Friday, April 30, 2004

  The Bird Man

As a young kid, I used to love visiting my nan & granddad, aunt & uncle, and cousins, who all shared the same East London townhouse where my dad grew up.

Apart from catching up with a bunch of relatives I only seldom saw, there’d always be treats.

My granddad and uncle worked together in a sweet factory, so always had a healthy supply of coconut ice, jelly babies and sherbet dip. They even showed me round once, and my sandals got sticky.

The real treat, though, was seeing their dog, a jack russell. Particularly as the biggest pet my parents ever allowed was a small goldfish. So, after several visits, I was told Winston was partly owned by me. I was as happy with the casualness of this transaction as Fergie must have originally been with Rock Of Gibraltar.

After granddad passed away, the family moved out of London to the West Country. Owing to a lack of sweet factory-worker employment, uncle got a job cleaning the local shopping centre. Being the affable man he is, he soon befriended local shopkeepers, and won their trust to be offered first refusal on any stock they were chucking out.

This meant more free stuff. Whenever visiting I’d get to sift through tons of magazines or obscure vinyl. And his family would have a ready supply of perfectly good food coming up for the ‘Best Before’ date.

When the jack russell died the family bought another, and the ‘part ownership’ arrangement was passed down to my baby sis.

Uncle had in his consideration taken in an injured pigeon and nursed him back to health who, not knowing any better after a few months, thought he was a dog.

He’d walk the dog, with the pigeon hopping along behind, around the local park with the large lake. And when visiting, we’d join them.

Sometimes, he’d take some bread and rolls offloaded by his baker friends, to feed the birds in the lake.

After a while, the bird community began to look out for this man, his dog, and pigeon, on their regular bread-distributing excursions.

So before long, he was regularly taking a sack – or two – of bread and rolls for the growing crowd of ducks, geese and swans that would be inevitably awaiting him and his crew.

It was a good system, a popular system, and one that worked for everyone.

Everyone, it seems, except the local council.

Trouble was, the lake was man-made, and the banks were not intended for the mad scramble that would greet the bread handouts. Over time, according to the council, the banks were subsiding, and some grass had told them what they thought was to blame.

Soon after, the shock headline appeared in the local newspaper:


(Naturally, I’ve changed the location name to protect the identity of my Uncle Rumplestiltskin.)

Undeterred, my uncle continued his valiant efforts.

“These birds need feeding, Unlucky”, he’d tell me, “And I’m going to bloody well feed them!”

He changed tactics. He’d wear a balaclava. He’d tweak his route. Sometimes, he’d leave the pigeon behind. Occasionally, he’d be certain he’d spotted a spy hovering in the bushes. So, increasingly, against the growing threat of the ever-grasping council, he’d feed the birds at different times: initially at dusk-fall, then late evening, and eventually in the dead of the night.

Using this mix of cunning and subterfuge, the council was outwitted, their priorities moved on, power shifted – and those birds continued to get bloody well fed.

So whenever I’m feeling the chips are down, or that it’s me against the world, or that it’s downbeat and overcast like today, I remind myself of my uncle the Bird Man.

I remind myself that his achievements were no mere walk in the park.

And can’t help thinking that if only Kevin Spacey had offered a similarly straightforward explanation, he’d have saved himself an awful lot of bother.
Thursday, April 29, 2004

  Thought for the day

This one's been troubling me for a while:

It's commonly accepted as fact that not removing the 'sleep' from your eyes in the morning will render you feeling sleepy all day.

At least, that's what my mum's always said.

So, if everyone chucked their 'sleep' onto one huge pile, would you immediately fall asleep just by getting close to it?
Wednesday, April 28, 2004

  Last night's first night

“We need to fix our voicemail system” complained m’lackey, as I was rushing to leave early, “because I need to go for a crap, and reception’s closing now, so we’ll miss any calls.”

P#0001 had texted earlier with a Perfectly Valid And Plausible Reason Why She Could Only Meet Up Quickly. Hmmmm…but, actually, this just helped make the encounter less daunting.

Fortunately, I’d been preoccupied with work for the last few hours, so had little time to dwell on the date. But now, I had far more important things to think about than this conundrum.

“To be honest, lackey” I explained, diplomatically, “I’ve got more important things to think about. See you tomorrow.”

“Yes – see you tomorrow.… and good luck!”

I left my desperate colleague and hurried out the building. My lack of concern was immediately repaid as the heavens opened upon me. And I realised I had no umbrella. My combed hair suffered.

Thunder crashed overhead: I cowered, having come quite near enough thank-you-very-much to getting struck by lightning already last week.

The Dating Gods clearly weren’t smiling on me.

Then our beloved London Underground chose to reroute my tube train AS I WAS ON IT, causing unwelcome delay and further risk of Things Going Very Wrong.

The Dating Gods were laughing and pointing at me on the CCTV.

After half-hour, I resurfaced overground clutching my directions to our arranged meeting place, and wondered where on the street it would be located.

I was buoyed receiving a couple of ‘good luck’ texts, then a further text from P#0001 explaining exactly where she was sitting.

I was already running a bit behind. And, inevitably, the bar was located at the furthest end of the street.

The Dating Gods were pissing themselves and rubbing their hands with glee. Bastards!

I arrived only a few minutes late, and negotiated my way to the advised table.

And there she was. And she was…….. nice. Very nice, in fact. (Not a wok in sight.)

I greeted her, shirt hangy-out and with new pants: she was immediately warm and friendly, and I hope we both put each other at ease.

The conversation flowed pretty smoothly, I think, and we had a healthy amount in common.

And I found her Perfectly Valid And Plausible Reason To Leave held up to gentle scrutiny.

By this time, the rain was pummelling the overhead skylight, but we just laughed and raised our voices.

The Dating Gods shrugged their shoulders in resignation, and knocked off early for the night.

I’ve really no idea, or more importantly no expectation, where if anywhere this could go.

All I do know is that we had a really good laugh, and willingness was indicated to meet and laugh some more next week.

And that, friends, is very important to me and all I could have possibly asked for.

An infinitesimally small step for mankind, maybe, but one ginormous step for this unlucky man.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

  Today's big dilemma:

Shirt tucky-in, or hangy-out???

PS Panic over! Lucky dating pants procured. (New, not borrowed)
Monday, April 26, 2004

  Monday morning

Beep-beep! Beep-beep! Beep-beep!

My alarm signals the weekend is already over, but I press the ‘Snooze’ button to enjoy a precious few more minutes’ peaceful slumber.

I get up and stagger into the bathroom, encountering a ‘Post It’ note on the mirror reminding me that the last thing I want to do when leaving the flat this morning is forget the book I need for work.

I prise my sleepy eyes open to shave, carefully avoiding cutting myself like some mad Samurai swordsman, wash, and dress.

I make myself a cup of strong coffee, and watch through my window the Beefy Bald String-Shirted Security man survey the environmental waste car park for one last time on his shift.

This signals to me that it’s time to leave.

I wander down the street, passing an assortment of ill-looking characters already waiting for the Doctors Surgery to open.

It’s a clear day, bar the usual hazy London smog. A 747 passes overhead bound for Heathrow, then a private jet underneath to land at City Airport.

A gaggle of parents chatter outside the local school. I tip-toe past the two drivers locking horns for the remaining parking space.

I enter the small park at the end of my street. The sun’s beating down on blossomed trees, and provides welcome respite from the grey city streets.

The Chinese Dancing Couple are warming up in the kid’s playground: she in red tutu, he in blue track-suit, as classical music booms from their portable stereo.

The Cussing Old Man barks at his uncontrollable dog: “Not that way, this way, you bastard!” he yells, “Noooooooo! Don’t crap now, you bastard!” I smile at the Cussing Old Man, but he doesn’t smile back.

Just beyond the park, I reach the row of boarded-up shops that are commonly filmed by directors wanting a bit of typical ‘run-down London’. Many of the greats have worked here: it’s where Benicio del Toro has got out of a gangster’s car, Tamsin Outhwaite has rented a decrepit flat after leaving her husband, and PC Reg Hollis has reprimanded many a criminal. Someone at the council must be getting a kick-back for this location use, but has little incentive to put the cash back into regeneration.

I drop my weekend’s DVD back into the post-box for the rental company. I don’t expect it will arrive.

The middle-aged homeless couple are snogging on the street again: a none-too-sweet smell of Special Brew, body odour, and piss emanates from the intertwined lovers.

The Garden Centre Man is unlocking the gate to the garden centre, an oasis of calm among the sprawling council blocks that tower to its either side.

Some young lads are arriving at the Territorial Army centre - I thought they mainly worked weekends?

Further down the street, a woman who happens to be retarded is waved off by her elderly mother for another day. Despite the difficulties she must obviously face, from the boundless enthusiasm with which she greets familiar faces, I know she will be the most outwardly happy person I’ll see on my whole journey.

I pass the ‘Serious Assault’ sign to enter the tube station, grabbing a paper as I reach the turnstiles.

In the lift, on the platform, and on the train, there’s a bunch of interesting lives, stories and anecdotes right next to me. But you don’t make eye contact on the tube, let alone conversation.

I wait for an empty train to get a good seat, and bury my head in my Metro just like everybody else.

Though it’s only a mild day, it’s hot enough for the underground to feel uncomfortable already.

I glance up at the attractive girl who boards at Waterloo and dream of our happily married life in a distant parallel universe. But I don’t actually talk to her, and she gets off at Goodge Street.

I read the news, letters, TV listings, stars, business pages and sport, finishing neatly in time to disembark at Chalk Farm.

I meet a colleague at the station, as we catch up on his cultured and my depraved weekend.

I key the security code to enter the office, power up the PCs, and sit down at my desk.

And then I remember that indeed the last thing I did before leaving my flat was forget that bloody book.

Never mind, there’s always tomorrow.
Saturday, April 24, 2004

  As luck would have it?

P#0001 just phoned to cancel.

Her mate still feels too hungover, apparently.

So back to original plan of normal date on Tuesday.

Film, pizza and early night beckons instead.
  DD Day, 1930HRS BST


Fuck! FUCK!


Fuckety, fuckety, fuckety, fuckety, fuck, fuck.


F U C K. F - U - C- K. F! U! C! K!

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Oh fuck. Oh fuck.

Think I might be letting myself get a teensy weensy bit over-anxious.

Off I go.....

  DD Day, 1900HRS BST

Slept a couple more hours in the vain hope of shaking off my hangover.

Skipped breakfast, going instead straight for a lunchtime Pie & Mash.

Unable to enjoy the glorious sunshine whilst I am feeling less than glorious.

Remembered 'Cloakroom Girl' looked a bit like Kevin Keegan. Not as he looks now - that'd be disgusting - but in his footballing heyday, with tight black perm. Think cloakroom pulling might be the way forward: you can embarrass yourself as much as you like, with no need to apologise "I'll get my coat" because it's patently obvious that is what you are literally doing.

Rang my mates to piece together the unfolding events that made up yesterday's very funny night. Summed up by my mate Dorset Boy who after leaving the pub found himself waking up on a bench half-way home in the early hours. Sheer class!

The way I still feel, witty conversation and charm remain a long way off. Think I sapped the last of my sparkle in the cloakroom queue.

Nonetheless, have just conducted my final audit in preparation for tonight:

Shaved and bathed. Check!

Combed hair. Check!

Frugal application of sophisticated after-shave. Check!

Lucky shirt. Check!

Lucky trousers. Check!

Lucky shoes. Check!

Lucky socks. Check!

Lucky pants. Negative!

Shit! Whilst my pant collection would not disgrace the wardrobe of a middle-aged husband, it's been some time since I bought any briefs suitable for dating purposes. The shops have closed, and I shall be entering the date aware of my sub-standard under-attire. Let's hope she doesn't notice.

Good luck text just received from TSF: Faint heart never won fair maid. Knock her bandy, mate.

Never were truer words spoken.
  DD Day, 1000HRS BST

Awake horribly early, with severe hangover. Weight of a small child on my head.

Recollections of various Greenwich bars, strangers, and stranger conversations.

Memory returns of chasing fit bird. But who had 'issues'. And ended up snogging her ex.

No matter. Because further memory returns of snogging another bird in the cloakroom queue. 'Last chance saloon', and all that.

Oh dear. Remember getting to front of queue, and discovering had lost ticket. Panic! No coat there. Nor cardigan.

Complain. Rant and rave a bit. Flare nostrils. Threaten to 'write in'. Realise am very pissed.

Walk outside: all OK. Mate's bird wearing my coat. And cardigan.

Decide it's time to get a cab home.

Saturday morning. Sanity returning. OHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKAMIDOINGTONIGHT???!!!
Friday, April 23, 2004

  Bad timing

There's plenty of good things to be doing at 4am in the morning.

Sleeping, for one.

A bit of jiggy-jiggy, whether with partner or alone, for another.

Completing my online dating profile after a night out on the lash, perhaps, is not such a good thing to be doing at 4am in the morning.

But in the esteemed company of my Norfolk friend, following a heady mixture of melon seed curry, red wine and beer, 4am seemed the ideal time to get the writing of my profile out the way.

I awake to find an email had already approved my profile by 7am.

Which is good, seeing as I hadn't actually remembered doing it.

I log on, and it's shockingly bad. Really, very awfully shockingly bad.

My description reads: “Almost, almost, almost Zone 1 man”. WTF? JB's idea, I think, that one.

My overview demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of what's required:

I'm a laid back laugh-seeker who's seeking someone else who doesn't take themselves too seriously. Sky-diving prowess not required, in fact preferred avoided. Personality and humour important. Conversational language skills essential. Clean driving license an advantage.

Scanning the appearance bit, glad to see I got that about right.

But it's the sports section that really takes the biscuit:

Cycling, Dancing, Golf, Tennis / Racquet sports, Running, Swimming, Walking / Hiking, Weights / Machines, Yoga, Bowling, Football

Dancing? Well, only after six pints.

Bowling? Ten-pin, maybe.

Yoga? Ah yes, I remember putting that to broaden my appeal and make me sound spiritual and deep.

My date brief highlights inaccuracy in my conversion of the US-based site's metric measurements, as it reads I'll happily consider anyone from 4'11” to 6'11”. Not too fussy on height, then.

My 'turn ons' are particularly shallow: Long hair, flirting and dancing. That's all.

And the 'turn offs', of power and brainiacs, reveal a fear of anyone in possession of their own mind.

Back to the drawing board, I think.

PS All sorted for 9pm tomorrow. Yikes!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thursday, April 22, 2004


Preamble: As you’ve seen, I’ve disposed of the complex numbering-system in my post headlines for the time being. Yesterday’s concerning drop in my site stats caused me to worry readers had seen the previous headline, and dismissed this as one of those techie programming forums for which I understand blogging was originally invented. So, in a vain and hopeless effort to regain readers, I’m reverting to softer, friendlier headlines – though to all intents and purposes this post is ‘Prospect #0001, Date #001, part 3’…

Today could have got off to a better start, when I arrived proudly early to meet a client at their radio station, only to be told they were simultaneously arriving at my office. Despite stirling efforts to agree a suitable time, it seems we’d overlooked firming up on which venue. Still, there’s worse ways to kill time than being shown round studios.

But on leaving the excellent meeting which followed, the sun was shining, Nelly Furtado was serenading my lug holes, and I swear I had such a spring in my step, I could have been mistaken for Neil Armstrong. (But I wasn’t: he’s much older, and unlikely to be in Latimer Road.)

Sincere thanks for everyone’s help yesterday. After much consultation with friends - real and virtual - I threw caution to the wind and agreed to P#0001’s proposed Saturday’s Double-Date, on the sole condition the girls Be Nice To Me.

Only time for a tabloid-style summary today:

RISK! Saturday’s Big Double-Date hangs in the balance, as P#0001 leans on her still-dithering friend, though assures me Tuesday’s Still-Big Normal-Date stays on regardless.

DANGER! Despite awaking from a cold-sweat nightmare that my ‘and how shall I recognise you?’ request to P#0001might result in a JPG so wide being emailed back as to cause London’s entire interweb to break down, her description (still no photo) sounds nice. Perfectly nice, in fact.

SCANDAL! A multitude more scenarios run through my mind. With P#0001’s occupation as ‘Account Manager’ and mine ‘Account Director’, I wouldn’t want her sleeping with me purely to further her career. That’d be shallow, vulgar, and wrong.

DEPRAVITY! Further complications arise with my ex scheduled (a-fucking-gain) to move her stuff out this weekend. How’d she react with the inevitability of me ending up in bed with TWO strangers??!! Of course, I’m joking: it’d be rude not to invite Other Bloke… and cross off another item off my ‘Things To Do Before You’re 35’ list.

UPDATES! Sporadic bulletins will follow throughout the weekend, and development is underway to extend this blog to mobile phone, handheld and carrier-pigeon platforms for those estranged from their PC.

It’s probably a good thing that I’d pre-arranged pouring vast quantities of alcohol down my throat the next couple of nights, which should give me less opportunity to get nervous. No expectation: just enjoy myself.

Tonight for One Night Only: me ol’ mucker Jonny Billericay’s coming to town! JONNY BILLERICAY!!! We’ll be out and about, woks in hand, painting this Dirty Ol’ Town red…
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

  Prospect #0001, Date #001(revised), part 2

Plans for next week’s date were progressing just oh-so smoothly.

A night and an area had been agreed upon, and negotiations were underway in deciding upon a venue.

Suddenly, this morning, she threw the curveball: P#0001 emailed asking if I’d consider teaming up on a double date this Saturday night, with her friend who didn’t want to meet her blind date alone.


Now, I’m well aware that ‘her friend’ could well mean ‘herself’, so immediately fired an email to TSF:

Good idea or bad idea? Could she be getting cold feet? Does this double or halve the pressure for the two guys?

TSF was unhelpfully ambiguous in his advice:

If it was me I’d blow it outta me arse – but that's just me. Can't be bothered with too many complications. It doesn't sound like cold feet: that’d imply her not keeping the date. Bringing the date forward is a good thing. The other bloke may be feeling the same as you and you two may hit it off (not like that) but could help your chances having another comrade there.

Blind dating (‘blind’ seems to be my topic for this week) is risky enough, without raising the stakes any higher.

Saturday going badly would, I guess, blow next week’s proper date out of the water.

Although I suppose introduces the option of ‘swapsy-roundsies’ if things don’t work out with P#0001.

Help, blog-readers!!!!
Tuesday, April 20, 2004

  Prospect #0001, Date #001, part 1

A massive UNLUCKY WINK goes out to the lovely ParanoidPromQueen for sending through a copy of Professor Wiseman’s ‘The Luck Factor’ book. Apart from promising an invigorating read, this should provide me with ideas for the many long days ahead devoid of anything meaningful to blog about.

‘Urban Badger’ Lisa put forward after Friday’s post the interesting theory that online dating reaps a 3:1 success ratio, from initial Contact to Meeting Up, and again from Meeting Up to Shag – before backtracking with the further qualification that longer odds would apply to men. So I need at least 9 prospects for a guaranteed shag.

Ironically, whilst typing that very post, I received contact from my first prospect via (another) dating site. So, eight short, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Prospect #0001 had seen my profile online and found it ‘quite amusing’: whether from my words or picture was not clear. Enjoying several messages exchanged since, I was confronted with the pleasant dilemma of whether to take things further, so sought advice by emailing my dating mentor Tall Stuttering Friend:

Received an unsolicited email thru the speed-dating site. She sounds ok.Trouble is: no picture. Danger! Do you chance meeting up blind, as it were?

Looks aren’t everything. Girls I’ve found so-so-looking initially have become exceedingly attractive through sheer force of personality. But I do believe there is a minimum physical attractiveness threshold below which no personality can muster the required attraction.

TSF’s reply was swift, combining the warm reassurance yet cold-hearted calculatedness of a man who’s clearly experienced this many times before:

Nothing ventured nothing gained. Meet her at Tower Hill tube, take the advantage of the raised sundial and ring her mobile when she gets there. If she picks up and you don't like - scarper and quick!

Clarifying the ‘raised sundial’ was indeed a meeting landmark, not a euphemism, I decided to bite the bullet and ask Prospect #0001 to meet up regardless: my first date in over six years. Gulp!

I pondered what might become of this for a few minutes: could it be slow-burning love, or like a crashing thunderbolt of lightning?

At that moment, my thoughts were rudely interrupted by a crashing thunderbolt of lightning.

The thunderbolt had hit our building. It was an almighty crash. Lights flickered. My printer sparked. And the connection box thingy a couple of feet away flashed and bleeped more furiously than David Beckham’s mobile phone.

There'd been no warning. No previous lightning then thunder, growing louder, and closer as you count the seconds in-between. It'd been sunny half-hour before, and was sunny again half-hour after. Just in the middle of that hour's pissing-down rain, one thunderbolt, directly above me.

See? Things like this just happen to me.

Our office had lost all connectivity. No web. No email. No phones. It was sheer good fortune I’d got my blogging and dicking around online out the way early, and was only prevented from doing proper work for the remainder of the day.

But I was on tenterhooks. Was this a sign? The potential great love of my life might have been getting back in touch with me, and I’d not have known a sausage about it. Instead, I rushed home at 6 to check my email and, sure enough, she’d replied agreeing to meet up next week, which we’re currently in the throes of organising.

I’m excited. I’m also absolutely shit-scared. And I have already, as I always do, planned for the worst-case scenarios:

1) I turn up at the sundial, ring her, spot a minger answering it, end call, flee for the hills.

2) I turn up at the sundial, ring her, don’t get an answer, but get a tap on the shoulder. She’s a minger, and we go on a date.

3) I turn up at the sundial, my phone rings, I answer it, but there’s nobody there, then she doesn’t turn up.

Moving on, friends, moving on………
Monday, April 19, 2004

  Sing it loud, sing it proud

Some people say weekends are for relaxation: recharging your batteries for the working week ahead.

I say the working week gets in the way of perfectly good, extended weekends.

So I return again to work on Monday morning feeling a damned sight worse than when I left it on Friday afternoon. But I’d always choose hangovers in work time over my own time.

Ironically, my last drink had been late on Friday after watching Arsenal’s demolition of Leeds. I spent Saturday dicking about on my new PC then overcame my Sunday lethargy to make the two-mile bus ride to lend some support to our marathon runners. This inspired me to meet Bookseller and his sis for an enjoyable few drinks in Camberwell. I took the liberty of delaying this sensibly not-too-late return by popping in to my local for a night-cap. It’s definitely a ‘local’s local’, with a motley crew of characters young and old. But Sunday nights are special. Because Sunday night is Karaoke Night.

SNK used to be a regular fixture when I first moved to London, because at this particular bar the participants take it so darned seriously. We realised this was Serious Karaoke when we were the only ones initiating ‘Stars In Their Eyes’-style applause ten seconds into each performance.

It’s an odd setup because, the bar being large and ‘U’ shaped, only approximately one-seventh of the clientele can actually see the karaoke ‘stage’. Sound, though, is piped throughout the bar so that everyone enjoys the audio, even if their visual enjoyment is obscured. This, to me, is karaoke with all the disadvantages, and none of the advantages. Optimum karaoke – the Karaoke Equilibrium – consists of 60% Really Bad Singers, 10% Surprisingly Good Actuallies, and 30% Indifferents. But mostly I really enjoy the whole people-watching experience.

SNK attracts several Karaoke Couples, she dolled up to the nines, and he twenty years her senior in shell-suit and jangle-jangle jewellery. Both gaze lovingly at their partner in the audience as they massacre bad ballads. I guess this is ‘Karaoke Sex’ for swinging lovers.

A precocious teenager called Terri used to attend SNK and perform at least four times during the evening. Granted, she had a decent voice, but a stage manner bordering on the nauseating. And she is the only karaoke ‘performer’ I’ve ever seen insist on her song be restarted because her mic level was too low.

Easily my favourite performer, though, is ‘Blind’ Bloke. I use inverted commas because he exhibits behaviour which calls his professed blindness (even allowing for only partial blindness) into question. ‘B’B is a slight-framed, 50-something, Woody Allen lookalike, with thick-lensed specs and the obligatory white stick, and is a regular at SNK. So far, so blind.

Yet post-karaoke we have witnessed him stepping aside on the pavement to let others by. Further uncertainty was aroused when on a particularly loud night the bar-maid was unable to hear his order, and I witnessed him point at which beer he wanted. Suspicious, but hardly conclusive. My fears were cemented the other week, however, when the first thing he did on arriving was pick up a Karaoke menu. Pourquoi?

Best of all, though, are his performances. Consistently exhibiting quite the worst singing I’ve ever experienced, it’s unclear whether he has genuine difficulty reading the lyrics (to the extent of establishing which song he’s attempting) or just enjoys offering a particularly unique interpretation. He will always reach a point so severely bad that he will insert a high-pitched ‘woo hoo’ and, occasionally, rip off his shirt and attempt some very poor breakdancing lying on his back.

The guy brings absolute joy.
Friday, April 16, 2004

  You've Got Mail

I'd got mail. I knew I had, because my computer made the bleepy noise it makes, when I get mail.

I was excited. I like getting mail.

I checked my mail.

Its heading read: "Our members want to meet you!".

I was really excited. I'd registered on a dating site a couple of weeks ago, but not bothered to set up my profile yet. Surely no potential suitors were interested purely on the basis of "Man, London, 32 years old"??

I opened the message. Disappointment. Followed by horror.

The headline read: "The men are searching. WHERE ARE YOU?", accompanied by a picture of a chiselled, bryll-creamed, smug-looking model.

Well, rather obviously, I was sat at my PC. With my hopes falsely raised in anticipation of a potential shag (or companionship, ladies).

I realised immediately either the dating site, or I, had fucked up.

Don't get me wrong: I'm perfectly in favour of men seeking the love of other men. Even me. When consented. But I hadn't. Au contraire, I'd registered as a man seeking a woman. I had. I was sure I had.

I logged on to the site. Phew! I was ok. I was a Man, after all. Seeking a Woman. For Friends. Or for Dating.

Sensing I'm not alone in receiving this email, I continued to read:

" 'Amy' is everything I was looking for - funny, witty, articulate, sassy, all rolled into one. And I could sense that in her profile " - Mike

Everything, Mike, apart from 'Amy' might be short for 'Amos'. (Being the only male name I can think of beginning Am-)

One of our fantastic singles could be searching for someone as special as you right now. But, without a profile, how will he find you?

Too right.

I'm nervous enough re-entering the dating arena. I don't need my hopes scuppered before I even start. What are they trying to do? Scare me into completing my profile?

My new laptop PC is due to arrive today. Minor disasters notwithstanding, completing my profile shall be one of my first tasks.

With a fair wind, I fully expect a barrage of interest from ladies before the weekend's out, which I look forward to reporting back on Monday.

Nothing can go wrong. Absolutely nothing can go wrong.
Thursday, April 15, 2004

  Chippy on my shoulder

At last the reason for my bad luck is clear. Professor Wiseman's 'Born Lucky' experiment, as reported in yesterday's Guardian, concludes summer-borns such as myself exhibit 'novelty-seeking behaviour'. Fuckwit.

I mentioned in my 28 March post that I was clearing furniture for some work at my flat. My fears of their impending disaster proved unnecessary, however, as in moving aforementioned furniture I knocked over a burning candle. I realise this, in itself, is not evidence of my unluckiness: more sheer clumsiness. Not noticing, so causing the flat to burn down, would have been unlucky. But a bit of molten candlewax splashed over my coffee table was merely irritating.

I rent a flat above one of the many banks in the area converted from old Victorian pubs. The building's susceptible to damp, which needs fixing every couple of years. Work started a couple of weeks ago, a year after I'd first requested it. Yes, a year. Delays included awaiting the branch refit, quotes, losing quotes, requotes and refitting the refit. Having just completed, I've spent the last couple of evenings cleaning up all the shit left behind and surveying the aftermath. From experience, the job's been completed acceptably: only a little bit of damp has started reappearing within a week, just half a pot of paint splattered down my stairs, merely a couple of curtain rail fixtures not replaced, and the magnolia-painted woodchip barely a couple of shades away from the rest of the walls. I'm happy.

To understand my tolerance in context, you get what you pay for and, in London terms, I pay shit all. It's a big, comfortable flat. Big enough, in fact, at one time to accommodate myself, my ex, and my sister (and before anyone dares suggest, there was nowt dodgy in that setup). And centrally located in an area which, the odd bagel-related shooting aside, is OK and covers the necessities.

The flat was previously used by branch staff, so there's bars on the back windows. Industrial-strength neon lights in most rooms, so I use more subtle up-lighters. And a sign marked 'Drinking Water' behind the kitchen's cold tap. Helpful, but worrying, given this is for people who sell you mortgages.

Most bizarre is the fact that my flat is the branch's alternative fire escape (but my only fire escape - never quite understood that). Years ago my sister was awoken from her Saturday morning hangover by banging and crashing sounds. She rushed out to the hall to find a really short, really old lady negotiating her way past the coat-rack. Both screamed - like the moment Elliot first set eyes on ET by the garden shed. The daft old bint had been allowed use of the branch's upstairs toilet for a wee/change of bag/whatever really old ladies do, and instead of returning through the door she had entered, chosen the one marked 'FIRE ESCAPE - USE ONLY IN AN EMERGENCY'.

The bureaucratic nature of my landlord's maintenance department is such that I try to bunch jobs together. However, they will never send one workman where six will do. I've had the pleasure of self-electrocuting electricians, self-mutilating pest control experts and self-centred decorators. Most turn up unannounced, when I receive a call on my mobile asking why I'm not in. Explaining it's because I'm at work, rather than utilise my entire annual leave waiting in for them, I usually arrange for the branch to let them in and leave clear, unambiguous instructions.

The branch recently, getting hot on health & safety, requested for the security light at the top of my stairwell to be fixed. So I left a clear, unambigous note: "KEVIN. Please fix the light BEHIND THIS DOOR. NOT the one in this hall." Inevitably, Kevin hadn't (couldn't?) read my note. I opened my door to find the bright lights of Heaven's Gate. Overhead birds were confusing night for day, and planes mistaking my flat for Heathrow.

Trust No One.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

  Bad London

For some inexplicable reason, rather than dig out the Peter Kay DVD that's been sitting on my shelf since Christmas, I decided to round off Bank Holiday Monday catching a bit of Channel 4's 'Karbala' documentary then the last half of my 'Apocalypse Now Redux' DVD.

None of this being exactly 'Winnie The Pooh', I didn't fall to sleep with ease.

So I was startled to awake suddenly by the sounds of hollering, shouting and screaming just after 5am yesterday morning. Being the well-intended neighbour, I took a look through my window. A bit of commotion: nothing unusual in that. Police arrived: again, sadly, not unusual.

Leaving for work after snatching a couple of hours kip, however, the main road was - unusually - cordoned off by 'Police Aware' tape. Then a friend's text alerted me to the fact they'd been a shooting outside the 24-hour 'bagel' shop. This clearly hadn't just been an argument over bagels.

Some people joke that North London has blue plaques about famous poets, whereas South London has yellow 'Did you see?' police signs. Thr truth is that most major cities have places and/or times that are best avoided, but the rest of the time is relatively safe.

Despite searching the London news sites, I could find nothing. It's alarming what constitutes news, and what doesn't, in different places.

In London, it seems, gun crime alone is no longer news.

Thankfully in my parent's comfortable, commuter-belt town, just thirty miles outside the city, gun crime is rare so still news-worthy. (Which is why the local paper has to run with "Gazette Meets Town's Most Tattoed Man" instead, accompanied by a picture of Gary with his three tattoos.)

The irony is that I usually feel safer in London. Knowing where to go, and how to behave, breeds a (maybe false) sense of complacency. Whereas I feel a more continual air of aggression in my childhood town: Ben Sherman-shirted idiot + "you looking at my bird?"/"you knock my pint?" is enough to start a fight.

Flowers were laid by the cash machine this morning. I know this stuff goes on, but it freaks me out when it happens so close to home.

Sorry, everyone. I'll watch Peter Kay tonight, and resume normal service tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

  Meet the parents

"Taxi service!", boomed the voice answering my call. He always said this. One of his little jokes, whenever I was phoning for a lift. And a subtle reminder that I'll always be indebted to him.

"Hi Dad, I'm on the train", I croaked through a hangover so severe that my hair hurt. I'd drunk far too much. And winked at a girl.

"Already? But.... but I've just taken my shoes off."


"Your mum said you wouldn't be arriving 'til mid afternoon. So I've just taken my shoes off."

"Sorry." I replied, "But I only said I was running late, and would reach you by mid afternoon at the latest."

"Oh, so you're on the train already?"

"Yes, I'm on the train."

"OK then, I'll put my shoes back on."

And so began another typical exchange between me and my father. Despite the inconvenience to his shoe-wearing, he made it to the station in good time, and was awaiting me in his usual, favoured parking space.

A course of orange squash, roast chicken dinner, trifle and a cup of tea was prescribed to nurse my hangover. (And, from re-reading Sunday's post, I must have definitely still been pissed). Only some Lucozade and a Beano stopped this short of being worthy of mollycoddling of the first order.

In the many years of my youth I'd lived with my parents, I'd been given many a 'hotel lecture': "What time did you get in last night?" they'd complain, "This isn't the Ritz, you know". And most of the time I'd find this criticism not a little unfair. Strange, then, that when I visit them now and really do treat their house and hospitality exactly like a hotel, they don't seem to mind at all. Absence breeds tolerance, I suppose. Maybe I should steal some towels.

Awaking the next morning, feeling as bright and breezy as you only truly do the day after a monumentous hangover, mum asked me to plant a few, err, plants. I'd offered to help with gardening before, now would be my test as to whether I'd really meant it. But it was good to get out of the city, and be surrounded again by green leafy things.

"Two trenches there, please" she instructed, pointing.

'Trench' might be too extravagant a term for what was more accurately described as an 'elongated divot'. But I was enjoying it. Those hours watching 'The City Gardener' hadn't been in vain after all: Dig. Dig. Gravel. Sand. Plant bulbs (pointy side up). Cover up. Marvellous.

After as much as thirty minutes hard toil, I stepped back to admire my work.

"Then another two just in front, please" came the request.

Oh dear. This, to my mind, constituted a re-brief. Had this been business, there'd have been hell to pay. But as it was my mum, it'd have been churlish to argue.

"I'll make you a nice cup of coffee" she offered, "A proper one. In the cafferteeyair. With custard creams." No workman can argue with that.

Dad wittered during the afternoon how Brian Lara didn't deserve a new world record, because the conditions favoured the batsmen. This opinion was based, because of his refusal to get Sky TV ("I'm not lining Murdoch's pockets" he'd say), solely on radio commentary, and the teletext scoresheet. He remained steadfast. Lara got 400, England lost five wickets.

Both drove me back to the station, adhering to their completely unnecessary but charming ritual of waving the train away as they sat in their usual, favoured parking space.

Bless 'em.

Didn't buy me any fucking Easter eggs, mind.
Sunday, April 11, 2004

  I winked at a girl last night.

Well, technically, it was two of them. But if you're interested, it was the one on the right.

Winking is not something I normally do.

Winking is the preserve, in my experience, of only three types of people:

1) Grandads. Normally, just after they 'steal' your nose, with their thumb. Then serve up some grated apple, with sugar.

2) Greengrocers. When serving young ladies. Saying "I've dropped an extra Golden Delicious in there for you, luv". Then "Now, on your way, young lady", or something equally patronising.

3) Tossers. And this is the category in which I suspect I fall.

I'd had a really enjoyable night. Out to celebrate my sister's birthday in the West End. Chatted with her boyf Vernon Kaye (only passing resemblance, but that'll suffice for his pseudonym) and her mates, including an ex-boyband member with mixed success in Hong Kong, but excluding a member of a popular indie band I can't mention who, unsociably, played in solitude on the fruit machine all night. Moved on to a trashy basement indie-disco which I can best, generously, describe as a cow-shed.

Midway through my usual unique dance to 'I Am The Resurrection', I decided to stay on as my sis's group left. I was having a good time. And I'd found a new friend. He was called Eddie. Eddie was cool.

In the early hours, I left the club to stagger down Regent Street, when the Two Girls were walking in the opposite direction.

She was looking at me. I was looking at her.

Then it just happened. I winked at her. (No, not the one on the left, the one on the right. Like I told you.)

Winking is seldom planned: you just wink.

It has the desired response. "He looks alright", I heard her reply. Gadzukes, she must have been more pissed than me.

I heard a voice inside my head: "Chase her! Chase her!!!". But a deeper voice knew best: "Leave her. Your work is done. You have winked."

As I think I've heard many people tell me before, I am at last a complete winker.

Winking is the future.
Friday, April 09, 2004

  Pissed Bloke's Syndrome

Today I am suffering from the after-effects of what I call 'Pissed Bloke's Syndrome'. (I have yet to ascertain whether this is shared by females of our species, so seek feedback.)

Last night I met up with Ex-Boss and his friend Bookseller to see Sia, singer with coffee table muzak-makers Zero 7 at Camden's Barfly venue. Sia was ace. The boys were in good spirits.

But I digress. Let me explain.

Normally I pride myself on the efficiency of my change management skills. By this, I mean paying for things. I'm not one of those people who waits to reach the checkout before fumbling round for change. Oh no. That's tardy. And I cannot abide tardiness. In a sufficiently long queue, I will have time to sort some change, ready for the total cost to be announced. I buy cautiously, and strive to pay the exact amount, offloading as many loose coins as possible. It's a good system. Everyone's a winner. The merchant has a replenished float, able to cover a plethora of change-giving scenarios. Customers behind me benefit from this too, without enduring any undue delays. And I, of course, benefit from lighter pockets. It's slick. Fast. Effective.

Except, at some point during the evening when I go out, my behaviour changes. Significantly. My obsessive sense for order gives way to recklessness. But I only become aware of this by piecing together pieces of evidence the next morning.

First, my bank balance is depleted by funds sufficient to bankrupt a lower league football club. Cash machine transactions verify that I must have been responsible, even if some appear from locations of which I have little or no recollection.

Second, my pockets are laden with coinage weighing as much as a small child. Pound coins. Silver coins. Copper coins. Some coins, inexplicably, from little-known foreign countries. This, you see, is Pissed Bloke's Syndrome.

I can only assume I press a secret button on the cash machine which only appears when you're pissed, which ensures cash is dispensed in notes of £50 or higher. Then use these notes, repeatedly, to buy miniscule rounds of drinks, insisting that all change be given in coins only.

Today is my sister's birthday. She wants money. For a tent. For Glastonbury. But I'm ashamed to hand over the shrapnel that's in my pockets. So will probably have to pop down to 'Poundbusters', to start the whole change management cycle all over again.
Thursday, April 08, 2004


Last night I met up with Tall Stuttering Friend*.

"Let's not go to one of those smoky shit hole pubs we normally frequent." he suggested, "Let's try one of those bigger bars. You know, the ones with women in it. And sofas."

Though I don't normally choose drinking establishments on account of their furnishings, he was absolutely right. We're moving upmarket.

TSF has been, until recently, my sole single friend. The past few years have presented him with turbulent relationships, fatherhood, and several rough encounters. So he's bursting full of advice, from the useful to not-so-useful.

Blind dates: risky. Internet dating: scary. Dating agencies (one affectionately referred to as the 'SOS Club'): problematic.

One of his more disturbing encounters was meeting a stranger who'd simply asked him the time at an Argos store. Then just stood there. And waited. And waited. Until he suggested going for a coffee. Chatting, texting, and events too depraved even for these pages followed. I didn't think people met like this. Perhaps I shall try a 'Budgen's Express'.

TSF is currently settling down with a new girlfriend, and I'm very happy for him. Sorry, ladies.

*DISCLAIMER: Tall Stuttering Friend is a long-standing and valued friend. He holds many positive attributes. He's a great laugh, kind-hearted and loyal. But the distinguishing characteristic is he's very tall. And stutters a bit, though it's virtually non-existent these days and disappears completely after a few beers. So I hereby absolve myself of guilt should he ever read this. Stutters have been removed from spoken text for your ease of reading. Remember the values of your investments can fall as well as rise. No animals were harmed in the posting of this post.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004

  Unlikely lad

It's not easy being single again after so long. I miss my ex. Only natural: we'd shared six generally happy years together. It'd be odd if I didn't. But you have to move on. Find things to replace the gaping chasm in your life. Good things, positive things.

Friends have been great in rallying round and getting me out and about. My married mates though have turned their initial sympathy into envy as they strive to live their unfulfilled singledom through the lives of the couple of us that are partnerless. I hadn't been out "on the pull" for so long, I'd forgotten just how pressurising peer pressure could be.

And so I've found myself desperately trying to be a proper lad again. I don't know why: I wasn't much of a lad the first time round. Not into fast cars. Only a passing interest in sport. No ladies' man. Never been to Costa Del Sol. Why should I be different now?

I watched the footy last night, and enjoyed it. Nothing wrong with that: 10 Lad Points. But - and here's where my life has moved on since my youth - watching the game was accompanied with a vegetable pasta bake and red wine. Not so worrying; perhaps I'm more 'new man' than lad: five points. But was finding myself taping 'The City Gardener' to watch after the game a step too far? Null points.

I don't even have a garden. And my work colleague's just bought me some sushi for lunch.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Despite its having been in existence for mere days, my hotmail account has already received an email from a wealthy Nigerian businessman seeking my assistance in a large business transaction.

I've received similar emails before and, despite some suspicions, believed in good faith that my assistance has been genuinely sought because I am a business person of high standing and integrity: I'm special.

Suddenly, though, I'm not so sure. Not least because my email account is entitled 'unluckyman', which casts doubt on the thoroughness of my contact's research into potential business partners.

This makes me suspect this may be a scam. Watch out, kids.
Sunday, April 04, 2004

  Backing the wrong horse

Volvo had booked us all in to a family room of a Holiday Inn 'Express', about five miles outside Birmingham city centre. Quite similar to the real thing, but not quite as good: the Dannii Minogue of the accommodation world. In keeping with the 'express' ethos, we dropped our toothbrushes and spare pants off (not wanting to be laden down with such baggage) and took a cab back into town.

We disembarked at one end of Broad Street and hit the first bar we could find. I hope, for Birmingham's sake, this was the 'bottom end' of Broad Street. In most bars I find myself, reassuringly, towards the upper quartile of its age range. This bar, however, was graced with people my age. And their parents. And their parent's parents. With many of these people getting off with each other. Dismal. And vulgar.

Not wanting to play the wallflower, however, I entered in the spirit (when in Rome, etc), and soon got chatting to a nice Brummie lass: a structural engineer, you know. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, though, I decided not to progress matters further on account of her eyes being too wide apart, which I'd concluded would render any potential snogging action unenjoyable. So I danced with some pissed women instead.

I fell asleep whilst some bad porn (poorly directed, atrociously acted, no discernable plot) played on the TV. My body clock often awakes me early, which is frustrating. But this Saturday I was awoken early by Volvo's body clock: specifically, him farting against me, so quite literally a rude awakening. Flicking through the 'Toby Carvery' menu on my bedside table, I immediately regretted my hasty and unjust rejection of 'Wide Eyed Girl' the previous evening, and pondered what could have been. Her gazing into my eyes would have been a far preferable sight to the reality I was faced with even if, at that angle, I would have only seen one of hers.

Having hailed the only cabbie in the world with no local cafe knowledge, we dined al fresco by a greasy van by the market. The footy, of course, was equally abysmal. Grabbing some tins from the Villa Park minimart, we walked the 'industrial' route back to the city centre, where we wasted some more money on slow horses, mediocre food and more drink.

We couldn't have been more wrong in assuming that an evening train back into London would be emptier and quieter. Within a few minutes it became clear there was a bit of aggro arising between fans. After a couple of dozen 'crimewatch' identity paraders walked past, violence was soon erupting in the next carriage, and most sane passengers decided to flee. The train came to a halt as someone pulled the emergency cord.

We were concerned how the local constabulary would cope with such a situation, being the sort of remote place the biggest crime would be scrumping. Though response was slow, it was effective. A couple of vans arrived, with a helicopter circling overhead. The only certainty was we'd be stranded for some time. And so we were. Volvo accurately observed that if police determined arrests according by neck width, justice would be done - though they'd need to, technically, exclude the old lady with the neck-brace. I've no idea what started the fracas, and to be honest don't want to know, though understand it was trivial.

Finally arriving back over an hour late, greeted by many more officers, we retired to a Marylebone pub to calm our nerves, and remind ourselves of what a good time we'd actually had and reaffirm some positive belief in human nature.
Friday, April 02, 2004


Some people are calmly, confidently persuasive. Others resort to undignified acts of utter desperation.

And so it happened yesterday afternoon that my important work was interrupted by wails of extreme noise from the front of our building.

This tortuous racket was eminating from a keen-as-mustard rock band (poor footage here), who had hired a carnival float, PA and a banner promoting their website. Their aim was to impress some gig-bookers from one of London's most prestigious music venues who share my office. It's not every day something like that happens.

Whilst the romanticist in me salutes such initiative, the cynic dismisses such behaviour as trying a little too hard. Unfortunately, most of my colleagues seemed to share the cynical view, even if they might be overlooking the next Beatles.

Tonight, I travel to our fair city of Birmingham for tomorrow's big footy game with my mates Volvo and M. Though I've only really gotten into the game in the last couple of years, I now understand what the white lines on the green mean, and which way the kickers should kick. More than enough to hold a conversation with a self-appointed expert in any pub, I think.

My good mate Volvo has largely put his wild past behind him with his stable job, loving wife, 2 good kids (the 0.4 will follow, no doubt), semi-detatched house and, you guessed it, Volvo estate. He has developed a liking for tweed jackets, sometimes appended with elbow-patches. You know you've hit thirty-something-hood when your buying decisions are based on benefits, rather than mere whim, fashion or indulgence: "Elasticated waist trousers! They grow as you grow!!"

Nonetheless, we shall be leaving our tweed jackets behind us for the weekend. Off to have some fun. And should I meet any nice (or not so nice) Brummy lasses, I'll kid myself I'm calmly, confidently persuasive - even if I have the obvious look of utter desperation.

Have good weekends, y'all.
Thursday, April 01, 2004

  Meeting people is easy

I don't usually frequent pubs on my own.

But because I can't get Sky or cable in my flat, I bought into the 'digital TV revolution' with an ONdigital box - a bit like buying into the space race with a Sinclair C5. (Thinking about it, our Beagle wasn't too dissimilar. Bless.)

Consequently, I sometimes pop out to a local pub to watch sport, and have a habit when drinking alone of being befriended by a stranger. Meeting people can be fun, invigorating, even inspiring. Yet invariably I am befriended by old gits, bigots and/or dullards. Friends tell me I've just got "one of those faces". I don't know what they mean.

And so I popped out to my local 'Oirish' bar and ordered a pint of Staropramen, to get behind 'our boys' in the national spirit. I was settling into watching the game nicely.

After a few minutes, a generously-weighted Brummie fella, wearing the obligatory England shirt, started making smalltalk about the match. This was innocuous enough, but my mistake was to engage in conversation. Reciprocating opened the floodgates to a barrage of opinion, arrogance and prejudice. Being continually talked at, I've really no idea how good the game was. It was a Pareto conversation: 80% him, 20% me.

The topics that followed should serve as a reminder to me, and a lesson to us all, of those best avoided in similar situations:

1. Football (match specific): who's in; who's out; who's injured; who's banned that shouldn't be; who's playing who should be banned.
2. Employment: what I do for living; why I'm great at my job; how much more I earn in London; how I avoid paying tax.
3. House prices: how fast they've risen; how cheap they used to be; how expensive London is; how cheap Birmingham is; my house.
4. Football (general): overpaid players; why today's players aren't as good as the olden days; too many foreign players; too extravagant lifestyles; why their wives are to blame.
5. Asylum seekers: too many foreigners; stealing our jobs; don't like them bossing me round; it's my country.
6. Racism (prompted by an exasperated me): I'm not rascist; some are alright; you lefty Londoners.

By this point, I was quite angry. I raised my voice quite a bit. Flared my nostrils. And waggled my finger on a couple of occasions. We finished our beers, and bid each other goodnight.

My mum always taught me not to speak to strangers. I'm only now learning why.
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