrian's, or anybody else's, mainstream religion, he has become used to having to explain things more clearly. In my experience, Adrian's ministry relies heavily on the parable. Accordingly, he summed up what he meant (although I fairly confident that I already knew) thusly,

'Imagine you are in a big supermarket, like Asda or whatever. But they're opening up a new, smaller, supermarket, that is going to be selling the best stuff. Now, imagine you were sent to the big supermarket to look for staff for the new supermarket. You would want to pick the hardest workers, wouldn't you? We're the same. Except that everyone in the big supermarket is invited.'

So that was that cleared up. My interest piqued, I asked him about the attitude of the Witnesses to the other world religions. He sipped his coffee.

'Well obviously, every religion thinks that their religion is right.'

Refreshing, I thought. It's a shame that this live-and -let-live attitude didn't prevail throughout the rest of the world. He then paused and added that,

'The difference is, ours actually is right'.

Hmm. Another false dawn.

After work I returned home and prepared myself for my weekly battle of wits with my wife. For five years every Monday evening, when it graces the TV schedule, has revolved around University Challenge. In that time I have lost twice. I average an impressive 16 correct answers per contest, to my wife's admirable 8. The resulting tremendous feeling of intellectual superiority sets me up for the week. Imagine my dismay then, to find that bearded gnome Bill Oddy, is darkening BBC 2's doors for the next two weeks with his dreary 'Autumn Watch'. If people want to watch badgers and foxes going about their everyday business, an interest which in itself should be questioned, then why don't they spend their evenings in a hedgerow, or next to a wheelie bin. If Jeremy Paxman was hosting University Challenge a stone's throw from my front door, I would not want to sit and watch it on TV. Probably.

I went to bed early and resolved never to watch repeats of The Goodies.

Sunday October 26th

I had arranged to do my good deed for the week on Sunday. My mother in law had mentioned that she was going to pay a local ne'er-do-well £100 to clear her garage. I told her that, to save her money, I would borrow one of Adrian's fleet of vehicles and clear the garage for her. I assured her that I would do this 'soon'. After weeks of stalling my MiL, 'soon' had arrived.

Adrian knocked on my door an hour earlier than we'd arranged. Or so I thought. The clocks had gone back in the night, but feeling pleased with myself this year, I had remembered and changed the time on my mobile phone as soon as I had wakened. However, by some witchcraft, it transpired that my phone had already gone back an hour, unassisted, so was now two hours earlier than GMT. How does it know when to do that? In every way my phone amazes me. It photographs, video records, entertains. As my friend Elis pointed out on our Exeter trip, if our grandfather's were alive and saw the things that these tiny devices could do, they would think that we were in league with the devil. (As blog reader's will know, our ancestors' belief that good will ultimately triumph over evil, would have been restored, minutes after that statement, as Satan's box of tricks was to drop a bollock, as it's SatNav lead us, not to the desired comedy venue, but into a residential cul-de-sac.)

Anyway, Adrian arrived (when I was still in my TV underpants), and dropped the keys off to his pick-up. Not wanting to waste time. I threw on some clothes from my DIY collection, and headed out of the door. I then headed back in the door, and checked that the oven and all the switches were off, and headed out the door. I then headed back in the door, to check that the iron, which I had not used, was unplugged, and headed out the door. I then headed back in the door, checked the back door, which I hadn't used, set the alarm and headed out the door. I then locked the door, tested it three times, said aloud 'the door is locked' and got in the pick-up.

Like the rest of Adrian's fleet (two Transit vans, a Toyota saloon and a Mercedes convertible), the pick-up is testament to the short-comings of the British MOT system. Adrian's love of a bargain and gung-ho attitude to all things 'handy', mean that the area surrounding his house is home to vehicles in various states of (dis)repair. Adrian is a keen amateur mechanic and electrician who also, due to his strong faith, has an unshakeable belief in life after death. This is a heady brew. Adrian can often be found driving vehicles that, to the more critical eye, might be deemed 'dangerous'. Indeed, he had previously loaned me another vehicle which, after I had driven it, I deemed to be 'f*cking lethal'. The possibility that Adrian's pick-up would transport me on a one-way journey to meet my maker, who may, or may not, be called Jehovah, was outweighed, in true Welsh style, by the fact that it was free. In fairness to Adrian, the pick-up seemed relatively roadworthy, the only niggles being a drivers' side window that leaked, a drivers' side wing mirror that gave an unimpaired view of the road beneath the door, and a fuel cap that was in every way identical to a piece of folded carrier bag held on with an elastic band. These features made Adrian's pick-up only a distant second in the 'Most Dangerous Pick-Up I Have Loaned For Free' competition.*

On arriving in a Swansea ,with a wet right arm and thigh, following heavy rain, I was pleased to see my wife. I was even more pleased when she informed me that I had missed her mother's breakfast. I was keen to press on, so I backed the truck up to the garage, and opened the up-and-over door. My MiL's garage is not unlike the cauldron described in the Mabinogion, the magical vessel which never empties, no matter how many people are fed from it. I made twelve trips to the Penlan skip in the Micra, in one day, not twelve months ago, to empty my MiL's garage of, what can only be described as, tat. That same garage was now once more filled to the rafters with kipple. (Yes, kipple. Look it up.)

By five in the afternoon I had returned to my MiL's house, after three full truck-loads of unwanted kipple had been deposited in the main Swansea skip. I say unwanted, I mean unwanted by normal people. Skip workers, on the other hand, seem to be genetically predisposed to locate and store items, discarded by others, which they think may be of some value. This 'Junk Gene' is what causes their wild scramble from container to container. There scurrying is invariably rewarded with a pile of broken toasters, Buckaroos, tennis rackets, and so forth, which can be found next to their deck chairs, and which they guard jealously.

Good deed accomplished, I accepted the offer of a ham and cheese sandwich from my MiL, in preference to the alternative, (warmed) bacon in a (dry) bap. This was followed by a too-sweet coffee and a Twix. Replete, I kissed my MiL and headed home to Cardiff to meet my wife, who had already gone ahead in the Micra.

On arriving home I cashed in my Brownie points by letting my wife make dinner, whilst I, thanks to the wonder of Sky+, watched 1 x MotoGP Races, 0.5 x Rugby League matches and 2 x NFL games. I didn't watch the third NFL game as I was taking the pick-up back to Adrian in the morning and had agreed to 'help him out' for the day. I wanted to enjoy the experience fully.

Before bed, I checked the oven knobs, front and back doors and electrical switches (twice), made myself a blackcurrant squash and ate two indigestion tablets.

* My friend Todd's pick-up, located in Calgary, which I drove several times, was considerably more dangerous than Adrian's vehicle. As there is no MOT in Canada, Todd's truck was totally un-roadworthy. It was severely rusted in all the major weight-bearing areas. It had no working instruments or fuel gage. It ran on propane, which was pumped directly into a huge, corroded, tank, welded onto the load-carrying area, just behind the occupants heads. In short, it was like driving a bomb to rugby practice twice a week. I genuinely winced every time I turned the key in the ignition. Still, it was free.

Saturday October 25th

Saturday was a strange one. I awoke fairly early, in a flustered state, as I was unsure at first, of exactly where I was, or who I was with. As it became apparent that I was in my bedroom with my wife, I began to relax. I then panicked, as I remembered that I had gone out with Rob, but had not returned with him. My wife then assured me that I had returned with him, and that he was the person snoring in the Blue Hawaii Suite (aka the spare bedroom).

I felt remarkably well as I headed downstairs to make coffee. But I was not about to be fooled by the Window of Wellness and, as such, I retired to the big sofa to await the hangover. But it never happened. The Window of Wellness was to last all day. The only after-effect of our mammoth drinking session, was to be an insatiable, extreme, hunger.

My wife left before midday, as she was attending her best friend's hen party in Swansea later in the day. She wanted to get there early to distribute hats, outfits and badges, supervise dance routine practice and ensure that everyone had brought their musical instruments. This attention to detail seemed to me to be fairly futile. I have witnessed many hen nights in the Wind Street area of Swansea, and by 10pm they all resemble each other. Girls wearing almost nothing fighting/vomiting/urinating outside Yates Wine Bar, before heading to eighties theme bar Reflex to dance with/be sexually molested by a steroid-fuelled, tattooed, highlighted dwarf, who would invariably expose his penis at some point during, for example, Chaka Khan's 'Chaka Khan'. Still, it makes her happy.

With my wife gone and Rob awake, it was time to head for breakfast. We opted for Steve's Cafe, a short walk from my house. During the brief journey I glimpsed Beelzebub disappearing down a side street.

There is nothing like the Great British cafe. As we ate bacon, eggs, black pudding and luke-warm floppy toast, I tried to avert my eyes from the other diners. If one ponders too long on the fact that the fork which one is putting in one's mouth, may very well be the same fork that the stubbled, unwashed, vagrant sitting across the linoleum floor put in his mouth yesterday, it can really spoil one's appetite. The dining experience was enhanced, as usual, by the grunts of the slipper-wearing illiterate, feeding his latest payout from Accidents Direct into the fruit machine. Doubtlessly hoping to land the big £5 jackpot. He was accompanied, as he always is, by a mute, slipper-wearing, female. The precise relationship between the two is hard to ascertain. She may be his sister, his daughter, his lover. Or any combination of the three.

After breakfast we stopped at Tesco Metro on the way home to buy Mars Bar drinks and doughnuts. Thankfully, the flirtatious Asian checkout operator wasn't working, as my hair and breath were both in need of urgent attention. On the way home I again saw Beelzebub, this time in the vicinity of the Salvation Army shop.

On getting home Rob and I drank our Mars Bar drinks, ate doughnuts and watched TV. This kept us going until our late lunch. At around two thirty I drove Rob's car to McDonald's. I was relieved that he asked me to drive, as I have been a passenger in the car with him on several occasions on the day after a drinking session. In recent years, more often than not, he has had an epileptic fit whilst at the wheel. He suffers from a form of epilepsy which causes, what I would describe as, vacancy, rather than the more common/humorous convulsions. As such, I am normally unaware that he is experiencing an episode until after he has driven through a red light at a junction. At McDonald's we enjoyed Big Mac meals, and we both 'went large'.

After lunch we came home and watched the Cardiff vs Leicester rugby match on TV, whilst sharing a jumbo bag of jelly tots.

After the rugby Rob, headed back to Portsmouth and I made myself a bacon and egg sandwich, before returning to the big sofa.

In the evening I settled down with two bowls of Honey Nut Shredded Wheat and toasted pitta breads (?) to watch Strictly Come Dancing. I am not ashamed to say that I love everything about that programme. I love the dancing. I love the singing. I love Bruce Forsyth. And the girls look pretty good too. (I have been trying in vain for weeks to programme my brain to dream about a scenario I have created, involving Lilia, Ola, the new one with the breasts, who looks a bit like Christina Aguilera, an 'in-shape' me and a dance floor covered in KY Jelly, but to no avail. Whatever that means.)

Later in the night I watched comedy DVDs, to try and ward off the thoughts of death, which I know will be even more pronounced every time that I am home alone. After the second Alan Partridge episode I felt briefly less depressed, so dashed upstairs to try and get off to sleep before the gloom returned. It didn't work. I lay awake, endlessly pondering my own mortality, alone in my enormous bed, until three in the morning.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Friday October 24th

I was excited today as I was to meet my friend Rob who I had not seen for several months. Rob, like my friends Adrian, Loud Dan, Julian, Rabbit, Byron, Blanks, my best friend Nicky, and others too numerous to mention, is the sort of cartoon-version of a real person that enriches my life. Rob as a muse has many strings to his bow. To wit;

1. He was bi-polar well before Steven Fry made every miserable person in Britain proud of the fact they they too are bi-polar, albeit undiagnosed. Unlike these deluded, plain, idiots, he is Fry-Esque bi-polar; elated and juvenile one minute, depressed and morose the next. His mood swings are a joy to behold, and in my Churchillian 'Black Dog' days I console myself that Rob's day is, in all probability, much worse than mine. Or at the very least, he perceives it to be so.

2. He is a practical joker par-excellence. Not for him the tame practical joke. Like the best comedians he treads a fine line. My favourite example of this was a time when he stayed at my apartment a few years ago. We had spent the evening drinking and he had stayed on my pull-out sofa. In the morning I turned on the oven to make us crumpets. He sat, straight-faced, as I became aware that something was wrong. On opening the oven door, I found a pair of my shoes, hidden away at the back of the oven. I remonstrated with Rob that he could have set fire to the apartment and told him to grow up. As we ate our crumpets he continued to giggle, I assumed at the shoe/oven gag. My girlfriend, now wife, entered the room. She looked at the painting which I had lately been working on. It was a 4ft x 3ft canvas depicting the view from the Aberfan cemetery in which my grandparents are buried, and dedicated to their memory. There is a beautiful stone angel near the gates, who watches, silently, over the valley below. I had rendered this angel on the left side of the canvas, with the valley and rows of typical, colliery-owned, terraced houses on the right. My wife then asked, in a concerned tone,

'Who drew a cock on the Angel of Aberfan?'

I looked up at the easel, and protruding from the angel's praying hands, was a large, crudely-drawn, cock and balls, with a dashed line of semen arching from the japs-eye, and landing on the miners' homes in the distance. It is funny now, but at the time it was perilously close to being Rob's swan-song.

3. He is the unluckiest man I have ever met. To summarise. The wheel fell off his first car. His wife had an affair and divorced him. He was invalided out of the Navy (he was seasick on every voyage prior to that). He blew all his savings from ten years at sea on a new car, then was promptly diagnosed epileptic and had to sell the car at a huge loss. Whilst driving the car to the buyer in Swansea, he picked up a speeding ticket and three endorsement points. This doesn't include the really personal stuff which is even more tragic/amusing.

In addition to all of this, Rob can be relied upon to regularly come out with statements that are as refreshingly honest, as they are unexpectedly candid.

Rob arrived at around midday, and we promptly drank the only beers that were in the house. After watching back-to-back Curb Your Enthusiasms, we started on the vodka. My wife arrived home from work, and it was becoming apparent that we were regressing. She dropped us in town to meet up with Dave and Neil, the non-couple, who were at The Last Resort Bar. Dave and Neil were heading off to watch the Oasis gig, although it transpired that, although making it to the venue, Dave was asleep at his mother's house (he lives there, and is close to her, but is not gay) before the gig had started.

Rob and I continued to drink fairly heavily and he recounted a recent encounter he had had. He'd recently joined a Health Club ,to 'get in shape', and was having a strenuous workout in the Club's jacuzzi, when a Downs Syndrome teenager and his carer, joined Rob in the hot tub. As he was on an 'up' day, Rob made small talk with the carer. Not wanting to be rude, he then said hello to the teenager. I assume that he did this in an inadvertently condescending manner, as the youth replied by punching Rob in the face. How many of your friends have been punched in the face by a teenager with Downs Syndrome? In a jacuzzi? Exactly.

As the night progressed Rob and I headed to the one place that we always promise that we will not end up going to, before always ending up going there, Kiwis. Kiwis' clientele has remained unchanged since the late eighties. As a bright-eyed eighteen year old the prospect of a night club packed with sexually predatory, thirty-year-old women, was a mouth-watering one. These days, due to the absence of new arrivals, those same women, whilst more predatory than ever, are now approaching fifty. And not in a Madonna-esque way. To be fair to them, I am equally sure that they reminisce about the time when the men they prayed upon were eager young bucks, willing to please, not overweight, disillusioned cynics, suffering from sexual apathy.

Rob lightened the mood with two Rob-isms. The first was triggered by us drunkenly discussing the relentless passage of time, and the strange places that life leads us. He related the episode of his life when, having lost his driving license and unable to secure a job in his chosen field, he moved back to live with his mother, at thirty-two years of age. I said that I would find it next to impossible to live with my parents, at this time in my life. He nodded, sipped his drink, looked into the distance and pondered,

'You haven't lived until you've heard your mother take a sh*t at eight o' clock in the morning'

Superb. As the conversation moved seamlessly towards the subject of sex, we ruminated on our differing attitudes to sex and intimacy. Taking another sip of truth serum, Rob confessed,

'I don't like kissing. All I want to do is wank in their bra.'


At the end of the evening I ignored the text from my wife asking me to get a taxi home and called her for a lift. I would never have done this sober, but I most definitely was not sober. She proved once again to be the best wife in the world by picking us up and enduring our giggling all the way home.

On arriving home I fell into my neighbours car, setting of the alarm. I then fell through the front door of the house, thus breaking the mirror in the hallway. Bemused by the fact that my wife didn't find this impromptu slap-stick routine as funny as I did, I negotiated the stairs. Showing a poor grasp of physics, she walked up the stairs behind me to stop me falling backwards. She later admitted that the possibility of being crushed to death had been strangely engaging. Like taking part part in Jack Osborne's Adrenalin Junky. In a way. But inside. And genuinely dangerous.

Once upstairs I passed out on our enormous bed. If I did dream about anything, I don't remember it.

My wife had hidden all shoes and unfinished artworks.

Thursday October 23rd

Today was my mother's birthday. I am sure that she won't mind me revealing that she is now sixty-four years of age. Even if she did mind, her astounding failure to grasp any of the technologies of the twenty first century (Mobile Phone, Sky+, Internet, etc.) mean that she is unlikely to ever read this blog. Furthermore, a Venn Diagram containing the populations of 'People Reading This Blog' and 'People My Mum Talks To' would have a shared area containing one person. Namely, me. In fairness to my mother, she is in remarkable condition for her age. She has sharp eyes, all of her own teeth and possesses a rabbit-punch/shin-kick combination that is still as effective a p*ss-taking deterrent (PTD), as it was in the nineteen eighties.

The day started in the normal manner, by depressing myself with the News and complaining constantly to my wife about Bill Turnbull. As it was a relatively quiet news day, much was made of the media-perpetuated Credit Crunch. The BBC is struggling to convince the general public that the fact that thousands of investment bankers, estate agents and solicitors will lose their livelihoods, is a bad thing. To the casual observer, this seems more like Divine Judgement than anything else. I for one am eagerly awaiting the next four Plagues that the Credit Crunch will bring about;

The collapse of 'Reality' TV (not including 'Strictly Come Dancing').

A re-introduction of the maximum wage in football.

Huge job losses in the celebrity magazine industry.

The death of Kerry Katona.*

In the meantime, the BBC tried to make the ongoing 'disaster' more relevant by broadcasting a piece which, they proudly revealed, was coming directly from the village that was the birth place of deceased nineteen seventies sit-com star, Arthur Lowe. Yes. Arthur Lowe. Instantly hooked by this journalistic first, I got comfortable on the big sofa. The BBC reporter was on location, in the hairdressing salon that served the womenfolk of the village which was the hometown of Arthur Lowe. The hairdresser, who incidentally looked just like one, made me see the real-world implications of the Credit Crunch for the first time. I may not be able to relate to the sub-prime mortgage market in the US. I may struggle to understand the finer details of the re-nationalisation of the British banking system. I may be patently unaware of the ramifications of the weakening pound. But you don't need a degree in economics to realise that if the women in the village which is the home town of Arthur Lowe are now having the hair professionally high-lighted slightly less frequently (down 15-20%), then that is very bad news for all of us.

The rest of the day was a bit of an anti-climax after that blockbuster revelation.

In the evening my wife and I drove to Barry to celebrate my mother's birthday with her and dad. We had decided on the classic bathroom essentials presentation-pack as a gift, along with an amusing card. My wife and I would deliver this to my parents' house, after picking up take away food for the four of us, at the Chinese restaurant in Dinas Powys.

On the way to Dinas Powys, we drove past the gypsy site, near Leckwith, which has reappeared recently after an absence of several years. I would imagine that local entrepreneur Dick Lovett (yes, that is his real name), is overjoyed. His well-established Maserati dealership is immediately adjacent to the gypsy site. As such he can now tempt millionaire prospective buyers, not only with the prospect of test-driving an exclusive £200,000 sports car, but with ringside seats at bare-knuckle boxing matches, badger-baiting excursions into the surrounding woodlands and very competitive block-paving quotes.

The evening with my parents was very enjoyable, as was our chicken chow mein and pancake rolls.

On our return home I made myself an MSG-combating blackcurrant squash, which I proceeded to drink using the correct number of sips, in the correct sequence. I then ate two indigestion tablets and went directly to bed, bypassing the big sofa.

* I of course refer to the hoped-for figurative death of Kerry Katona's career, not her actual death. But you never know.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Wednesday October 22nd

Following my disastrous decision to walk home from School X last week, and bearing in mind my car-borrower status and pathological loathing of public transport/the publicly transported, I resolved to cycle to School X. Without a helmet.

I spent rather a lot of money on purchasing my bike a couple of years ago, as I was approaching the stage where half of my shirts did not fit me. My thinking followed the lines that- Cardiff is a relatively small, flat city. I live, work and socialise within the city limits. I was trying to save money for my wedding. I had recently started having to 'psyche myself up' to do up my shoe laces. I would, therefore, kill several birds with one, two-wheeled, stone. Within a few weeks I would be 'back in shape', relaxed and better off financially. And any guilt I experienced at inadvertently pleasing environmental do-gooders, could be easily assuaged, by something as simple as throwing a leaking old fridge into a river. The plan came a cropper as my extreme laziness had not been factored into the equation. Consequently, for a little over two years my bike had been parked in my garage. Next to an exercise ball that looks like a balloon two weeks after Christmas.

But on this cold, crisp morning, I was pumping up the tyres and preparing for my first ride since I bounced off the windscreen of a Peugeot 205, driven by soon-to-be-assaulted teenaged ne'er-do-well, as I navigated Gabalfa Interchange in 1995.

The ride from my house to School X is slightly uphill for the first part, with a short, steep(ish) hill right at the end. The early going was unexpectedly hard. I had not done any outdoor exercise since I unsportingly tried to decapitate an opposing player during a rugby match in 2004. (The resulting complete detachment of my right biceps had brought a sad, but predictable, end to my rugby career.) As I approached the steep(ish) section, I resolved to get off and push the bike. As I was about to do so, I spied two School X pupils, and, more importantly, they spied me. I thought I could still get away with it, as I was sure that they wouldn't remember me. At that point one of the eagle-eyed youths shouted 'Yes Sir!', the in-vogue pupil/staff greeting, and I smiled and nodded in his direction. Breath was at a premium. Thinking that it would paint a poor picture if a PE teacher was witnessed to push his bike to school, I continued in the saddle. As the whole hill was in view, I persevered to the top of it. By the time I reached the top, I could actually see my heart beating through my T-shirt, sweatshirt and waterproof jacket. I was sweating like a, well, like a clinically obese man cycling up a hill.

When I arrived at the school I parked my bike in the PE office, suppressed a feeling of nausea, and headed to the jolly secretary's office to pick up my timetable for the day. There were a number of teachers in the vicinity, bemoaning the behaviour of the children in School X. I smiled wryly, as in my head, I briefly went over the events of the previous three days I had spent in School W. The most memorable of these being a Year 11 (16 years old) class that I had 'taught'. Twenty two of the twenty eight pupils on the register were missing, presumed law-breaking. The four boys and two girls who had turned up, didn't exactly fill me with hope for the country's future. At one point, the brother of the convicted killer chased the six foot three white gangsta around the room with a stool. The big one then ending up wrestling both of them to the floor, before the brother of the convicted killer put the big one in a rather effective choke-hold. During this, the quiet one smiled at me and shook his head, whilst the two girls continued their independent phone conversations. Following his choke-hold release, the big one and the big girl started insulting each other. The white gangsta verbally backed up the big one, despite having a pronounced stammer, and the thin girl backed up the big girl with a few well-chosen barbs, highlighting the obvious shortcomings of the big one and the stammering gangsta. As I was about to intervene, the big one exhibited the sort of concentrated swearing that makes the British world-beaters in the field. He retorted to a weight-based insult, thrown by the thin girl, with this classic;

'F*uck off you f*cking sl*g. You've been f*cked so much, you've got a f*cking c*nt like a f*cking bucket.'

Lovely stuff. After being totally ignored in trying to encourage people to get along, the quiet one smiled at me and shook his head again. The brother of the convicted killer had, by this point, vacated the classroom and was running along the corridor, banging on doors and continually shouting, somewhat confusingly;

'A bomb has gone off in Iraq! Thousands of people are dead!'

I had no idea what constituted the bad behaviour that had upset the teachers at School X, but I was fairly sure that, in an Inter-School Poor Behaviour Competition, School W would definitely go through to the National Finals.

The day at School X passed quite quickly and before long I was, once more, astride my bike. During the day the workshop technician, an avid cyclist, had offered to service my bike, as I had mentioned, in passing, that the brakes weren't very powerful. As he didn't mention that that may be due to the large momental forces involved, I didn't question the cycling helmet that I saw hanging on his coat hook. However, I suspect that he may have heard about my thoughts on the matter somewhere. This is because as I was travelling homewards, down the steep(ish) hill, I naturally applied the brakes. The result was tantamount to hitting a low brick wall. The motorcycle-riding habit of applying the front brake, coupled with the hitherto-unrivalled stopping power, resulted in an 'endo' of epic proportions. This was accompanied by a loud, involuntary 'F*ck me!' uttered approximately six feet from a group of amused School X pupils.

Incidentally, I have never been a good 'trick' rider, even in the days when I rode my Grifter on a daily basis. In fact, none of the Somerset Road Gang were good 'trick' riders. It was a matter of geography. In my experience, I have always found that a child's ability to wheelie a bike, was inversely proportionate to their household's income. If you are offended by this I apologise, it is not meant to sound judgemental. Although the chances are that if you did take offence, you are almost certainly a wheelier and you grew up in a BBZ.

Wednesday early evening passed without incident or Beelzebub sighting.

Later in the night I was to be found sat on the left side of the big sofa, displaying a melancholic expression.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Monday October 20th

Thanks to my good friends at Barclaycard, I had agreed to do three days supply teaching at my previous employer's, School W. My wife, a teacher at School W had regaled me with stories about how the lunatics were finally running the asylum, which I, knowing the female tendency to exaggerate (but not about that), took with a large pinch of salt.

I sat watching the News in the morning, applying the 'Head Banging Principle'. Like the man who banged his head against a wall because it was nice when he stopped, if I watch enough reporting about the credit crunch, climate change, repossessions, stabbings, beatings, famine, disease and pestilence, then anything else seems like a breath of fresh air. Suitably depressed by world events, and equal parts amazed and annoyed by the fact that Bill Turnbull is evidently considered, by someone at the BBC, to be something other than a burk who was not bullied enough at school, I headed to the Micra.

The drive to School W from my house is a short one. One of the aspects of the journey that never fails to amuse me, is Cardiff County Council's approach to environmentally-friendly travel. Doubtless some idealist in Westminster, or worse still, the Welsh Assembly, thinks that cycling to work is the solution to a multitude of ecological and economical problems. As such they have sworn to do whatever it takes to encourage us all to get on our bikes. Either that or they are on a big back-hander from Paint Our Gutters Red Ltd. To expand on that, to say that that the drive to pedal-power had been half-hearted in the Cardiff area, would be a gross understatement. In place of the broad cycle paths to be found in continental Europe, the densely-populated UK has opted for a compromise. Unable to lose space from our already congested roads, and unwilling to fund road-widening schemes, British decision makers have invested almost nothing in a third way. By painting the area between the double yellow lines and the kerb red, Councils such as Cardiff immediately created miles of cycle paths, exceeding (I would have thought) government targets. Brilliant on paper, the scheme loses a little credibility, when the fact that standard bicycle handlebars are several centimetres wider than these newly created cycle paths is factored into the equation. In the unlikely event that the hapless cyclist was not clipped by a passing lorry and sent under the wheels of one of Cardiff's pointless thirty metre long bendy-buses, they would still have to endure cycling through three inch deep dirty rainwater, dog faeces and cicagrette ends. But they still do it. Every morning polystyrene hatted idiots risk life and limb to turn up at work looking like a cross between a vagrant and an aerobics instructor.

Whilst I was parked at the traffic lights near the rear entrance to the train staion (in the cycle path/red gutter), I saw two fly-posted signs that tickled my fancy. The first was advertising a Cage Fighting night in Newport, the second a 'Time Flies in the Rhondda' DJ night.

If you have never been to Newport, don't. It is the most violent conurbation I have ever spent an evening out in. I once had the pleasure of escorting my best friend, bleeding profusely from a head wound (not self-inflicted), to The Royal Gwent Hospital, in Newport, on a Saturday night. The A&E waiting room was standing-room only, as ne'er-do-wells with assorted injuries swayed back and forth. At first I thought that two resident police officers in riot gear was a little heavy handed for a hospital. However, they were soon overwhelmed by the three fights that broke out, independent of any earlier altercations, near the reception desk. As such, the thought of people paying their hard earned money to see grown men fighting, in a barbaric, no-holds-barred, contest, in the Leisure Centre in Newport, is only obscene in as much as those people could see the same thing, gratis, outside of the Leisure Centre in Newport.

With the closure of the mines, the loss of the supply businesses associated with the coal industry, and the crushing unemployment levels that followed, the Rhondda has suffered more hardship than most areas of the UK. The extreme lack of investment has resulted in a landscape peppered with dilapidated buildings and a population who could be forgiven for thinking that they had been abandoned. This oppressive feeling of hopelessness is largely to blame for the greatly heightened levels of drug and alcohol dependency that the area experiences. Accordingly, the reason that I found the DJ night fly-poster particularly ironic, is that I'll venture that one thing that time does not do in the Rhondda, is fly.

On arriving at School W my feelings of dread proved to be well founded, and it took until 10.32am for me to remember exactly why I left my full-time teaching post in the first place. But I think that I will combine my few days back in the real world into one expletive-riddled blog tomorrow.

On the way home I was relieved to see Beelzebub appear, suddenly, near my house. I had not seen my diaboilical chum for over two weeks, and was beginning to think that maybe his work in Canton was done. But there he was, large as life and still wearing his lucky blue sweatshirt and cream trousers.

In the evening, exhausted, I fell asleep on the big sofa, and dreamt of all my teeth falling out.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Sunday October 19th

For the first time in a long time I woke up on a Sunday morning knowing that I had to go and do a 'proper' job on Monday. As such, I was determined to make the most of the day. My plan started poorly, as I didn't get out of bed until nearly 10am. On rising, I pulled a pair of jeans on over the pants I'd slept in, put on a slightly kebabby T-shirt, and headed for the big sofa.

The left hand- side of the big sofa is a multi-use space. I use it for TV watching, hangover-recovering, surfing the Internet (Porn, Facebook, Facebook Porn etc.), eating meals (that do not involve gravy) and thinking about death. The relentless pressure from my frame has resulted in a degree of ongoing tectonic activity, as the left cushion is gradually subducted beneath the right cushion. This has had the effect of creating a small, uncomfortable, mountain range, near the destructive plate margin of the left cushion/right cushion boundary. Conversely, the constructive margin, situated at the left arm/left cushion boundary, has developed an ever-widening, remote control-swallowing, trench.

I stayed on the sofa for most of the remainder of the morning. For a period of over an hour I desperately needed the toilet. Almost as much as I desperately needed to not do anything as rash as stand up and walk to the bathroom. As I get older, I increasingly find myself balancing my need to do certain things, with my desire to conserve energy by not doing them. This ranges from big things, such as going/not going to the gym, to little things, such as whether to brush my teeth, or to opt for the less labour-intensive rinse with mouthwash, which I typically combine with urination (clear evidence that men can multi-task). On this particular occasion I eventually gave in to the demands of my bladder, but not before watching all 27 laps of the MotoGP motorcycle race that I had recorded (I was in a fair amount of pain as early as the warm-up lap), and walked, bent double, to the downstairs toilet. The mouthwash combination was not an option, as the Listerine was in the upstairs bathroom.

At around midday I made brunch, and settled down to watch both rugby matches that Sky Sports were broadcasting, resolving to 'do something' after the second game. Following the second game I made a rather good Sunday dinner which, as it included gravy, we ate in the dining room. As the weather had taken a turn for the worse, I decided to postpone 'doing something' until another day, plumping, instead, to sit on the sofa and watch three NFL games back-to-back. I have loved American Football since the first time I saw it on Channel Four in 1982. Little did I know, in those halcyon days of the sixty minute highlight package, that eventually the glamour and razzmatazz of the game would directly influence me. That I would be living la vida loca. By regularly spending ten hours on a Sunday, sucking the marrow out of life. By watching TV in my underpants, on my own, in my living room.

By three in the morning I would have had to admit that, despite my early best intentions, this Sunday would, once again, be added to my 'Days I Could Have Spent More Constructively' file.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Saturday October 18th

We woke up on Saturday morning at 8.30, as we had all arranged to meet at nine for breakfast. On our way down to the restaurant every member of staff smiled and bade us good morning. Whilst the Bristol Hilton may not be the most salubrious, the staff were all absolutely charming. And then we arrived at the restaurant. We were sat at a table for six, and served coffee and tea. We then began to serve ourselves from the very good buffet. As business was fairly brisk, table space was at a premium. As I sat down with my bacon and scrambled eggs, I glanced a couple waiting to be seated. The Maitre D' reassured them, with unsolicited familiarity, that she was 'just waiting for two old biddies to get a move on and finish their muesli.' A small amount of coffee exited my nose, as I suppressed a laugh. Her candour was the icing on the Bristol Hilton cake.

The rest of the day passed without much incident. Adrian dropped my wife and I back home, and I assumed the alcohol-recovery position on the sofa, for most of the day.

In the evening we headed to the Gower in Swansea to celebrate the 40th birthday of our friend Eddie. I probably would have concocted some lame excuse not to drive an hour to a party, if it were somebody else, but Eddie is an absolute gentleman. He is one of the rare breed of people that is liked by everybody who meets him. And he likes them. Unless they are Robert Mugabe. He had been on the same bill as me the Thursday before, and had been very good, unlike myself, and had invited my wife and I to his party. He told me how to get there, what time it started, and informed me that if we needed to stay in Swansea, we could stay at his place. What a great bloke. However, he failed to tell me that it was a fancy dress party. What a wanker.

My wife and I walked into the club at Murton, at 8.30pm, to be confronted by Mr T, John McEnroe and Phil Oakey, from out of The Human League. Evidently it was an 80s themed party. Eddie, already an unnaturally handsome individual, was dressed as the lead singer of Glam Metal outfit Poison, replete with eye-liner, long black wig, boots and skin-tight, zebra-print, trousers. If I was a woman I would have felt the urge to leap on Eddie there and then. In fact, as a man, I felt the urge to leap on Eddie there and then. This made me feel confused and dirty. But in a good way.

It was a great party and the costumes worn by everyone, except my wife and I, were brilliant. It struck me, during the evening, that men never really grow up. This was highlighted by the fact that someone had painstakingly removed the 'tails' part of the large 'Cocktails' sign, Arnold from Diff'rent Strokes was seen to grope the jockstrap-clad testicles of Leroy from Fame, and I witnessed Timmy Mallet using a balloon penis to virtually-bum Rod Hull. And Emu.

We left the party, with it still in full-swing, to drive back to Cardiff, with ZZ Top ringing in our ears. Happy birthday Eddie.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Friday October 17th

I had the pleasure to go to Bristol yesterday. Bristol is probably most (in)famous for the slave trade. There surely cannot be many more contemptible examples of man's inhumanity to man, than the practice of forcing a fellow human being, shackled, into the fetid bowels of a slave ship, to face an arduous journey, which they may very well not survive. I imagine that the only crumb of comfort for the wronged, would be that if they did eventually make landfall in America, they would only face a life of unjust beatings, servitude and hardship, and not the possibility of a return journey to set up home in Bristol. Obviously I am exaggerating slightly, but Bristol always reminds me of how a friend, visiting from Canada, once described my hometown of Barry, 'It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.'

We were heading to Bristol to see Steve Coogan's live show at the Colston Hall. Adrian, the black pudding conspiracy theorist, accompanied by his wife Theresa, picked my wife and me up at four o'clock. He had arranged for the four of us and my friends Dave and Neil, to stay at the Hilton Hotel in Bristol. Adrian has a friend who works for the Hilton Group, and occasionally he can arrange discounted accommodation for Adrian. I was a little apprehensive, as the last time that I had stayed at a Hilton Hotel with Adrian had been a couple of months previously. We had gone to London to fix the botched plumbing job in the bathroom of the apartment that my sister lets out there. Botched, incidentally, by Adrian. I shared a (twin)room at the Hilton with Adrian. After a night relaxing with Margaritas and Indian food, we retired to our separate beds. I was confronted in the morning, as I walked into the bathroom for my morning ablutions, with one of the most horrific sights I have ever seen. The bathroom looked like the cell of an IRA hunger-striker. But a hunger-striker that had made a caveat that he would eat Chicken Dopiaza and pilau rice. There was not a surface, horizontal or otherwise, un-soiled. I was convinced that news of this flagrant disregard of hotel etiquette and accepted social norms would have spread throughout the Hilton chain, but I was wrong, and the booking had been readily accepted.

The Hilton in Bristol is an understated affair, compared to many of their hotels. It is just off the M5 South, on the A38 to Filton. At the first set of lights, turn left, head into the bleak, soul-less, industrial estate, and immediately turn left again. If you go past Muzzy's Kebab Van (I have added the apostrophe), you have gone too far. By about eight feet. We checked in and went upstairs, there was no elevator, to our rooms. I had a shower, and put on one of the 'Big Three'. These are the three shirts that still fit me. I own twenty-six shirts at last count, twenty-three of which have been gathering dust for months, waiting for me to 'get back in shape.' Consequently I always have the choice of my brown shirt, my brown stripy shirt, and my floral shirt. As none of these shirts co-ordinate with black shoes, I am, currently, too fat for twenty-three shirts, three pairs of shoes and a pair of Chelsea boots.

Dave and Neil, who are not a couple, as they are always at pains to point out, arrived at the industrial estate about an hour after us. We ordered a taxi through the very nice receptionist. Our taxi driver turned up, and as there were six of us, looked at me and said, with staggering over-familiarity 'You're a big fella, you'd better go in the front.' This is just one more example of the institutionalized sizeism that goes on in this country every day. I smiled at him, and resolved to exact revenge. Not by retorting with, 'You'd better drive, as you're patently qualified to do little else in life, besides operate basic machinery', but by asking him every question in the taxi driver's question manual, namely,

'Busy tonight in town drive?'

'Is this your own car drive?'

'What time are you on 'til drive?'

I was foiled, however, as he was hard of hearing. I will never know what he thought I was asking him, but he answered the first question with,

'A lot of renal cases for the hospital, mostly.'

The second with,

'From the Midlands originally, but I've lived in Bristol for twelve years.'

And the third with,

'My son used to work for a company near there.'

On arriving at the venue we paid the driver and headed into Colston Hall. I will not go into any great depths about the show, as I would not want to spoil it for anybody, but I think that I'm entitled to describe the toilet conversation that amused me. During the interval I was availing myself of the facilities, when a fellow urinal-goer looked at me and said, 'It stinks of piss in here.' I was not sure what he expected me to reply with. What I wanted to say back was, 'It is a small, windowless, room where hundreds of people come solely to urinate, what did you expect it to smell like?', but being British, I just smiled, in a way that I hoped would not be misconstrued.

After the show we headed out to sample the delights of Bristol. I think that downtown Bristol could most kindly be described as 'spacious'. In an area the size of an International Airport's runways, Bristol has managed to cram in one O'Neills, a Reflex Bar and a Pub. There are vast swathes of concrete and tarmac, unsullied by anything as crass as buildings. Because of the distances involved in travelling between venues, Bristol is peppered with open-air plastic urinal booths. There is, as far as I am concerned, no more damning evidence of how the binge-drinking culture has harmed Britain, than Bristol Council exploiting a plastic loophole, to, essentially, legalise pissing in the middle of the street. In twenty-first century Bristol, one can, in full view of elderly couples leaving the theatre, love-struck teenagers, and the constabulary, relieve oneself, one's penis illuminated by council-tax funded street lighting, into a council-tax funded, grey-plastic, abomination. This, in the country that gave the world Shakespeare. I despair.

When we arrived, eventually, at O'Neill's, Adrian treated us all to an example of the inadvertently brilliant statements, that makes spending time with him such a joy. Talking, with admirable candour, about his step-son's recent experience at Crown Court, he defended the judge, criticised by his wife for sentencing her son to a maximum tariff term of incarceration. He confidentally stated, 'Well I really liked that judge. He wasn't taking any prisoners.' I pointed out that, according to his own preamble, the judge had taken at least three prisoners that I knew of.

After a couple of beers in O'Neills we all decided to head out for an Indian meal. I didn't think this to be a particularly unreasonable ambition at 11.45pm, on a Friday, in a major British city. I was mistaken. After walking for several days we decided, in the best traditions, to ask a policeman. He advised us to get a taxi to the nearest Indian restaurant, as it was over a mile away. No surprise there. On arriving at the Jubo Raj in Cottham Hill, we all enjoyed an unexpectedly good Indian meal, although the Kingfisher lager tasted more fishy than kingy. Not sure what I mean there, but the beer wasn't very nice.

After we had finished our meals we phoned a taxi to take us back to the jewel in Hilton's crown. As we were dropped off in the car park we could see that Muzzy was doing a roaring trade. I had originally assumed that Muzzy's passing custom would be very sparse, as he had decided to park his van on an industrial estate, on the A38. But Muzzy and Baron Hilton are obviously visionaries who know their market intimately. Muzzy's 'pitch', and accordingly, our hotel, were only around 12 miles from Bristol city centre, and as such are among the most central eating establishments and accommodation providers.

On arriving in our rooms my wife and I decided on a romantic night-cap. I opened the cabinet door, behind which, in other hotels, the mini-bar is typically located. However, in the Bristol Hilton, the traditional mini-bar has been replaced with mini-space. I was not surprised. All the mini-space lacked, to make it authentically Bristolian, was an mini-open-air urinal.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Thursday October 2nd

Today saw me going back to School X to continue my career as a part-time supply teacher. Despite my cynicism, I have found myself nearly enjoying working at School X. The other PE staff are people that I knew in my previous incarnation as a rugby player, three or four stones ago. As such there is a rapport that was somewhat lacking in my previous school, School W. The lack of chemistry with my head of department in School W was, in my opinion, largely due to one of us (I am au fait with the libel laws) having a level of communication skill that would embarrass an autistic child. (Were it possible for an autistic child to be embarrassed.) This was made worse, by the same one of us having a complete lack of a grasp of irony, or sarcasm. A typical dialogue between us, in the days before one of us gave up even trying:

One Of Us #1: You haven't seen a big box of badminton rackets anywhere, have you?

One Of Us #2: (Nodding at the big box of badminton rackets which they are carrying) What do you think this is?

You can, I am sure, imagine several like-scenarios that would present themselves in the course of a typical working day. As such, similar conversations regularly took place, as one of us became highly amused by them. Conversely, the other one of us thought that one of us was partially sighted, or unintelligent. This only heightened the enjoyment for one of us, whilst, at the same time, hindering that one's professional development.

But as I say, things are a lot better in School X. Although, if I hadn't become frustrated by certain people in School W, I would not be where I am today. Specifically, overdrawn, and driving my wife's Micra.

After finishing my days work in School X, I gave my time sheet to the jolly secretary to fax to the agency, and then set off to walk home. I had decided that I would rather spend money on a taxi to work and then walk home, than be seen driving the Micra to and from the school. I realise that this is ridiculous, and I am not proud of my lack of moral fibre, but every man has his limits. When my car was written off by a kindly skip-lorry driver, earlier in the year, we decided that, due to my painfully slow rise to the top, we only needed the one car. My wife offered to remove the Micra's 'Little Miss Naughty' pink steering wheel cover and dashboard-mounted 'Bagpuss', but I told her that that would not be necessary. She assumed that this was a magnanimous act on the part of a loving husband. The real motive was that, if they remained, I could get away with others thinking that I was driving my wife's/partner's car because my car was off the road for some reason. Remove them, and everyone would know that I, at 36 years of age, with a University education, drive a high-mileage, T-Reg Micra, which I am not even the registered keeper of.

The walk home took longer than I anticipated, and after forty five minutes I decided that I would never do it again. This meant that I could add walking to my list of unacceptable methods of transport. (I had written off taking a bus in the early nineties, as I had no desire to share an enclosed space with the long-term unemployed.) Consequently, from now on my options would be:

1. Get dropped off by my wife near the school entrance
2. Get a taxi to and from the school, being sure to point out to the jolly secretary that I was not banned for drink driving
3. Ride my mountain bike, but resolve NEVER to wear a cycling helmet
4. Ride my motorcycle

To clarify Point 3, I think that cycle helmets sum up everything that is wrong with the fear-obsessed, safety-conscious, nanny-state world that we inhabit today. I grew up in the 1970's and 1980's, and regularly rode bikes that didn't have lights, bells' shock-absorbers, or disc brakes. So did all my friends, including the ones I didn't like. None of us ever got badly injured, and none of us ever wore a cycle helmet, or knew anyone else who did. To see a grown man wearing one, makes me weep. If he is doing so riding across a park, with wife and kids in tow, all wearing matching head wear, I have to suppress the urge to kick him off and ask him what on earth does he think he is doing? An anonymous friend once took offence with this point of view and asked me what I would think if he took my advice and then got hit by a bus, whilst not wearing a cycling helmet. I pointed out that if he got hit by a bus and was wearing a cycling helmet, which is, let us not forget, essentially a polystyrene hat, the only diffrence would be that his corpse would look slightly more ridiculous. Still, it's a free country. Pity.

When my wife arrived home I put my (freshly-laundered) jacket in the back seat of the Micra, and headed off to pick up Elis James, as we were playing at the same comedy club in Exeter. I never feel embarrassed about the Micra in comedy circles as none of the other comedians in Wales appear to own a car. In the land of the blind, non-car owning comedian, the one-eyed, Micra owning comedian is King.

Although the journey to Exeter took us about two and a half hours, time passed quickly as Elis and I tried to out-anecdote each other all the way down. As we got to Exeter I switched my phones SatNav on. A deciding factor in purchasing the Nokia N95 was the SatNav capability, as I thought it would be useful for gigs in unfamiliar towns and cities. However, the last three times I have used it, including today, it has informed me:

1. To do an immediate U-Turn on the M5 as I was driving to a gig in St.Ives (the N95disappointingly made no mention of polygamous men, or sacks full of cats).

2. That the M4 on which I was driving en route to a gig in Minehead was not, as I had mistaklenly believed, a road.

3. That Tiggas Bar in Exeter is located in a quiet residential cul-de-sac, and bears a striking resemblance to a newly built detached home.

If Mr Nokia should ever read this, then please know that I think you are a charlatan sir, and I wish you would get lost. You may borrow my phone if you are unsure how to do so.

Eventually, using the traditional method of asking a local, we happened upon the venue. The manager of Tiggas has transformed the venue, from the place I vaguely remembered from my university days, into a very stylish bar with a nice stage, good lights and a very receptive clientele. I thoroughly enjoyed the gig, Elis compered superbly, I did my thing pretty well, and the headline act, Craig Campbell made me laugh out loud. Sometimes comedy nights can make me question my sanity at leaving a proper job. Other nights really make me think that there aren't many better ways to spend your life than making people laugh, then sitting down with a beer and letting people make you laugh. I dread these enjoyable evenings, because I know that at some later point, invariably when I am sat on the left side of the big sofa, the memory of the enjoyment will only serve to make me even more depressed that this will all end one day. Undaunted, I talked to Craig for a while after the gig and he was a thoroughly decent chap, as well as being a very funny comedian. If you get a chance to see him, or Elis, you should. Similarly, in my experience, the South West is a very nice part of the world, especially considering that it is in England. One for the xenaphobes there.

The way home passed pretty quickly again, but nonetheless, my emergency supply of caffeine tablets definately helped me to avoid having a quick, but deadly, nap whilst driving. In my daily thoughts about death, on the big sofa, a recurring theme is to die in an embarrassing fashion. As we neared the Severn Bridge at two thirty in the morning, with heavy eyes, it struck me that if I nodded off and we did go into the water, the emergency services would eventually recover a red Micra with pink accessories. In that car would be an eighteen stone, burly, thirty-six year old man, wearing a floral shirt and cowboy boots. Sat next to him would be a diminutive, fresh faced, long-haired, younger man. A South Wales Echo story about the mysterious couple, referencing Thelma and Louise, could not be ruled out. Fortunately that didn't happen and by three in the morning I was asleep in my underpants, having my usual nightmare in which all my teeth fall out, with the Micra safely unlocked outside.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Wednesday October 1st

Wednesday, as far as I am concerned, highlighted some of the best and worst traits of the British nation. On the face of it, the plans I had made for the day were sparse, even by my standards. To wit:

1. Take my jacket to the dry cleaners to be cleaned, ready for the gig I was doing in Exeter the following night.

2. Collect jacket from the dry cleaners.

(I appreciate that these two tasks could be combined into 'Have jacket dry cleaned', but I wanted to pad it out a bit, in case my wife's father ever reads this blog. He is of the generation that doesn't consider anything that takes place in one's own house as work. Therefore, writing isn't work. Preparing stand-up routines isn't work. Even the evenings spent driving around the country, to prostrate myself in front of strangers, to arrive home, exhausted, at three in the morning, only warrant the label of 'a hobby'. Indeed, he is often keen to point out that I could always go back to teaching full-time, without having to give up this hobby.)

As I live in a capital city, sort of, in the world's fourth largest economy, I had assumed that this would be fairly straightforward. I drove past my usual dry cleaners, as they do not offer an express service, and parked the Micra, unlocked, in the free car park that serves the shoppers in the region of Cardiff where I live, the 'gritty' (rough) district of Canton. I'm not sure that the car park would be as full as it always is if there was a charge to park there. The shattered car window glass that always covers the area, and the series of escape lanes that lead away from it, like the spokes of a wheel, do not inspire confidence. But, using applied Welsh reasoning, it's always a good idea to park there; it may be unlit, unsafe, unpatrolled and unsecured...but it's free.

I walked into Johnson's Dry Cleaners, Cowbridge Road, Canton, Cardiff (I told them that I would list their full address), carrying my jacket, and was greeted by a middle-aged, bespectacled, simpleton.I told her that I would like to have the jacket dry-cleaned, using their express service. She smiled in 'that' way, took the jacket and told me that I could collect it on Friday afternoon. I held onto the jacket, and told her that I needed it the next day, and that I would like to pay the extra to use the '4 Hour Service' that was referred to on the shop's sign. She looked at me as if I had suggested bathing her, and told me that I had missed the load for that day. I pointed out that it was 9.05am. She assured me that there was nothing that she could do, but that it would definitely be ready by Friday. I composed myself, and told her that that was the day after I needed to wear the jacket in a cleaned condition. She smiled, and once more began to take the jacket from me. I held firm and asked if there was anyone in authority/with all their chromosomes, that I could speak with. She looked at me with contempt, and shuffled into the back of the premises.

Stella*, tha manager, looked like she was the sort of person that, had I entered into the following conversation in a pub, would almost certainly have glassed me. She had thin lips (never a good sign), hard eyes and a tattoo of a Welsh Dragon on her wrist, near enough the forearm to be more frightening than cool. I will try to summarise our brief meeting in script form, so that you can role play it, and in so doing, get a taste of contemporary British customer service.

Stella: (Angrily) Have you got a problem?
Mike: (Now with a bigger problem) Yes. I need to get my jacket cleaned today.
Stella: (Pointing to dungeon-girl) She's already told you, you're too late.
Mike: (Pointing to dungeon-girl)I've already told her, that you advertise a '4 Hour Service'. That's why I came here.
Stella: (Blinding me with science) If I put that jacket in an empty drum, it will pull the buttons off. You'll have to wait until the next load goes in.
Mike: When will that be?
Stella: Friday.
Mike: It's Wednesday morning.
Stella: We don't do any cleaning on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Mike: It doesn't mention that anywhere on your opening hours information.
Stella: We haven't done any on a Tuesday or Thursday for months.
Mike: How am I supposed to know that?
Stella: (Shrugs)
Mike: So why can't I have the '4 Hour Service' today?
Stella: You're too late.
Mike: At nine o' clock in the morning?
Stella: Yes.
Mike: That's ridiculous. You don't do any cleaning at all two days out of six, and on the four days you do, there's no guarantee that you can provide the '4 Hour Service' that you advertise.
Stella: It's nothing to do with me.
Mike: It is something to do with you, you're the manager. Your sign says '4 Hour Service'.
Stella: The sign is nothing to do with me, there are 374 branches.
Mike: But you're the manager of this branch, so this sign is something to do with you.
Stella: It's head office's problem.
Mike: Do head office know that the information on your sign no longer applies to the operation of your branch?
Stella: Uh?
Mike: Have you called head office to point out that your particular sign bears no resemblance to the service that your particular branch actually provides?
Stella: Not yet, no.
Mike: Then it is your problem.
Stella: No one else complains.
Mike: No one else wants my jacket cleaned today.
Stella: Uh?

At this point, in order to avoid a criminal damage law suit, I requested that Stella write down the name and contact details of the regional manager for me, so that I could take matters further. She reluctantly did so, then summoned dungeon-girl to join her for a tea-break at the back of the premises, they had, after all, been on their feet for nearly forty minutes, leaving me on my own at the front desk. I phoned head office, but was unsurprised to hear that the regional manager is on holiday, but that he will contact me on his return. Unsatisfied, I proceeded out onto the pavement, to photograph the shop's signage. I will use these photographs as evidence in my future dealings with Johnson's Dry Cleaners.

On a happier note, the staff at Cathedral Cleaners, also in the Canton area, could not do enough to help. Despite not providing an express service at that particular branch they arranged for me to deliver the jacket to their Llandaff branch, and within three, yes three, hours, it was ready for collection. The helpful, full-lipped, manager, had even tightened a loose button at no extra charge. I was so pleased at my faith in people being restored by the good people at Cathedral Cleaners, that I offered to buy the homeless person selling the Big Issue outside the Llandaff Spar store lunch and a drink (I couldn't purchase a paper, as I had spent all my cash at the cleaners and only had a debit card on me). To my amazement he declined my offer of lunch. Evidently there is a more discerning class of vagrant in the Diocese of Llandaff. Unperturbed I wished him a good day, and headed home with my freshly laundered jacket and a tremendous sense of civic pride. My daily tasks had all been successfully accomplished. It was quarter to one in the afternoon. My father-in-law has got a point.

* Stella's name has been changed to protect her identity. Her place of work, physical description and tattoo details, have not.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Tuesday September 30th

Other than seeing Beelzebub in the morning, the instant that I opened the door to pick up my milk bottles, Tuesday was, as Tuesdays often are, non-descript. I spent the day writing ideas for a new scrpit that I am working on, which should, all being well, be unread, in an unopened envelope, in production company bins, throughout the UK, by November. Later in the afternoon I began putting together some topical stuff, as I was compering a new comedy night at Cardiff's Buffalo Bar in the evening. As it was a new night, I didn't really know what to expect. If I had known, I may well have spent less time preparing.

The venue itself was a strange shape for comedy, a wide stage area, a narrow corridor of seating, leading to another wide area, containing sofas, at the rear. I got there about half an hour before, as I usually do, and had my customary soft drink, whilst I spoke to the organiser. As the venue began to fill I began to suspect the worst. It was a new university term, and the average age of the audience was, I would estimate, eighteen. If you're not familiar with a comedy evening, the comperes 'job' is to prepare the audience for the comedians. Typically, depending on the gig, the format will be compere, comedian, break, compere, comedian, break, compere, headliner. But getting the hang of watching live comedy can be a similar process to getting the hang of performing live comedy. That is, if, as an audience member, you are embarrassed to laugh, or interract, or speak, you may not enjoy it as much as someone who is au fait with live comedy. This is not to knock the audience. One of the best things about comedy is that it is totally subjective. I used to sing in the clubs (I have no shame) which I never found scary. People may not have liked a song that I was singing, but they would have to admit that I COULD sing. However, if people do not laugh at you, you are NOT funny. Simple as that. As it was, I did manage to make people laugh, after a slow start, but only by ditching my planned topical routine and relying heavily on wanking-based material. This can be depressing. We like to talk about how unintelligent our American friends are, but if you spent an hour and a half wracking your brains to think of a laughter point that young people in Britain could relate to, that was nothing to do with the genital area, you would be as disillusioned with the Playstation Generation as I am. As a social experiment, ask a teenaged friend, or realtive, to give you a sixty-second rundown of recent world events. I guarantee that it will be an eye-opening experience.

In the evening I returned home, listening to Radio Two, had a glass of red wine, put on the History Channel, and sat down in my underpants to watch another programme about Hitler and the Third Reich. I like to move with the times.

Monday September 29th

My wife answered the door to Adrian at seven thirty in the morning and, after nearly three hours of sleep, I was ready to face the day. I help out Adrian most Mondays. I would say that I work for him, but the only payment I get is to turn almost every thing he utters into a stand-up comedy routine. I currently have two full routines that are entirely based upon things that Adrian has told me. He never ceases to amaze me. He is my muse.

On this particular Monday I was helping Adrian to replace a window at an address in Caerphilly. There is one of the world's most picturesque snack food vistas from the car park serving the burger van at the top of Caerphilly mountain, so he stopped the Transit van there to buy us both breakfast.

We sat in the van, enjoying the British tradition that is an entire breakfast in a roll. Adrian is a devout and commited Jehovah's Witness, and often conversation gets steered towards his beliefs. I never find this offensive If anything it's quite touching that someone genuinely believes that they can help other people and are willing to try, usually in the face of adversity and ridicule, to do so. On this occasion black pudding was the catalyst. He asked if I like black pudding, I said I did, but only ever in small amounts. He asked if I knew what it was made of, I replied that I did. He informed me that he used to love black pudding, but when he found out what it was made of, he stopped eating it. He then explained to me, again, the reasons why we are not supposed to eat blood. It wasn't great meal-time discourse, but I nodded politely, and continued to eat my roll. He looked into the distance, and then came out with one of the sweeping, groundless, statements that endear him to me,

'I bet black pudding kills thousands of people every year, but the government hush it all up'

I nearly choked on my bacon, and started laughing. He was adamant that he was onto something though,

'They know it's killing people. But think of all the money tied up in it'.

So there we are. On that Monday morning I had not only had a free breakfast roll, I had become embroiled in one of the most brilliant, and deadly, conspiracy theories of all time.

The rest of the day didn't live up to it's early promise and it ended with me falling asleep on the big sofa at around nine in the evening, having had barely any opportunity to think about death.

Sunday September 28th

The day after my wife's birthday party started in the same manner as it always does when I stay at my mother-in-law's house in Swansea, with the smell of partially cooked bacon. As much as love my MiL, cooking is not her forte. As such, she is a staunch advocate of the microwave oven. Personally, I think that there is a big difference in cooked food and hot food, consequently I neither use, nor own, a microwave oven. I got out of bed with, what I had a fairly good idea would end up being, one of the sort of hangovers that you assumed were a wild exaggeration by your older friends when you were in your twenties. From experience I knew that I had about two hours of feeling 'surprisingly good, actually', after which I would feel awful for around two days. This 'window of wellness' used to regularly give me false hope, but now I realise that it is but a fleeting moment of relative happiness, to be followed, with depressing certainty, by an overwhelming sense that death would be a sweet relief, so I don't allow myself to enjoy it for one second. I have just realised that my hangovers have become a metaphor for my life.

Anyway, I dragged myself to the dining room, to confront my breakfast ordeal. I was treated to the typical 'cooked' breakfast of translucent eggs, floppy pink bacon and volcanic beans. I took care not to rest my arms on the table, not out of politeness, but to avoid inadvertantly touching the glowing crockery. I think that my MiL must buy her plates from NASA, as they would appear to be made from Shuttle re-entry grade ceramic. The glass place mats are not for decoration, but to stop the table bursting into flames. After breakfast I drank the coffee my MiL had made me, containing, as always, 200% of the sugar that I had requested, and went back to bed to rest my eyes.

After waking up for the second time I headed to the sitting room, and was appalled to see that it was three-thirty in the afternoon. My wife had left to do the rounds of the Swansea relatives, so I sat eating Jaffa Cakes, drinking too-sweet coffee and trying not to think about my stomach cramps, until she returned. The cramps were caused by the fact that my MiL lives in a bungalow. This means that the toilet is on the same floor and, crucially, within earshot, of the sitting room. This fact means that I am unable to make proper use of the toilet facilities if anyone else is in the house. I am aware that this is not norml behaviour.

On getting back to Cardiff later in the evening we stopped at the Star of Wales Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was quite good, but my wife's powers of reasoning were simply world class, and I feel the need to share them with you. After poppadums she leaned over the table to ask me whether she could ask me something without me thinking she was stupid. I always say 'of course' to this, and I am rarely disappointed. She pointed at a painting on the wall behind me and whispered,

'Is that why it's called The Bay of Pigs?'

I looked around to see the painting of a seaside scene, then looked at her, perplexed

'Look. In the sand. It looks like an upside-down pig, don't you think?'

I looked again. There was a shadow cast by a dune that, if you used a degree of imagination, resembled an inverted pig, as a six-year old might render it. I replied that I suppose it did look a bit like a pig.

'So is that why it's called The Bay of Pigs?' she asked again.

I though I might be missing something. So seeking clarification I asked,

'Do you mean is the 'Bay of Pigs', in Cuba, so called, because, in a poorly executed painting in a restaurant in Cardiff, the shadow cast by a moving sand dune on an anonymous beach in India looks a little bit like an upside-down pig?'

She looked offended. Apparently I was trying to make her 'look stupid'. I apologised and assured her that Table Mountain in South Africa had nothing to do with a table depicted on another painting also hanging in the restaurant. The rest of the meal passed without incident.

On arriving home I began to wake up, suffering, as I was, from drink-lag. My wife could happily sleep for days, so she went to bed. I, on the other hand, watched three NFL games back-to-back. I eventually went to bed at around four thirty in the morning, having forgotten that I had agreed to help mt friend Adrian with a building project and that he would be ringing my doorbell in approximately three hours time.



Hello reader. Yesterday I tried to make up for over a week of PC issues (by which I mean Personal Computer issues, not, for example, describing the only black person in a group of white people by the colour of the shirt which they are wearing. Or vice versa, I added, being very PC. Not the computer), by completeing a week's worth of blog in one go. After around two hours of painfully slow typing, there was an ominous red warning message from this blog's hosts, and all typing was lost. After swearing profusely, threatening my 'c*nting, f*cking, lazy-ar*e, sh*t-for-brains, w*nky, f*cking, sh*t-wasp(?)' of a computer, and throwing a mouse (a real one), I decided that, owing to my brush with a heart-attack a couple of years ago (I will reveal all another time!), it would be a good idea to start blogging again tomorrow. That is to say, today. I will, however, post each missing day one at a time, thereby minimising the risk of cardiac arrest.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Big Three O

On Saturday my wife turned thirty. To say that she gets excited about birthdays would be a gross understatement. She was pretty insufferable from Thursday night onwards. As I had been forced by Barclays Bank Plc. to do 'real' work on Thursday and Friday I hadn't had time to buy a present, which I explained to her on Friday night. She thought that this was a cunning ruse and that in the morning I would 'surprise' her with her gifts. She was wrong.

In the morning I salvaged our fledgling marriage by going out to the bakery to bring her fresh pastries and tea in bed. This is one of those things that always sounds more idyllic than it actually is. The truth of 'breakfast in bed' is that it is impossible to sit comfortably, the bed becomes covered in crumbs (which you cannot eat because they are lying where your arse has been all night), and the room smells unlike any restaurant I would ever recommend. Still, it's the thought that counts.

After breakfast she opened all her presents, looking at me before unwrapping each one to see if my eyes gave anything away. Other than guilt at not buying a present, they did not.

Later in the morning she headed to Swansea to meet her best friend. They had organised a joint-party in the evening as they share a birthday. A person's approach to a party is a simple way (probably) of exposing transvestites and transsexuals who may be masquerading as something which they are not. I can only assume that there is a small piece of 'laid back' DNA, as yet unidentified, which is only found in a penis. To clarify;

Scenario One

Friend: 'What are the arrangements for the party?'

Man/Transvestite/Born-with-penis Transsexual: 'Come around about eight, bring some drinks'

Scenario Two

Friend: 'What are the arrangements for the party?'

Woman/ Born-with-vagina Transsexual: 'Didn't you get the invitation? Aunty Jacqui's doing sausage rolls and coleslaw, mum's bringing the cake, dad's sorted out the DJ, Annette's doing fairy cakes, Emma's on nibbles, I'm going down at four to dress the room, then I'm going back at six to get changed, Sam's booked two taxis for eight from my house, Tracy's doing the balloons...etc., etc.'

This excessive organisation meant that I had time to buy the present. I opted for a matching necklace/bangle/earring set. I look forward to shopping more than a straight man should, and I spent about an hour in the jewelers discussing length of earring drop, chain width and size of pendant, before making my purchase. Barclaycard were good enough to phone me during my shopping spree. I was starting to worry as I hadn't heard from my friends there in almost 24 hours. I was a little disappointed that it turned out to be merely a business call/threat.

On the way home something very odd happened. I was walking home along my street, twenty yards or so behind a cardiac arrest-in-waiting. I began to text a friend. As I looked up, the rotund stranger had disappeared and Beelzebub was no more than ten feet in front of me! I am becoming increasingly convinced that I live in the Matrix and that Beelzebub is the glitch in the programme. I began photographing him to prove to my wife that I am not going mad. I took three photos before he disappeared down a side street. I realise that I could get arrested for this, whereupon I would probably have to share a holding cell with Beelzebub, but it has gone too far. I see him all the time, at all times of the day.

In the afternoon I shared a lift with my wife's friend (she knows who she is) to Swansea. It would be tired to go on about women drivers, but again, you can judge a book by the cover. She berated the person in the outside lane of the M4 for not overtaking her quickly enough. I pointed out that she had been in the middle lane for 6 miles overtaking nobody. Apparently this is different because there was nothing behing her. I pointed out that the person doing 75 in the outside lane had been behind her. 'He can go around me in the outside lane' she pointed out. That's what he was doing, I pointed out. The rest of the journey was pretty quiet.

On arriving in Swansea I accepted the offer of a Tia Maria from my wife's mother, before sharing a taxi to the party with her and my ecstatic wife. The party was at a pub in town, and on the way to the venue I noticed that my wife's friends had made a Birthday Blanket for her, and tied it, as is the custom, to some railings. Nothing says class like a hand-painted blanket, bearing a concise message, tied to roadside furniture. I assume that, as is also customary, it will be hanging there for months until it finally disintegrates, or becomes unattached and temporarily blinds a motorist, who then swerves into a lamp-post and is killed. If the latter is the case, then doubtless some bereaved relative will, consumed with grief, sellotape some garage forecourt flowers to the lethal lamp-post in question, in a macabre act of memorial.

The party went very well. My wife and her best friend had cunningly ensured a bumper turn-out by selling the event as a birthday celebration/school reunion. As such, several 'close' friends of theirs from the 1980's turned up, and caught up on what had happened in the intervening twenty years. I was honoured as the girls had put together a photo-montage of their favourite memories. If you stood very close to it you could just about see the one photo of my wife and I, sandwiched between about seventy photos of her and other important people in her life. I was, however, better represented than her best friend's fiancee, who was nowhere to be seen in any of the hundreds of images.

By the end of the time in the pub I had drunk far too much Stella Artois, served, unless my eyes deceived me, by two elderly cast members of Prisoner Cell Block H. I knew that I had drunk too much, when I performed a running belly-slide into the middle of a group of women, who had also drunk too much. I knew that they had drank too much when one yelled 'Pile On!' and they all proceeded to jump on top of me. There was a time when having ten women jump on me would have given me an immediate erection. It may have done so that night, but my belly being what it is these days, my groin area was well clear of the dance floor, so I couldn't tell.

At the end of the night we apparently all headed off to the new super-club Oceana. From the photos it would appear that I enjoyed myself as much as everybody else, but I would be lying if I said I had total recall. On the whole though a very good night was had by me, my wife, her friends, her family, her casual acquaintances, and two very scary, denim-clad, lesbians.