From time to time I like to try something new and creative and if it’s any good, or at least an interesting failure, I’ll write about it here.
From time to time I like to try something new and creative and if it’s any good, or at least an interesting failure, I’ll write about it here.
I have a new song published! Available here:
The song is a brooding affair, part atmospheric like a Pink Floyd number and part aggressive as a Guns n’ Roses track.
Most of my songs are written over a long period of time but my memory of this song is it all happened on 2nd January 2000. The verse lyrics accurately describe a dream I had that night and the chorus is my feeling on waking.
“I asked for a taxi and you sent me a hotel car, you idiot“.
Kevin was having a bad morning or night or whatever it was. It was one o’clock in the morning in Chennai where he was and six in the evening in Manchester where he was trying to get too. At some point when you’re crossing time zones and moving bands of light and darkness, “morning” and “afternoon” cease to have meaning. He was stood in the reception of the Royal Hotel wearing a linen suit and loafers without socks that would not have looked out of place for an Englishman in India at any moment during the last two centuries.
“I’ve been coming to Chennai for 20 years. I take a taxi to the airport. Your cars are too damned expensive”. Next to him was a fellow traveller who had been attempting to sort his boarding card out at the travel desk before he’d cut in and demanded the clerk’s attention.
“Apologies for cutting in there old chap, I just need this sorting quickly if you don’t mind”. He looked his compatriot in the eye then up at the ceiling with what he assumed was a shared understanding. These native fools couldn’t organise a piss-up in the brewery. Couldn’t run their own country and couldn’t even book him a sodding taxi.
He had indeed been coming to India for a very long time. In his twenties he had worked out that paper lampshades could be constructed here for not even pennies, imported flat and lightweight, and sold on for pounds to middling department stores. The key to the success of his business – and it had proven very successful – was cheap labour. Over the years, Kevin had become very canny at rotating the staff – periodically flying in to move a factory or fire a shift. The replacements were too new to be organised and the remainder grateful to still be there. Unfortunately this trip had had to be cut short owing to a domestic situation.
“I can see there’s only one of you and you’re helping this chap so Get Someone Else”.
A couple of hotel managers quickly walked over to the desk dressed in their smart gold uniforms to see what the commotion was all about. Kevin just swore under his breath but loud enough to be heard and repeated his request, speaking loudly and slowly like he was talking to a child, in the time honoured manner of an Englishman abroad.
“I want you to Book. Me. A. Taxi. Or an Uber. Whatever. I need to leave in Five Minutes.”
He turned and walked halfway across the bright white marble floored reception of the Hotel before turning and walking halfway back again.
“GET ON WITH IT”.
8 hours previously……
Kevin was hurting at every level. The heat and dirt of India always gave him a headache which combined with the stress of trying to get the simplest thing done to break him out into a profound sweat day and night. To make matters worse he’d brought a can of antiperspirant with him that was near enough empty. Having no choice he’d had to go into one of the small local convenience stores – really more of a shack than a proper shop – and bought a can of the local stuff. One spray under each arm was enough to cause a skin reaction that initially cause him to feel like his armpits had eaten a Madras, and by the time the Madras tingle had ramped up to a Vindaloo burn he’d had to pour his bottle of water down his sleeves to rinse the foul spray off. To cover his embarrassment he’d had to yell at his driver for what he perceived to be a smirk.
On the way back to his hotel for his 3rd shower of the day, the text had come through from Kevin’s wife Emma:
“See you tonight D love E xx”
This made no sense at all. Emma knew he was away until the weekend. It was evening local time and morning back home in Leeds. What the hell was she on about? And D? Come to think of it, Emma was the kind of plain speaking Yorkshire lass who would cringe at the thought of sending kisses to her husband in a text message. Her phone must have been stolen.
He was about to text this back to her when he realised the absurdity of this – firstly, if it had been stolen, she wasn’t going to get the message and secondly, the “E” suggested that it had come from Emma.
Could the message have been intended for someone else?
He tried on the idea like a suit of clothes and found it an uncomfortably close fit. Truth was, they were not a terribly romantic couple. She looked after the house and two teenage boys whilst he was away, which was as often as he could be. He told himself and others it was because he enjoyed the travel although he plainly didn’t. When he was home, they’d share a house and begrudging intercourse – he joked with Dave that they were a “same sex couple” as in always had the same sex – but not much else. They had run out of fresh conversation about 6 months into the marriage.
Dave Milson – regional manager of a national stationary distributer.
“See you tonight D love E xx”
Surely not? Emma was a pretty girl, good enough to decorate his arm at the work’s Christmas do. Dave was, well, a bit of a mess frankly. He smelt of cigarettes and divorce with bitterness where his spine should have been. He lived in a semi that was too large for his needs now in the downtrodden part of East Yorkshire that was not hip like Leeds and not near the coast. Grim basically.
But this was an idea that once it was thought could not easily be dismissed. She’d actually spent more time than him talking to Dave since the divorce papers went through, principally because he just couldn’t stand the whining. Being a loser was infectious and he did not need the contamination. So Emma had taken him out a few times for dinner to cheer him up and that had been OK. Better her than him listening to that shite.
He went from denial to anger like a rally driver going through the gears. The bitch. The Fucking Bitch. The absolute ingratitude of it. What was she without him – a home maker and part time shop assistance? He bought her trinkets and jewels and watched those God-awful “comedies” that she loved when he was home. He was good to her.
There were going to be words when he got home which would be as early as the flights allowed and if he didn’t like what he heard she’d be out on her arse.
16 hours previously….
When you’ve been visiting a place for as long as Kevin you fall into a routine where you visit the same restaurants and beer-bars every time. It’s just easier to go where you know things are to your taste, particularly abroad where everything is just so foreign.
Kevin also had a favourite late night establishment where the price of a handful of beers back home would buy you the undivided attention of a couple of girls for the evening through to the morning if you desired. He’d been going there for 3 years now and was on friendly terms with the manager – whose name he’d still failed to learn. The manager however knew Kevin’s name and more importantly his tastes. English speaking, minimal accent, university educated, not too dark. Kevin liked his girls Fair and Lovely.
This evening he was enjoying the company of two girls in his usual manner – talking to them about himself and enjoying their rapt attention. He occasionally blew a little of his cigar smoke in their face just to watch them smile and pretend not to wince. It reminded him of what he was paying for. The girls were well trained enough to know not to talk too much but never break eye contact and smile and laugh whenever appropriate. Later they would do whatever else he asked for him. He never mentioned his wife as pretending to have picked up these girls was part of the fantasy they sell. He didn’t bother to move his wedding band however as that would have afforded them more respect than they were due.
This was a legitimate business expense for him so he wouldn’t even be paying the tax on the transaction. Instead a record of “Entertaining clients” would be provided for his accountant. This thought gave him pleasure too, almost as much what the girls would give him later. He worked hard, he deserved his recreation.
4 weeks later…..
Kevin was in bed with a girl who called herself “Tanje” from the country of “Eastern Europe”. They’d met in his local club when she’d sat down next to him on the black and white leopard striped sofas. She was a stunning blonde who was naturally comfortable being dressed in just red lingerie and he was one bottle of scotch into his evening before he even set foot in the establishment. Easy pickings for a skilled operator like “Tanje”.
Together, they’d run up a £1,000 drinks bill at the club on several bottles of vastly overpriced champagne that she received commission on. She’d let him do most of the drinking whilst having enough herself to keep the bottles coming. She was an excellent listener which was every bit as important a skill as stripping and fucking in her line of work but this was a particularly easy mark as Kevin cycled through excited, angry and maudlin in his telling of how his bitch of a shortly-to-become-ex-wife had shacked up with this fucking loser ex-friend and how he’d taken the taxi straight to his house from the airport, how he’d banged on the door at three in the morning and Dave didn’t have the balls to come out of his house like a man and the neighbours had called the police and that was the kind of fucking coward that takes a man’s woman when his back was turned. He’d been a good friend to Dave, been there when no-one else was during the divorce and tried to help him get promoted in his pathetic little job and even then he’d screwed it up. She even maintained her charm and silence as he explained somewhat gleefully how she’d miss him when she had to leave after Brexit.
Later he was out of steam talking so he bought himself a few dances from his Eastern European as he liked to “see the goods before he buys”. Judging her to be good enough for him, he’d made the necessary transaction for the night. She knew his type and made sure she had his money up front. Men like that who’d been drinking away sorrow were a common trope in her line of work and they invariably got angry when they found they were too far gone to take their pleasure. They often wouldn’t want to pay for the humiliating experience.
So there they were, lying naked in bed. He was lying on his back, talking and swearing mainly to himself now about how unfair it all was and she was making little circles in his chest hair with his fingers, hoping he would fall asleep soon so her night’s work would be over.
We do a BBQ each year for 30-40 people and I think we’re getting quite good at catering for these numbers.
This year for variation, I did a campfire style stew that was super filling but still had the smokiness that is the essence of BBQ cooking. If you can’t taste the charcoal you cooked on you might as well have cooked in the kitchen.
To start with you need a MASSIVE pot:
This beauty was £40 from a local Asian supermarket and would serve a LOT of people.
The campfire stew I made was lamb in a red pepper sauce. They key is that everything is well smoked before it ends up in the pot:
This is a couple of lamb shoulders and a lot of red peppers, cut into chunks. They’ve all gone on the BBQ with some chunks of well soaked oak on the coals. The temperature is quite low and the lamb is directly over the coals. The peppers are receiving indirect heat. This produces a lot of smoke:
Next, fry up some onions, chili and garlic in the massive cooking pot. For authenticity this can be done on top of the BBQ although it doesn’t really matter:
Add the smoked red peppers and blend with a stick blender to make a rich, smokey red sauce. Add some cooked beans or pulses such as kidney beans or chick peas. If using dried, make sure you’ve soaked and cooked them properly – schoolboy error! The beans make for a high volume, inexpensive and filling stew. I also added a tonne of courgette to bulk it out as, like most people who grow their own, we have loads of the things.
Add the lamb and leave to simmer for a few hours. Do the usual touches according to taste – salt, pepper, chopped coriander. Serve in bowls, maybe with some torn up crusty bread. Enjoy!
“Have you seen this?”
It was a rhetorical question since Nigel had had the paper since it came into the house. He had picked it off the door mat and was reading it from his stool at the breakfast bar.
“Some poor lady got shot in a care home. They’ve arrested her husband!”
Beryl glanced up from the cooker, her thin lips pursed.
“Says that she was shot with a ’30s service revolver. Jees, how long must he have had that lying around? Did she know?”
Beryl slapped the fried egg down on a piece of toast with slightly more force than was necessary.
“Well of course she knew. Of course she did”.
“What’s that meant to mean?”
“He’s had a gun in the house for 60 years! She’s been keeping the house, washing his clothes all that time. Now they’re in a nursing home with probably nothing but a suitcase each and the thing’s still there. Do you think she didn’t notice? I’d notice”.
Nigel felt slightly stung by the force of her words and detected in them a buried rebuke.
“Maybe she did.”
“Of course she bloody did. Poor old dear was probably terrified her entire life.”
Nigel glanced up at her as he bit into his toast, making the mental calculation of whether to pursue the conversation or just let it go.
“You don’t know that. It might have been for their protection. Maybe it made her feel safe.”
He regretted saying it immediately.
“And what kind of guy keeps a gun all his life? Ex squaddie from Essex. Bloody thug, that’s who. I bet he beat her. Imagine that going on for 50, 60 years. What a life!”
Nigel kept his head towards his wife but his eyes were down towards the newspaper. The conversation as a dialogue was functionally over.
“It was different back then, wasn’t it. A women stuck with her husband through thick and thin. Put up with anything. Well, it killed her in the end, didn’t it? Are you listening?”
50 miles north and 9 hours later, regional sales manager Dave Milson walked in to Penistone Bowling Club for what he referred to as “Singles Night”. Basically, him and his two other divorced friends having a couple of pints of lager and chuntering about their exes.
The preamble is always the same, jostling for who gets the first round in at the sticky old bar and taking their usual spot in the corner of the room that last looked fresh some time in the 1980s. They ask how their respective weeks have been as a conversational gambit, not really caring for the answer. It’s just the prelude to the banter.
“Have you seen this?” said Dave, showing his phone to Steve and Tom.
There was a point about three quarters of the way in to his first pint when Dave felt his body physically relax, like a whole-body sigh. He reached that point now.
“‘Kinell, yes” said Tom. “Imagine”.
“Yep. Poor fella finally snapped!”
“She probably told him to put the toilet seat down one too many times!”
Dave and Tom snorted ladishly at the image.
“Yeah he was like ‘Tell me about that toilet seat one more time. I dare you. I double fucking dare you bitch”
“I bet he’s well pleased with himself. No nagging where he’s going, eh?”
“Just got to be careful not to drop the soap”
Predictable as a Swiss clock whenever prison is mentioned but the anal rape reference got guffaws in any case.
“Wah Wah Wah Pick up your clothes Wah Wah Wah you’re drunk”
“Can’t blame him really, can you”
At about the same time and in the rather more sober setting of a nurses break room at the local hospital, Senior Sister Anita Patel was chatting to her colleague over a cup of tea that most people would consider over-brewed. She found anything weaker too watery and wouldn’t give her the kick she needed to get through the second half of a late shift.
“Have you seen this?” She was gesturing to the coffee-ringed copy of the Daily Mail that had been left in the break room.
“‘Bout that thing in the care room? Yeah, wha’s that ’bout?”
“He just shot her! After been married 50 years”.
“I know! Don’t gettit. I mean, after 50 years an all.”
“Well, sometimes you just get to that age and you don’t know who you are any more. Bet he didn’t know who she even was”
Anita put her cup down and checked her watch. She was due back on the ward in three minutes.
“I’ve seen it loads of times. Old geezers who think their fine and their families think are compos mentis arrive in our department all confused and not know who they are!”
“Yeah, seen it. What do you even do about that?”
“Well by then it’s too late. You just have to protect them and the people around them. Sometimes they suddenly get violent from nowhere. Bet this Ronald guy had frontal lobe infarcts. That’s the usual thing. Saw that a couple of months ago, this frail looking old guy suddenly turned, right in the department. Looked like he didn’t weigh more than 50 kilos but it took 3 nurses to bring him under control. No warning!”
They silently put their cups down and went back to their shifts.
Ronald maintained the same position he had been in for the last 4 hours; Seated but bolt upright, with a spine so straight you could use it as a ruler. The kind posture that only old school army boys had any more. Hands clasped on the table in front of him. Staring dead straight in front of him, eyes focused in the distance at nothing in particular. Silent.
The two young detectives had tried it all. They’d started by treating him as an old uncle, talking down to him, then about him right in front of him. Then they’d gotten more aggressive and tried to threaten him like a common criminal, before finally falling silent in the hope that the awkwardness would force him to start talking. Fools.
He’d lost everything. He would never be free again. At 87 “For ever” wasn’t a scary length of time but still. Never go home again, back to the room that had been home for the last 13 years. He saw his family precious little as it was. Now would they come and visit him, knowing what he’d done? Would he ever get to meet his great-grandson? Unlikely now. Never play cards again with Bill. Small mercies. Bill was a prick anyway.
There was only one thing he had left. A piece of knowledge that he had and nobody else knew. The knowledge that these idiot detectives had been trying to get from him for the last countless hours, and he was resolved to take to the grave with him.
Only he knew why.
Made a journey today from Chisinau to Zarnesti. Moldova to Romania. Outside to inside the EU.
Woke up in the plushest hotel in Europe’s poorest country, the Prezidente hotel, where they play loud slamming techno in the restaurant 24 hours per day. Picked up my white BMW pimp wagon from the airport. This is where it got fun….
I was unable to download the Moldovan map on my Satnav app so I had to try and exit the country using voice guidance only – no road found where I drove. In the middle of Chisinau I took a wrong turn and panicked slightly, doing a uturn and going back the way I came, to some honking. Then a siren.
The cop pulled me over and asked me in decent English what I’d done wrong. I didn’t really know. He pointed out I was going down a public transport only road and there was a no entry sign.
My default defence to authority is to get terribly English and hope he recognises me as a good egg. So I got more and more Terry-Thomas as he says “I need to make you papers and you need to go to the bank”.
Getting exasperated, he sits me down in his car and I finally understand what he wants. A bribe. Oh, I exclaim and get my purse out, just as the other cup wanders over. The chap rolls his eyes at my naivety and tells me to put it in the door. As I expected to be leaving Moldova I had hardly any money anyway.
Another couple of hours of driving in circles gets me to the border. First time I’ve crossed a land border into the EU and it seems easy until the woman at the gate tells me to turn around and go through the customs checks.
First guy can’t speak English so I hand him my phone with Google Translate on it. The message he types translates as “is it your intention to make contact with collaborators?”. I shake my head.
Next guy informs me I need special insurance to drive in the EU. All is not lost, I Can get it from the booths at the start of the check point. So, I pick the first one and say ‘carte verde’. The man wants cash which I don’t have so reluctantly he takes my card. He has no clue how to use the machine apart from following two pages of instructions one word at a time. It doesn’t work.
Someone else points out there is a bank across the road and it actually works. I have cash, i have my green Insurance card. Customs was a breeze after that. Then another queue for immigration into the EU.
My overall impression was that everyone was trying their hardest to be helpful and friendly, and also that my visceral hatred of the principal of border control is not diminished. It should not take two hours to get from one bit of land to another identical bit of land.
The rest of the trip was long and pleasant enough. The scenery was a photographers paradise apart from not having time to take advantage – alternating flat plains and mountains.
My lunch stop was at a random cafe in a small town where I got chatting to a local guy who lived in London, working as a lorry driver. I shared sunflower seed with his family and gave them the rest of my biscuits in Return.
Got in to the guesthouse at 21:15, 11 hours after I started. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!
Mead brewing is fascinating because the basic recipe is simple – Water, Honey and Yeast – and then you can flavour it with anything you want.
I’ve found lemon mead and apple and ginger mead to be highly successful – although one batch was far too lemony and ended up tasting medicinal. I’ve also made quince mead and chili and chocolate mead.
I use champagne yeast that makes a stronger drink. It’s also very dry – you expect mead to be sweet but this isn’t. It’s more like prosecco.
I can’t add anything that Storm the Castle haven’t already said so go there for details but my advice is to find a honey dealer and give it a go!
Dave – for that was what he had to be called – had set the alarm for 05:12 in the morning. Straight out of bed and on the floor into the press up position. 3 sets to failure, groggily at first then with increasing energy as his body woke up. Morning routine – teeth, face, shower, antiperspirant, aftershave. All done within 30 seconds of the time he had allocated when he planned his actions the night before. Best suit, most expensive shirt and tie combination. He tied his tie 7 times before he is happy with it.
Breakfast was a banana sandwich for the slow release carbohydrates and 1.5 cups of coffee. Dave had read the research on the time caffine persists in the system and knew the optimal dose to be alert but not jittery at 10:30. Today was his. Nothing would be left to chance. Today he would show her.
At 06:12 the train to London arrives in Doncaster, bang on time. He waited on the platform in the right spot for his carriage to come to him. This left time to rehearse in his mind every scenario imaginable for how this meeting would play out. There were a myriad of possibilities, countless questions he could be asked, but all the different timelines inevitably converged on one outcome: Promotion.
They had to. This was his last chance. The divorce would be finalised next week but while there’s life there’s hope. Believe. Take this opportunity and everything would turn around.
Don’t dwell on the negatives. Don’t think yourself out of form. Where’s your positivity, Dave? On your phone, that’s where. It’s time for your boost. White ear buds rammed in your ears and go to the playlist you put together last night. The song starts and his adrenaline surges, bassline ascending like prowling tiger. “I call you when I need you when my heart’s desire”….. The other people on the carriage look around. Someone smirks. I don’t care. I’m Simply The Best!
200 miles further south and 6 hours previously, Carl and Michael had got out of bed. They were more haphazard but no less organised. Hat, gloves, bolt cutters. Their purpose was self enrichment, same as Dave’s but their methods were nefarious. Half a kilometre of copper cable, unguarded by the railway and worth hundreds in scrap.
The heist is hardly text book and they made a bloody mess of the control booth but they left with a car boot full of shiny metal. For this they got £157.43 from the local shadey scrap merchant who made 5 times that from selling it on. The money had been lost in a bookie by the afternoon.
There was one other inevitable consequence to their morning’s activities – chaos om the railways. The whole of North West London was paralysed while emergency repairs were effected.
After 3 hours going nowhere on a crowded train, Jenny finally admitted defeat and called her boss to say she’d be working from home today. She’d have to have her meeting with David next week….