On Monday I received a positive response from a reputable publisher to the sample of writing I sent them. On Wednesday I sent the ms off. On Thursday I discovered it hadn’t got to the publisher. I sorted out something called iOS which everyone else in the world knows about. I think my manuscript has gone now: the whole of the ebook Hippy Valley and the new writing I did this year. The number of outlets for light verse is very narrow and it is treated with suspicion, compared to the dozens of outlets for other types of poetry.
In the 90s, I got an interview for an Education Researcher’s job at the BBC. I’d have to wear a suit. I hadn’t worn a suit for years. So I sent my brown, woolly suit to the dry cleaners, partly to get the free plastic cover. On the train journey I hung my suit from the rack, while I revised my notes. I got to Ealing Studios early. I’d never felt better prepared for an interview. They wouldn’t let me take my bag into the gents to get changed, because of the bomb threat. But I had the map of London they’d sent me and my dad’s flat was nearby. After 20 minutes in the taxi, I realised the map just showed major roads. My dad’s flat was miles away above a shop in Wembley. 90 minutes before my interview, hot and harassed, I ran past my dad into his bedroom to get changed. When I tried my suit on I couldn’t fasten the trousers. My suit didn’t fit. TBC!
Dixie Dean was still a legend in the 1950s. I read a cartoon strip about him in the Liverpool Echo, then I modelled my hair on his: centre part, with lots of Brycreem. When it was hot, I used my nails to scrape brown, greasy welts off my neck. On the way home from school one day, a bin man admired my style…even calling my mates over for a special look. After retirement, Dixie became Landlord at The Dublin Packet in Chester. As a lad, he was sent to Borstal, but later he told reporters his dad had wangled him a place there because the Borstal had its own playing fields!
Out walking, I often call in at a hostelry or a pint, as I did one swelteringly hot evening in early summer in the early 90s, at The William 2nd in Sowerby Bridge. Choosing my pint, I became aware of a charged atmosphere. A group of 20 or so locals had formed a semi-circle around couple, the old black people in the pub. There are times when a Guardian reading man has to stand up to be counted. So I took my pint over and sat next to the couple, like the sympathetic cowboy in a new wave Western. The couple stared at me, surprised. Then the Landlord’s voice boomed out, ‘And now, the moment you have all been waiting for, Page 3 favourite, Lovely Lavinia is here to entertain you!’ music suddenly blasted out. The young black lass stood up, turned her back to the audience and her front to me, undid her top and revealed small, but perfectly formed breasts, adorned with tassels, which she swung around with increasing speed a few inches from my pint to Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.
Learning to Swim
As a kid, 7 or 8, I tried to learn to swim by floating in the tub, during my once a week bath. I’d seen dead bodies floating in Sink the Bismarck and The Cruel Sea, so I tried emptying my head of thoughts and acting dead. This caused tidal waves of water to slop out of the bath, but I never fully floated. Years later, out running with my mate, Dave Jackson, I told him about this. He said my philosophy was, ‘I sink, therefore I am!’
The Director of God’s Own Country was inspired by his childhood in Soyland, where we lived in 1980. I used to eat two doorsteps of too thick for a toaster toast and then run up onto the moors, only occasionally forgetting to turn the grill off and filling the kitchen with smoke. I remember one glorious run in early spring, when the birds were riz, and the air was full of lap wing and curlew call and a lark rose high and sang its rapturous song. On my return my present wife was waiting to greet me at the gate. I was inspired to call out, ‘Oh jocund harbinger of the spring!’ She said, ‘You left the bleeding grill on!’
Game of Thrones: although the good guys tend to have blunt but honest Northern accents, it’s true to say that the programme hasn’t done much for the tourist trade up here, especially wit’ permafrost and constant threat from The Undead. It looks like we’re being set up for eventual dictatorship by Danaerys and John Snow in a benevolent version of the 3rd Reich, with order maintained by dragons rather than the SS. However, the programme has prospered by surprising our expectations. When the main protagonists finally meet, perhaps Cersei, played by Huddersfield lass Lena Headey, borrowing from the old Boddingtons ad, will say “Eee John Snow, yer Bastard, what kept thee lad, I’ve had to mek do wi me own brother!’ She’ll fling her arms around him, and reveal that she wore a Stark all along and from now on The North will start at King’s Landing. Meanwhile, dragons are poisoned off and Danearys is caged in a living hell of flames, without her kit on, t’ job’s a good un.
Of Mice and Men
Staying with a poor, elderly couple one night in our younger years, when I’d taken up running again, I scratted around in the kitchen for something to assuage my late night starvation (a familiar feeling for runners) and found a box of Ritz crackers. We were both reading in bed, whilst I munched on handfuls of crackers I lifted from the box. After lights out, Kath said ‘What’s that noise?’ I said, ‘It’s just next door, putting a plug in.’ But the small, scrabbling noise carried on…and it gradually became obvious that it was coming from the Ritz cracker box. There are times when men have to be men. I got Kath to open the window and…pulling a discarded sock over my naked hand, I grasped the cracker packet shut and flung it in one hurried movement out into a dark corner of the garden… causing some scratching of heads from our hosts when they opened the curtains in the morning.
IT was a dream…In Diary of a Nobody, Lupin tells his father that other people’s dreams are always boring. However, several times over the decades My Present Wife has described dreams I have found quite striking in their content. In fact, I have sometimes listened to her narrative all the way through (which is more than she’s managed when listening to my accounts). She once dreamt that she had stolen the word IT, and managed to make a safe getaway in a taxi before she could be apprehended. People felt quite lost without…[..]!
Next morning, MPW was relieved to find that this wasn’t true. Except, I have sometimes imagined learned English Professors being forced to have a World Seminar about IT, at which they decide in future that IT should belong to the whole English speaking world. If one of my students had ever asked me, why can’t there be a possessive apostrophe in ITS? I could have explained about my wife’s dream and the world seminar. But I’d probably have said, ‘Well…that’s just the way it’s always been.’
The Beauty Salon
During my first two thirds of a century, I have managed to avoid learning anything of any practical use to anyone. Strange then, that in my fifties my job partly involved supervising people who had managed to earn livings from their practical expertise. So I went to Manchester to observe a trainer from L O’riel instruct her trainees, used an observation sheet to grade an expert builder as he instructed his apprentices and was sent to a Beauty Salon to check on a Beauty Therapist. It was an early evening session and I said Hello to Joe, the Caretaker before he clocked off. Little did I know I was about to discover a secret and surreal sanctum of the Female World that was previously unknown to man! I entered what appeared to be a hospital ward. Two long rows of beds stretched out before me, with the familiar pull back privacy curtains around – although these were all kept open throughout my stay. Trainee Students, skilled in the necessary trilling vocalisation, dressed in matching uniforms sat beside each bed. Armed with my clip board, I kept my head down, filling in the first bit of the recording sheet, until my attention was drawn to the conversations at the nearby Reception desk as women from the local community came in. ‘And what do we require this evening, Madam?’ ‘Nails…fingers and toes…and a Brazilian.’ Now, I have occasionally been accused of naivety, but even I knew that these woman didn’t require a nail polish followed by a quick visit from Ronaldinho. This was confirmed when I looked up from my clip board and noticed that the customers, a mixture of white and Anglo Asian women, had taken no time to loll on the beds in a relaxed fashion unencumbered by their lower garments. I raised my clipboard till it partly covered my face. At this point, Sandra, the object of my observation came to see me and handed me a check list of what to look for during my inspection. For one moment, I noted some of the criteria to do with bedside manner and hair-trimming technique. She said, matter of factly, ‘Right George, do you want to accompany me as I patrol round, supervising the trainees?’ She seemed taken aback when I made my excuses and left. I zoomed past the caretaker on the way out. It wasn’t Joe, it was a white haired Asian chap in traditional clothes. Never have I seen a face whose flabber looked more gasted. ‘Bye’ I waved, breezily.
1. Worried about your weight? Try moving the bathroom scales onto another tile. By this simple expedient I lost 5lbs. in a few seconds.
2. Want to improve your memory. Once I returned from a successful supermarket trip, having ticked off every item on the shopping list I had been given by my present wife, only to find that I had left my wife behind, She has never let me forget this.
Cautionary Tales for adults…I’ve always loved Matilda – who told such dreadful lies – but now I’ve just reread the one about Jim being eaten by a lion. I love the lackadaisical reaction to catastrophe. Albert and the Lion and the rhyming alphabet by Edward Gorey picked up on that. Earlier there was Peter Strewelpeter in the 19th century. All these sent up more religious and plodding cautionary tales, especially beloved by the Victorians.
Their variety show that the form can be adapted…Daunting though, these little gems are so perfectly formed.
10th July, 2017: Advice for men contemplating a vasectomy…
Be prepared for a visit from a barber, possibly someone on work experience. I recognised my barber as a chap I sometimes met in the queue at our local chippy.
After your op, be prepared for a few nights of disrupted sleep. Your partner may scoff at your cries of distress, when you turn over in your sleep, before she quickly falls back into a deep sleep.
You will be asked to provide a sample a few weeks after your surgery. If you are assisted in this procedure by a cooperative partner, tell them not to dance around with the bottle as if they’re participating in an exciting new game of catch.
Get precise details of the hospital sperm bank where your deposit will be examined. At Halifax Royal Infirmary I went into a waiting room full of elderly ladies. A woman in a white coat at reception, unwound the tissue I had coyly wrapped around the little bottle, and shouted, ‘Mary, are you expecting some spermatozoa from a Mr Murphy?’
She wasn’t. Sperm was just down the corridor, first on t’ left.
7th July, 2017
Short Term Memory…I went to collect the car from the garage after its service. I got the keys and I was shown the details of the work they’d done. I stroked my chin sagely as the items were explained to me, trying not to show that I hadn’t the foggiest idea about car engines. Looking at the final total for the work, I suppressed the temptation to scream, ‘How much?!’ I got the keys and was almost home, comforting myself by thinking that after a service the brakes always feel sharp. Then I realised: I wasn’t in the car, I’d walked back.
27th June, 2017.
As old age creeps on, I get asked if I’ve got a Bucket List. This usually seems to mean climbing mountains, or jumping out of aeroplanes. I’ve decided to start an alternative list…things that might be quite interesting, but aren’t worth the hassle. The Working Title involves substituting an F for the B in Bucket List. I’ll think of a few items…when I can be bothered.
21st June, 2017
Solving crimes: a dog on a lead lay motionless on a rough path. Beside the black mongrel an abandoned mobile phone had been left on a flat stone. I could easily have walked on by. Instead, I went into the woods, half expecting to find a mangled corpse. However, on this occasion, it was a woman having a wee. I retreated, apologising as I went…