Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Joe Strummer

My favourite newspaper story this week was the one about the man who had been complained about by a woman he was sitting next to on a train. According to this lady, the chap had been, under cover of a newspaper, pleasuring himself whilst breathing heavily and emitting a series of disturbing noises. I had always wondered, up until now, what the "Metro" was actually for. Anyway, this man ended up before the Beak, with an ingenious if somewhat credulity-stretching, explaination for his behaviour. It seems that he was an enthusiastic banjo player, and, in moments of absent-mindedness, given to strumming movements. He produced a video of himself, playing the banjo, as evidence. His ragged breathing was a result of his having contracted a respiratory ailment, and he had obtained a note from his GP to this effect. He got off, without a stain, so to speak, on his character. Various things occured to me as I read this account.One was that I would have given much to have been a member of that jury, who,it is reported "giggled". Another was that I should liked to have heard the conversations between said fellow and his GP, the arresting officer; and most of all, that which took place between the strummer and his wife.
The least remarkable aspect of this incident is that it took place on London Transport.
I don't know what gets into people when they have to do with LTR. I lived in London for thirteen years, and the most peculiar things used to happen to me on both Under and Overground trains. Not only me, I hasten to add, all my friends and colleagues had pervert/madperson stories,too.
And yet... I didn't ever feel nervous or threatened. Perhaps I was stupid, but I was entirely confident of my ability to extricate myself from any situation involving people. Machinery is different, and I was terrified of the mechanical aspects of the Tube, particularly automatic ticket dispensers. They would work perfectly well for every single person in the queue ahead of me, but would go rogue when it came to my turn. I never even dared try the chocolate machines, as no-one could work those. You could see enraged people bearhugging them, trying to kick them onto the tracks, or just weeping and banging their foreheads on the glass panels, trying to dislodge a trapped Twix.
Regular Tube users develop a particular expression. It is a nice blend of bland disinterest and blase weariness. The more exuberant British passenger might allow themselves a tut, or an exasperated "For God's Sake!" when there is a body (always described as "An incident" ) on the line, or  a convincing-looking conflagration in process. I have been on trains where people tried to make other people, where an entire carriage was so independently drunk that they all fell off the end seat every time the carriage did a bend, then all scrambled back on again (STILL no-one spoke). I have seen flash mobs, flashers, and Flamenco dancers in full flood. My friend Marie sat opposite a man on the way to the Isle of Dogs, who waited until she and he were the only people left on the train,and then undressed down to his socks under cover of the Guardian. When the train drew in to the last stop, he calmly replaced his clothing and alighted. I said "So what did you do?" She replied "I took his Arts Supplement".
This sang-froid is admirable, but makes me wonder if British Loons feel that they have to try harder as a result. A current television programme about the Tube revealed, after some anecdotes from the lost luggage department staff, that it is quite usual for people to travel with a bag of live eels. That would be my defence, were I a chap accused of unseemly wriggling. "I had a bag of live eels which I have since lost the run of" would stand up better in court, I feel, than all this malarkey about playing the phantom banjo. An expression, incidentally, which I now intend to circulate as a euphemism. I do hope it catches on.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Charm School

My generation didn't really think we were going to age. We firmly believed that either Time would pass over us like a hot iron, or that we would all prematurely fry in a nuclear war. One of these things is now definitely not going to happen. There is a massive, noisy youth culture, of which we are now not a part. Some of us have children,mostly as a result of not reading the instructions properly. Some even have grandchildren; and we learn shattering new things every day as a result of our exposure to them, and to other young people who swim into our ken.  We learn words like "nang", and "bare", although of course we must NEVER use them.Previous generation had the luxury of being allowed to retire, both literally and figuratively, from the fray. My lot don't. Due to advances here, and progress there, we are now required to be productive economically, and as aesthetically pleasing as we can manage, for an extra decade or three. I was toying with the idea of becoming a Crone, the other day, as some of you may have read. But I don't think I am ready. I have developed a few prejudices, though. One is a firm belief that no-one under 40 can spell, and the other is that hardly anyone knows about manners. I do not think that young people are more deficient in natural grace than any other generation. Human beings are exactly the same as they have been since the Launch. But they haven't been taught. I used to teach in a lively "vibrant"  area of London, and my students were often very large black boys with elaborate hair and unusual trousers. They would hail me cheerfully in Wood Green High Road, where they would hang, and I would shop. One day a group of them ran into me and my Mamma, when she was on one of her shopping trips to London. We didn't  have a great many homeboys in Fazackerley, and I could see her looking slightly wary as this selection of loping lads approached, pushing each other and using inexplicable slang. Anyway, up they trotted and I made introductions. Gosh, I was proud of them. They all beamed at her,  practically bowed, and then produced snippets of conversational small talk suitable for use at a Buckingham Palace garden party, albeit with less formal grammar.  Not so much as an "F" word did we use, a wild departure from  their general application of it as a verb, adjective and noun. Mum went away convinced that my moaning about their boisterousness and general ability to be trying was completely  unfounded. "They were CHARMING", she enthused. And they were. Because they all had access to a grandmother, often of a redoutable nature. They knew what you did when you met an elderly lady . One  point here is that this small incident gave my Mother a permanent and indelible impression that Tottenham's black male youth were generally a Good Thing, as a result of her sole encounter with one sample. However, she is still dubious about the Spanish, due to an incident with a handbag in Barcelona in 1981. Another is that knowing how to behave in particular situations with specific people is an essential life skill, and requires considerable input from parents, grandparents, and other elders. So I may spend my autumn years setting up a Charm School, instilling polite and considerate behaviour into Yahoos and Hoydens. I shall recruit a number of Barbadian grandmothers, and possibly Dame Maggie Smith.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Woman In Blackler's

That wise and wonky gentleman, Oscar Wilde once said "I am not young enough to know everything". He may have been spending too much time with the Lower 6th ,which would make one understandably acerbic. I find it fascinating how the Giant Boy knows everything. He does know quite a lot about things of which I know nothing, I admit. And he has skills that I can only marvel at; he can open a door with a key at the first attempt. He knows what wires mean, and can read a meter. I am relieved about that because I was worried that he might have inherited my congenital idiocy. Even people who love me dearly find it trying when I start fumbling, peering,  dropping keys and flailing around generally. The gentler souls keep quiet,and adopt a forebearing expression. More robust types start screaming "For Christ's Sake! How long have you lived here? Why don't you get a torch/miner's lamp attached to your head/guide dog, you silly shortsighted BINT!", after about ten minutes. Less if it's really cold , wet or they are in urgent need of a wee.  Of course, the milder folk are thinking the same thing. Just not saying it. Isn't it a good thing we don't have thought bubbles coming out of our heads, like in cartoons? Satan would only have to arrange this for a week or two and the entire human race would have wiped each other off the planet.
So the GB knows IT ALL, whereas, as Seneca remarked "I am not wise, and never will be". But I am consulted by my friends on a number of matters, hardly any concerned with plugs. Scarcely a day goes by without my views being sought on some matter or another, and in fact, I am now an Agony Aunt, dispensing arch and mannered advice in a monthly magazine. I can only suppose that the human race has reached a sorry pass if I am regarded as a Wise Woman. I may work this up a little, though. As it seems that we are all supposed to work until we drop,our pensions being dangled for ever just out of reach like the grapes of Tantalus;and yet no-one over fifty can get a job, to avoid utter destitution, I may become a Professional Crone.
Every community needs a Crone or two. Soap opera specialises in them, along with Battleaxes, two perfectly good role models for the older woman. Battleaxing isn't really me, too confrontational and shouty, but I think I would make an excellent Crone. I will need a curly grey wig, and will camp it up with latex warts and so on. But stop me if I go for a hump, won't you? Cackling I can do; all the women in my family cackle.
We are generally civilised ladies, even refined, in some cases. But we all laugh like dockers on nitrous oxide. I went to see "The Woman In Black" the other day. Now, there was a super Crone. She had it all going on, from the ominous appearances as a reflection over the right shoulder of Harry Potter, to the hurtling down corridors shrieking into one's face. They say (whoever They are) , that women over fifty become invisible. Not literally, of course, although that might be fun. In Liverpool at least, this has hardly been the case. Everywhere you went was ruled over by women of a certain age with ,shall we say, DECIDED characters. They all shopped in Blackler's. For those of you who , perhaps, inhabit a remote corner of Paraguay, Blackler's Store in Liverpool was the Mecca for Crones. Sadly it is now a Weatherspoons. But in its glory days, you could buy underpinnings of a style and type now as extinct as the farthingale. For the more robust Crone, there were directoire knickers in knitted cotton that went up to a 56 inch waist.There were fleecy-lined Liberty bodices,with and without boning, underskirts in Germolene-coloured Winceyette, and vast flanelette nighties  which boasted their resistance to fire, and also probably a full-scale nuclear bombardment.  You could buy navy-blue lisle stockings, if you were a Staff Nurse, or beige ones if you planned permanent celibacy. My Grandmother used to take me with her when she went to purchase a corselette, or some new suspenders. It was Heaven, and I was allowed to go and ride on the rocking horse, whilst Nan was measured by a woman with a tapemeasure round her neck and a chin for every day of the week.
Blackler's appealed to small children and elderly ladies, but did not attract the all-important 13-19 demographic, and so it died. Had I gone first, I would have haunted it, frightening off the new owners as a useful public-spirited spirit should do. I would have materialised , bawling my head off, in Fabrics, as "The Woman In Blackler's;  floating above "Zips, Buttons, and Haberdashery", and loomed spectrally out of the cheval mirrors in the  Hats section. I would have made that rocking horse go like the clappers every time a shopfitter passed by. And Crones all over Merseyside would have blessed me.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Slut's Corner

The other morning, it struck me that I considered it perfectly normal to be drying a pair of the GB's giant socks by wrapping them round the kettle. He needed to be in school in dry socks, and they had thrown themselves  off the radiator in the night,so were still soggy. I briefly contemplated putting them in the microwave, but some dim recollection of a flaming tea towel and cross firemen held me back. Keeping the GB spruce is a task which requires Jeeves and entire servant body of "Downton Abbey" AND "Upstairs, Downstairs". His enormous canoe-like shoes are covered in mud ( why? how?) when no rain has been seen for weeks. Great flapping shirts go out white in the morning and come in at 4pm caked in grub, bedizened with red Biro  and tattered as to the armpit. His trousers..Oh God, his trousers..
What do they DO at that school? When I visited recently there were no visible signs that lessons were conducted in the trenches of WW1, I saw no septic tank, nor did anyone rush at me with a red pen and scrawl all over my face. Admittedly it was Parent's Evening, so they  mightbe restraining themselves, but I am not sure that anyone else's son comes home looking like they were on their way to a Halloween party. I suspect foul play.
Perversely, when he is not at school, he aspires to the standards of self-presentation of a male model in Italian Vogue. Trainers must be immaculate, frighteningly costly polo shirts are ironed with the deftness of a Japanese paper flower maker, and his hair is a sculptured confection of wonder.
Now, I am a slut, borne of a slut and a neatnik. I rise from a chaotic rubble of single stockings knotted inexplicably round hairbrushes, lost contact lenses, drooping hems fixed with Blu-tack, and missing buttons. Some of my best friends are also sluts, and I must say, they are by far the most relaxing folk to be around. I have lived with neatniks and we drive each other mad. My offices have tended to be untidy, with collapsing piles of files and drawers crammed with spare shoes and half-empty perfume bottles. A dear neatnik friend with whom I worked used to visit me in my office from time-to-time. He would stand chatting to me, all the while tidying  my desk; arranging pens and straightening folders, filling the sellotape dispenser, and removing my lipsticks from the drawing pin holder. I once caught him at home arranging  all the tins  in his kitchen cupboards in alphabetical order, the labels all facing outwards.
I probably should say that I am oddly fastidious when it comes to actual dirt, and that most other sluts are too. We can be utter fashion plates and our personal hygiene is generally irreproachable. You can safely stand next to us on the Tube. However, we have left behind us scenes of ruinous chaos, which we regard as no-one else's business. All the world is a stage, and the slut will strut upon it looking marvellous and trailing clouds of Chanel.However, backstage does not bear close investigation.
So the GB may have Neatnik as his dominant sign, but with Slut Rising. He informs me that it is an immutable law of Nature that I should be his personal attendant... "Until I am eighteen, it's Your Job".   So I quit.
Of course, he will inevitably marry a Slut; people do want to, oddly enough. They are attracted by the air of Bohemian disarray and the unlikely prospect of ever having a conversation about which sheets to buy. This is all very well if fun is what you are  after. There will be plenty of unruly exits from bars, wild laughter, and good-natured drunkenness. But Oh, beware, my son...there will also be many many lost keys, broken heels and visits from glaziers. And while love, which we are reliably informed by Micheal Ball and other modern thinkers, changes everything; there are some things it is powerless to alter. You can love a Neatnik to distraction but still want to lunge over a table to stop them folding Kit Kat wrappers into a tiny, even square.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Last Night My PJs Saved My Life

I may have mentioned my accident-proneness before. Well today, I excelled myself. I was coming out of M&S, and was temporarily blinded by a dust-bearing gust of wind. I staggered forward womanfully, and then my feet hit something...on hearing sounds of mild consternation around me,  I halted, and dabbed at my eyes. On regaining sight, I realised that I had walked into a sand sculpture of a monkey. This had done it no good at all. The man was very very forebearing about it, and a couple of punters (and me) dropped money into his hat. But I was mortified.
I am always doing things like this, and yet my arty friends continue to invite me to private views, unveilings of kinetic sculptures, and into their lovely homes. They are either foolhardy risk-takers,optimists, or have very short memories.  There is a trail of smashed, dented and broken objets d'art in my past. I don't confine my destructiveness to the "creative sector"; having broken lots of more prosaic objects too, but there is something about a delicately positioned wire erection depicting humanity's aspirations towards the the sublime in abstract, that will inevitably catch my eye. Closely followed by the corner of my handbag.
So it is with mixed feelings that I recieve the information from ROSPA  this year, that 5,450 people around the British Isles have managed to injure themselves on their socks, trousers, and pyjamas. I have had a sheltered upbringing, but I can just about envisage a few ways in which the unwary male might court a trouser injury. And if you include sliding across highly polished floors in with the sock lot, a reasonable picture emerges. But I cannot for the life of me imagine how I might injure myself on my pajamas. In fact, I am convinced that pyjamas are a force for good, and have probably saved far more lives than they have ended or endangered. Without them,the number of people sleeping naked would doubtless increase, and so, possibly,would the number of people...The British are a chilly and indolent race, thank goodness. However, remove the flanelette barriers separating couples of a usually tepid bedtime disposition, and who knows what might not spring forth in the way of unplanned episodes of lust?
I had some satin  sheets once, and very nice they were too. I also had some satin pyjamas, of a creamy, Clara Bow-like nature. I did make the mistake once of inserting myself between said sheets in said pyjamas, It was an error, as I was slipping all over the shop like a seal. If I were to do that again, I should have to sew Velcro on my bottoms.
JimJams are much on my mind today, as one aspect of my mission to town was a need to buy a pair. Without revealing TOO much about my domestic life, I can say that it often features sleeping on sofas, and in other people's spare rooms. Therefore decent winter pyjamas are a must.  But can they be had? Not even for ready money. Practically all garments I saw today in the nightwear sections fell firmly into two camps. One being " Cheap Rhino-skinned Hooker". What sort of woman snuggles into bed wearing  harsh red nylon mini-pants edged with spiky lace, and an underwired top?
The other category is " Infantile Simpleton". Pink. Lots of pink..and soft fluffy fabrics, embellished with appliqued bunnies and bears and birds and stupid words in curly writing. I am appalled when I so much as toy with the idea of wearing a pair ; a sad-eyed cartoon kitten  stretched and straining across my improbable breasts.
In the end, I discovered a third, small sub-category; Mad Old Poorly Woman pyjamas. I shan't describe them. A girl has to retain some mystery. Suffice it to say that I am The Woman In Blackler's; (which reigned supreme as the reliable purveyors of sturdy winceyette nightwear for the gentlewoman, sadly missed). I shan't sleep THAT soundly, though, as I shall be brooding on ways to injure myself with the things.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Street Life

Yesterday I had a very full Mathew St experience. This time last year I was actually working in Mathew St, bringing glamorous cabaret and vintage chic to a largely indifferent,sometimes actively hostile,population. Of the many eye-openers during this period,several stand out. I had not known that rats get up so early in the morning, or that sane-looking office types start drinking at lunchtime on Friday and do not stop drinking until the early hours of Sunday morning. Or that it was possible to exist on fried lard and lipgloss, and yet maintain a figure which one is perfectly happy to display in two pieces of tinsel and a thong. And that,of course, was just the boys.
Many, many marvels.
Saturday was marginally more sedate at first; I was embarking on a Memory Lane "Not Just Vintage" Fair, in the rather lovely premises of the club that used to be "Rubber Soul". To this end, I had assembled twelve crammed bags of satin and shiny retro things, plus a clothes rail. The Giant Boy is a massive help on such occasions, being possessed of a sunny temperament and huge muscles. As it was silly-o'clock, he was also still asleep. I phoned my cab people and requested an estate car and a driver of more than usually sanguine personality. Instead I received a grump in a hatchback. "You will never" he proclaimed "get ALL THAT in THERE".
There are many statements issued by my co-punters in this vale of tears we inhabit that irk me. "Refer to Card Issuer" , "Your Call IS Important To Us" "Internet Explorer Cannot Find The Webpage" and "The Trouble With YOU is.." being but several. However, when someone tells me I can't do/think/drink something, a ferocious and probably rather infantile bit of my brain wakes up and drives me towards a place of  insane stubbornness. "You are now entering Insane Stubbornness" reads the sign.
So I got all that in there, and off we went.
Mathew St was tranquil in the early morning;only a few dedicated pissheads were to be seen bothering brave Norwegian tourists, and the body count was low.
The GB and I unpacked, unfolded, arranged and hung a series of delicious garments and shimmery jewels. Then he realised he was awake, and promptly went to sleep on a banquette. I had to revive him with a bacon sandwich, wafted under his nose in the manner that  burnt feathers and sal volatile might be ministered to a fainting Grand Duchess. And it was cowingly cold..the club managers had decided that it wasn't financially viable to put the heater on as, and I quote,  "It's a very big building". Queerly, it was hot as hell in the toilets, appropriately in the basement, so various stallholders headed off there for a warm when they had lost feeling in their feet, and ideally, their sense of smell. I decided to stand in the doorway with a fag instead. And that was how I saw the untoward goings-on going on in the doorway next to Vivienne Westwood.
"Gosh!" I ejaculated. The barmaid smoking next to me looked on, unimpressed. "Just imagine, they will be old enough to drink in here in a few years" I said to her. She shrugged in a world-weary fashion." We threw them out of here an hour ago" she said, stubbing her cigarette out in a lumpy pool of sleet.
There is a certain camaraderie generated by these occasions. All we dismally deep-frozen entrepreneurial types helped each other, in ways far too goody-goody to relate. As the Giant Boy had baled out to visit a dubious pool hall, I was left with masses of very heavy bags, no taxi, and heavy rain. Three angelic types magicked up a cab, and loaded me and my dripping bundles into it.  I was exhausted, aching, and poorer by . £30.00, but I shall do it all again next Saturday because I have no sense and no choice.
Many young yet bald men were shouldering their way through the sleet, with nothing more than a packet of cigarettes in their shirt pockets to keep them warm. Young women who had learnt how to walk on seven-inch heels stalked the greasy cobbles , wearing dresses made from clingfilm and with their wood-shaving blonde ringlets unwinding lankly as the rain sheeted down. Everyone was yelling happily at each other; some revellers attempting to eat chips despite a downpour that had already seen several plastic trays of burgers meet a watery end.
It was 4.30 on a perfectly foul winter's afternoon, and Mathew St was just getting going.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

It's Good To Stalk

The Giant Boy is back, and having a shower. We know this because terrible noises of cascades and furniture being thrown around are emanating from upstairs. He has been on Work Experience, where he has not demonstrated exactly the willing can-do spirit for which one might have hoped. Hot-tempered texts saying "And this was BORING" "And that wasn't even MY job" came my way.Is there an emoticon for a sulky adolescent expression? Probably not. He had his W.E. in two different offices. The first one was with  a magazine. On Monday he was putting 800 things into 800 envelopes. By Wednesday, he was coming up with ideas for features. A steep "learning curve" if ever I heard of one. Fortunately he finished before appearing on the cover in swimwear.
The second week was in That London, where he accomplished  groovy technological things in a company so totally cutting-edge that nobody knows what they do, exactly. It was connected  with video games and phone apps, and he had a breakfast meeting at which he tucked away "bare"  bacon and fell asleep on a sofa.
And now we have to reconfigure his C.V. I didn't have a CV when I was fifteen, in fact I barely had a V. I discovered my diary from around that time when we were moving into Downturn Abbey. I seem to have spent my time meticulously cataloguing and reviewing what I had read and what I was wearing while I was reading it. Occasionally there would be a breathless account of a visit to T.J Hughes, or a family trip to Southport in the sarcastically-named Robin Reliant. Or a really big day when I went to the library twice. So hopelessly dreary was this journal that I didn't keep a diary ever again. I imagine that if one is actually HAVING a life, one is too busy to write it down. Anyway, I think it is foolish to write anything intimate or  unduly personal; some bugger will always unearth it and embarrass you with it. I cannot get on with the amount of searing confession that seems to be de rigeur these days. People come out with, and commit to text, Facebook, and blog, the most extraordinary information about themselves. A couple of friends of mine work in high-security settings, where leaking personal information could result in an unwanted visitation from a machete-bearing maniac. This must provide a useful discipline.
On the other hand, one should not get TOO carried away, and start thinking that everyone is after one's particulars for anything more sinister than trying to sell something. A few weeks ago I made a very general and vague enquiry about Sky TV, because the GB wanted some sports channel. I said I would look into it,and did. Now, three weeks on, I have had to bar various phone numbers, my voicemail is permanently bulging with desperately chummy messages from Sky People, and I must now go out in disguise in case they are lurking in a  rhododendron bush with a "Package" they want me to sign up for. So of course I shall never so much as glance at them again. There's efficient sales technique, and there's stalking. People tend to think more of one the less of one they can get. It is for this reason wise not to keep tabs upon one's beloved. I had a friend who had acquired a girlfriend, and who, as is in the nature of things, after a few months wished to end their association. She had not demonstrated previous signs of overt barminess, and in fact had come over as rather dull. But when scorned, oh boy..She took to sitting outside his flat, mostly in her car but sometimes on his step. She harangued him in shops, and pushed poems under his door. She startled him in Tube stations, followed him onto trains, weeping, visited him at work,and accused blameless colleagues of sleeping with him..it was perfectly dreadful. In the end, he had to change jobs,move house, and eventually, country. Now this is an extreme example, I am aware. But it has always stayed with me as an Awful Warning. I don't even like dogs because they follow you about.  Therefore I have told the GB that I shall arrange a marriage for him, so he will be spared the dangers and pitfalls of a hurly-burly romantic life. He seems fairly sanguine about this;they are so attuned to internet shopping, his peer group, that a mail-order bride will not seem at all odd. I just need to remember to keep the receipt.