The girl looks at us. "Are any of you over 65?" she says.
Brighton. Roedean pitch and putt. We are buying tickets.
The girl looks at us. "Are any of you over 65?" she says.
Despite having perfectly balanced chips on both shoulders, I think it is fair to say I’ve had as easy a life as anyone can reasonably expect. But, amongst all my blessings, there’s one I’ve taken for granted, and have never hitherto thought of as an advantage, mainly because, for most of my life, it hasn’t been. But in this new golden digital age my name alone has significant value. Who’d have thunk that. That’s really something. Considering I’m called Gary. A name so redolent of a certain time and class that even now it’s the go-to name in gritty period drama about losers and simpletons.
But, the thing is, I just Googled my name. Don’t ask me why – we all know I’m solipsistic enough already, as this posting itself proves, but I promise you it’s not something I’m in the habit of doing, as indeed this post also proves, because what awaited me there was amazing. The thing is, there’s just me there. In the Google world I am unique. A one-off. Original.
(It is true there is a Gary Twynham – an ex professional footballer who sometimes clutters up my searches. An old schoolfriend emailed me a decade or so ago to say he had always assumed I had played for Darlington. I wrote back to say ‘wrong Gary’, but that I was flattered that he had imagined me as a professional footballer – my friend being so much better than me back in the day. He wrote back to say that, to be fair, it was only because it had just been Darlington. But enough about him.)
My Google search is magnificent. Seriously, try it. For on Google I am an author. Totally bona fide. Even though I really ain’t. I’m an established author with a whole series of books for sale and some of them even with pretty covers. Plus, some poems. What I wrote. The key thing is there is no competition. Just me. No need for refined searches or scrolling downwards. Just me (and Karin).
And that makes this an important lesson in life. Me, I just got lucky, long after I stopped rolling the dice or hoping for an inside draw to a straight. Having carried the name Gary around with me like a dark unfathomable class crime all these years. Having burdened my wife with an unspellable surname for nigh on thirty years. Having failed to come up with a plausible anagram for the best part of 56 years. I have stumbled upon a modern truth.
You can be anyone you wanna be. As long as no-one else has bagged it first.
Or some such nonsense, which is trotted out without shame or scrutiny, each and evey year. The FA Cup also.
Well move aside, also-rans. Apparently - or at least according to my mum - THREE billion people watched the latest royal wedding. Or, to put it another way, 40% of the world's population.
Extraordinary, really, considering only 25% of people in the UK watched it...
Golden Jubilee (or Harry's Wedding).
(because I couldn't be arsed to write a new poem)
I am a monarchist
I am a royalist
I know what I want
And I know how to get it
I wannna enjoy the royal fly-by
'Cause I wanna see the monarchy.
Monarchy in the UK
It's been here some time and praise be
She's gonna outlive you and me
Which spares us all from King Charles Three
Cause I wanna see the monarchy
It's in the city.
Be careful not to get what you want
I want the best, I fear the rest
I was the enemy
Now I cheer on Prince Will-E
Cause I wanna see the monarchy
It's the only way to be.
What's this I hear you say,
So, we get a holiday,
What the F-U-C-K?
Though Pippa's arse is okay
And I wanna see the monarchy
Another gaffe by Prince Harry.
Bobby chased a hare today – across the fields at Ryton – as though he was 17 human years young. It was like Alex Ferguson’s description of when he first set eyes on a thirteen-year old Ryan Giggs - “like a cocker spaniel in the park chasing a piece of sliver paper in the wind”
Oh, who am I kidding – he was like a 71 year-old man running for the bus. It was like if I rocked up to Durdham Downs for one last appearance for West Town, a team I was already too old and fat for when I was 25. Luckily, they were too shit to notice.
Unlike me, today, cheering on the side-lines, as Bobby wheezed to a halt halfway up a hill, hollering at the hare – come back, I’ll have you – come here – oh, buggering hell – you pesky kids…phuwee.
I swear there was a moment when the hare stopped and waited for him.
Bless. Still, no doubt he'll score a hat-trick in his dreams tonight, like I have these last thirty years...
This is Anne’s latest art installation, currently on display in Shifnal and then no doubt in line for the Turner Prize. Available post-Christmas to anyone with deep enough pockets.
The statue, which immediately brings to mind the thinness of Giacometti, the roundness of Moore and the cheekiness of Hirst, asks the question, what lies at the intersection between on-going self-awareness and mere physical death? It’s in the exploration of this liminal space that the artist conveys the notion that both permanence and space are mere temporal constructs that may or may not be swaddled in purpose, and may or may not have consciousness. In essence, does the Emperor have, or have not, clothes? Or as the Christmas Tree might have it - am I, or am I not, dressed? Or as Magritte himself might have said: "This is a Christmas tree. N'est ce pas?"
There’s a wooden gate near me that divides nowhere from nowhere. It’s on the footpath that winds around the Manor Barns on its way down to the Wesley Brook and the sewage works.
There seems no reason for it. No animals to pen in, nothing to keep out. Closure for the sake of it. A modern-art metaphor for Brexit maybe. Except it’s been here as long as I have. And it has no purpose. Or not one I can fathom. Indeed, we are kindred spirits.
Not least in that it always does its best to stay open. It doesn’t swing back automatically. It stubbornly stays open. People have to go out of their way to close the gate, as they’ve all been rightly trained to do around here, where the Countryside Code is a genetic folk memory. As it is for me. It’s a gate and gates should be closed.
But, for ten years now, I’ve been leaving this gate open. Twice a day, most days for ten years. (And, in all that time, it has always been closed by someone in the hour or so between my walk out and my walk home).
A few weeks ago, the gatepost that holds it shut was broken, vandalised maybe. By a freedom fighter, maybe. Who knows. Today, as I wandered past, them good old volunteers of the Shifnal Pathfinders were replacing the gatepost.
As with every Tuesday, we swapped hellos as they patted Bobby.
“I’ve never been sure what the point of this gate is.” I said.
“Nope, nor us” they said.
And then they shrugged and carried on anyway, like a cast of characters out of a Magnus Mills novel.
This, of course, is of no real import to the nation, but this morning, to me, in that moment, it felt like it might be….
I've said this before somewhere, but still. Yes, TV is as great as it's ever been. I believe Hollywood's loss is TV's gain. I am of that number.
Line of Duty back soon; Billions, Catastrophe, Girls, The Affair, even this terrible series of The Walking Dead looks like it might finally explode back into life. The production values of the rubbish stuff is amazing - man, have you seen the kitchens in Big Little Lies? London in Stan Lee's ridunculous Lucky Man makes Coppola's Vietnam look like wattle and daub wallpaper scenery. I can't get enough of any of it. If I didn't have to, I'd barely leave the house...oh.
Of course, it helps to watch it all through a bottle of wine. I watched the first episode of The Replacement all the better for a cheeky bottle or so of Chilean Pinot Noir and it was flipping fabulous - I think the woman in the hat did something terrible. In a library. With a skylight. Maybe. I watched episode two stone cold sober and my, oh my, it was wretched. Trite, ugly, stupid. Hopeless. Third episode I topped up early. Fucking fantastic. One minute there was a baby on a windowsill, and then there wasn't. The mother kicked her way out of a car by hot-wiring the airbag. Possibly. They don't make them like that any more, I'm telling you.
But we do watch something sober most nights, and I have to say it's the best thing on TV, right now, in this golden age of marriage between TV and money.
M*A*S*H. I promise you, still the best.
Since we’ve been here, at least once a year we have been to Kemberton Village Hall for some event or other, the main purpose of which is to raise funds to ensure the survival of Kemberton Village Hall, so that it can continue to have events, the main purpose of which is to raise funds to ensure the survival of Kemberton Village Hall.
Everyone rallies around, does their bit, buys several too many raffle tickets, happily pays over the odds for some cheapo wine, and lends a hand with stacking chairs, whilst Denise and Jill do the washing-up. Anne chats to everyone and a couple of people say hello to me. This, it seems to me, is the essence of village life. Or, more generally, community life. And yes, I am mocking, that’s my default setting, but I genuinely mean it as a good thing. Proper life-enhancing stuff.
In our time, as documented elsewhere, we have attended many of these events. We have been to several quizzes; an evening of prestidigitation from the Wolverhampton Magic Circle; been entertained by a couple from the Black Country, her doing the songs and he doing the bostin jokes; not forgetting the night with the woman with several ukuleles. No, that I will never forget.
If you happen to be from London and somehow find yourself through the Looking Glass at such an event, it works like this. You buy a ticket, you show up, you eat and drink, as much of the latter as you can. Try not to win the raffle. I can’t help but feel incomers up from that there London winning a box of Celebration chocolates is cause for anything but. Definitely, try to win the quiz. Coz, well, innit, you get me. We have, a couple of times. Or once, even. Maybe. There’s still time…
Anyway, Anne decided this year was our turn. When we throw our hat into the ring. Raise some money. Pay for the roof repairs. What’s required, she suggested, is a pop-up Indian restaurant, and we, who have never once set foot in said sub-continent, are absolutely, definitely, your people, for we used to live in Tooting and even cooked a curry once, and it was quite tasty. Fairly bland, also.
So, that’s what we did last night. For 50 people:
Pea Kachori with pickled red onion and relish.
Chicken Pakora (donated by a Bangladesh Housing Co-operative Anne works with in Birmingham, and easily the best chicken pakoras in the western world, and quite possibly in the eastern world, too.)
Served with Carrot and Sultana Raita, Tomato and Chili Jam and Mint Chutney.
Lamb and Squash Curry
Aubergine and Tomato curry
Mango Fool and Cardamom Shortbread.
Sister-in-law turned the village hall into a tented Indian village, or something, which was both highly improbable and completely spectacular; and people tucked into Aldi prosecco and spiced nuts, whilst Anne turned a load of bland vegetables into something pretty bloody wonderful. I helped. As did Anne's best friend Paula and many others. But enough about them.
Food was eaten. Drink was drunk. Money was made. Kemberton Village Hall, like Mount Etna pacified by sacrifices to the Roman Gods, burped and farted, and settled down like a sleeping dog with a full belly, until the next time.
Greek, Italian, Thai, French – what’s next Anne? - e-mailed a grateful participant.
Nothing. Never. No way. E-mailed back an exhausted Anne. Bless…
In One Dog and His Man I wrote a small piece on my superior dress sense, what with me having been part of that there London Fashion Scene for a major part of my life, continually updating and rocking the latest Tooting vibe. Yes, of course I was joking. The only point clothes serve in my life, is to keep me warm. My idea of dressing smartly is to find something I haven’t spilled food down.
The piece ended with me walking past a seven-year-old girl, who was clutching her granny’s hand in fear, as she passed me in my latest outfit, one “beyond the curve of their imagination.” As she passed me, the little girl said loudly to her gran “oh, that’s not a good look.”
In riposte, these last few years I’ve blended into Shropshire life. I now have many, many fleeces. I have three outdoor fleece zipped jackets, sourced from top brands such as Aldi and the local farm shop, two black, one blue. For indoors, I have another seven fleeces, from summer lightweight to Canadian heavy duty – what Anne calls my Michelin man look. And that’s it.
Shifnal’s loss I fancy. But, yesterday, outside Barclays was a man at the cash machine, stepping up to the challenge, plainly channelling my inner catwalk model. He had sunglasses on, in February gloom, a brand-new country tweed jacket and tie up-top, and below, a pair of bright blue tracksuit bottoms, with two white stripes running down the outside of each leg, the outfit finished off with a pair of polished black shoes. Fetching.
What the seven-year-old, - who now must be thirteen and probably with her own thriving online apparel and accessories business – would have thought of it is anyone’s guess. Me, I nearly applauded.
2. One Dog and His Man. Out now in paperback.
3. Farewell Trip.
Published by Carina UK.
4. Silly Verse for Grown Ups