The Coffee Shop

They sat together at a small table with large cups of coffee on the table in front of them. He wasn’t a big coffee drinker; the cups were big, like soup bowls. He opened a sachet of sugar and emptied it into his drink.

She drank black coffee, no sugar. She’d often tell him that sugar wasn’t good for you, but always in that kindly, gentle manner she had. He focused on stirring before stealing a glance across the table at her. The dark curls of her hair,  black and shining in the shaded lighting of the coffee shop, cascaded over her shoulders, a wisp of it brushing over her forehead. She was also occupied, deep in thought, and he took the opportunity to study her. She had a fine, pale complexion, a few freckles scattered over her nose and cheeks. The first time he’d seen her in that small room, he’d been captivated. He felt as if all the air in his body had momentarily left him and he was falling, falling, exhilarated and dizzy. She was gorgeous.

Of course, almost immediately, he realised that she would be unattainable; he felt as if he was looking in through a glass window, realising that something of such great beauty could never be possessed. Over the past few months, as he got to know her better, he imagined her one day meeting somebody a few years older than she was, no doubt successful and wealthy, who would naturally be able to care for somebody as attractive and loving as she undoubtedly was, it became clear that her allure was more than skin deep.

He made the decision that, however much he was attracted to her he wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of several other young men, some of them his friends, who tried their best to woo her. A couple of them managed to invite her for dinner or to the cinema, but however much they tried to impress her, they inevitably failed in their quest to make her their lover.

So he kept his deepest feelings to himself and she liked to be in his company and that of his flat mates. She’d often come and stay at the musty, first floor student digs he shared with three others, two girls and another boy. She laughed at their jokes, joined in with their silly games and became part of their group.

Of course, this had meant being nonchalant enough to invite her over in the first place, but she’d happily accepted. The others in the flat liked her immediately and began to ask her back as well.

He would spend hours in the flat talking to her, sharing stories and jokes and thoughts about the world. When it came to bed time, he would say a cheery goodnight before lying awake, thinking of her in the room next door. In the morning, he would bring her a cup of coffee in bed and try his best not to stare as she sat up in bed, the duvet tucked around her, her smooth, pale shoulders on show, betraying her nakedness beneath the covers, making his heart beat a little faster.

He found himself thinking more and more about her. Every evening, he would make his way to the student bar on the off chance she would drop in. Incredibly, just as his hopes started to fade, she would appear through the door, give him a cheery wave and come and sit by him.

Now she’d introduced him to the coffee house. It was a bit of a treat, where they would order coffees and a plate of chips to share. She told him of her trip to Amsterdam, where she’d discovered the habit of eating chips with mayonnaise. However, her own particular preference was to sprinkle the chips liberally with Worcestershire Sauce.

It was Mike, the coffee shop proprietor, who brought him back from his reverie by placing a plate of these shared chips between them on the table. She gave Mike one of her wide smiles and brushed the wisp of ebony hair away from her deep blue eyes. Many people told her that her eyes were her best feature. Her gaze could be all consuming, mesmeric, hypnotising. He sighed inwardly as she looked at him and gave him a smile too.

She wore very little make up, she didn’t need to. A couple of times, he’d seen her about to go out on a date wearing some, asking him: Do I look alright? This made it one of the most difficult times for keeping his emotions in check. The very sight of her and the fact she’d made herself up for somebody else made it feel like he was a glass vessel about to shatter into a thousand pieces, but he did  manage a Yes. You look fine.

She took hold of the Worcestershire Sauce bottle and shook a liberal amount of the spicy liquid over the steaming chips.

She held one between her fingers before a small frown passed across her forehead.

“What are you doing this Saturday?” she asked.

He thought for a moment. He liked to spend Saturdays watching sport on the TV and taking a trip to the local pub. This coming weekend would be pretty much the same.

“Not much,” he replied, “what about you?”

She brought the chip to her lips and chewed thoughtfully.

“I’ve been invited to Charlie’s party, but I haven’t got anybody to go with,” she explained.

Charlie was an older student who lived near to where she came from in the West Country. He had a house in Brighton, played in a band and threw some wild parties, by all accounts.

He looked at her for a moment, wondering how to pitch his reply.

“I would go with you anywhere, I think you’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, I love you. I dream of you being mine, to spend all my time with you, to make you happy and spend my life with you, because you are beautiful inside and out.”

Is what he wanted to say.

Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and tutted.

“Did you have anybody in mind?” he asked.

She lowered her head and looked at him through her long, dark eyelashes.

“Would you come with me?”

He counted in his head, one, two, three. Don’t sound too keen, too desperate.

“Well, I don’t have any other plans. Sure, if you want me to.”

She shifted in her chair, then stood up and gave him a hug, her smooth cheek touching his bristled, unshaven face. Once more he felt his insides melt and the breath leave his body in the ecstasy of the moment.

“Thank you,” she purred, her voice deep and sultry.

With that, she went back to eating the chips and telling him about the small holding where she lived with her parents and three younger brothers.

“You’ll have to come and visit one day,” she said brightly.

He gazed at her, the dimples in her cheeks as she smiled, her small hands touching her necklace, aware of his attentions.

He smiled back.

“I’d like that very much,” he said.

****

 

34 years have passed since this couple sat in the coffee shop. She returned to the small holding, to her parents and her brothers.

The boy sitting with her made his visit as promised. Of course, she wouldn’t have had any trouble getting somebody to take her to Charlie’s party, with a stream of male admirers. Going back to the flat and showing up in the student bar was no coincidence.

She chose him.

Thirty years ago they emerged from a small church that could be seen from that small holding, man and wife. They have two wonderful children, now adults themselves and live in a pleasant rural village, near to where they wed.

The boy’s dream came true and even though her dark curls are now a different colour and his hair is greying, she still has her beautiful skin and amazing eyes and is still an incredible person.

And he still loves and cherishes her as much as he did when he watched her eat her chips with Worcestershire Sauce in the coffee shop.

And he always will.

 

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Technold Fan – The Wombats at O2 Academy Birmingham

Wordpretzels, yet another music event to tell you about – I am a massive fan of The Wombats, despite being a man in my 50s. Both of my children, Miss Katherine and Master Johnny are also fans, so it was a pleasant surprise to receive my ticket as a Christmas gift from Master Johnny, which meant I would be with a group consisting of five 18 year old lads, a 22 year old woman – and me.

Our tickets were for the circle – having been to Bristol O2 Academy a few times, I wasn’t expecting to see terraced seating, but there it was. I had mixed feelings, the aged part of me appreciated the fact I could sit down and watch the entertainment without getting jostled, the youth inside wanted the excitement of jumping up and down to the music. Master Johnny suggested that they were all going to stand up as soon as The Wombats appeared.

In my cosy seat in the circle, I had time to observe the audience around me with an alarming realisation. They were all young people, which I am not. I desperately scanned the crowd for a glimpse of grey hair or a shiny bald pate. It took a couple of minutes before I had located a couple of other audience members who looked as if they were in my age bracket and relaxed. Soon I realised there were older people filling the seats surrounding me, which should have made me feel better, but no. I reassessed the situation. The majority of ‘older gig attendees’ were in fact playing the role of parent, accompanying their teenage children.

The first support band, Team Me, took to the stage, announcing they were Norwegian. I wondered if they may have connections with Tord from The Wombats, whose family come from Norway, or perhaps it was just coincidence. They gave a good performance, one that made me check out their videos on You Tube the following day. A six piece band (I wondered how you ever made money in a band with so many members), the mix was slightly distorted, which made me consider whether not quite so much care is taken over the support band’s overall sound.

Darlia had more problems with the sound system. The lead singer struggled to be heard during their opening song, but suddenly had the volume turned up to 11 when the engineer plugged something in. A three piece conventional guitar band following in the footsteps of The Arctic Monkeys and The Wombats. The band’s image seemed rather confused – imagine a lead guitarist who looks like Gaz Coombes from Supergrass, the drummer from an Oi band and a bassist who could fit neatly into The Clash. The songs were loud, rocky and enjoyed immensely by the seething mass in the stalls as they jumped and waved their arms, a boiling sea of youthful exuberance.

Then the main event as The Wombats took the stage. The plan to stand up was quickly discouraged by the vigilant stewards as ‘Murph’ said hello and launched into ‘Your Body is a Weapon’, one of the tracks from the new album Glitterbug. The songs we loved came thick and fast – Greek Tragedy, Head Space, the anthem that got me into The Wombats initially – Moving to New York. Murph suggested we all dance, ‘even those of you in the circle’. The kids looked at the stewards, then at me as I leapt to my feet. I could sense their shrug of relief as they decided if this conventional old boy was going to stand up, they sure could as well. The stewards waited patiently for the song to end before getting us all to sit down again.

Murph. Dan and Tord in action.

Old man’s view of The Wombats. No I don’t have shaky hands. I was pogoing.

The fantastic songs continued – Kill the Director, The English Summer, Party in a Forest, each one a challenge to stand up once more, irresistible when the opening bars of Techno Fan reverberated around the auditorium. What a tune. A nod to their origins with Little Miss Pipedream and Jump into The Fog, they left the stage to inevitable cheers, returning for an encore of Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves) and of course, Let’s Dance to Joy Division.

By this time, I was pogoing, hot, sweaty and happy. I was 18 all over again and The Wombats were brilliant. Driving home from Birmingham we listened to more Wombats, singing along to Schumacher the Champagne (they didn’t play this live). We all agreed that The Wombats made great music, their only fault being that it’s so good, you listen to it until you’re tired of it and have to stop for a few months before returning and enjoying all over again. That’s the great thing about a new Wombats album. Something else you can listen to again and again, songs growing on you, your favourite track changing, just like the old days when you’d listen to an album the whole way through rather than ‘stream tracks’. I never knew I was a Technold fan.

 

 

 

 

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I Married a Chartered Accountant Epilogue – Financial Numpty

Lady Barton St Mary instructed me to set up my side of an online joint mortgage application, having completed her own. Amazingly, I managed to do the computery bit, all the time worrying that I may have completed some financial transaction that cost us all of our worldly goods and would cause Lady BSM to do something unimaginably unpleasant to me with a fountain pen. All I had to do was telephone the bank and ‘activate’ my account. I love all this jargon; as a child I dreamed of being Illya Kuryakin in The Man from Uncle and being ‘activated’ by a computer. However, this wasn’t how I’d imagined it would turn out. Anyway, I called.

(Automated answer machine and funky music that initially greets you).

Bank: Hello, The Bank, James speaking. How may I help you?

Me: Hello James. I’d like to activate my account mortgage online thingy.

Bank: Certainly. We just have to go through a few routine security questions.

Me: (Swallow something large) O.K.

Bank: Firstly, do you have any other accounts with us?

Me: (silence).

Bank: Hello?

Me: Hello!

Bank: Ermm… do you have any other accounts with us?

Me: I don’t know.

Bank: (stifled laughter, I imagine James looking at colleague and pointing to phone) Ah, that’s OK, we’ll try something else.

Me: I’m not very good at this am I?

Bank: It’s fine, sir, honestly. (Image of James putting me onto speaker phone and special ‘I’ve got a live one!’ notice lighting up in call centre).

Bank: Let’s try something else. What’s your memorable question?

Me: I have a memorable question?

Bank: (James with wavy mouth, shoulders shaking) Yes, sir. Could you tell me what your memorable question is?

Me: I can’t remember.

(James stuffs fist in mouth and raises eyes to sniggering co-workers).

Bank: Never mind. Just tell me how much money you’re asking to borrow.

Me: (Silence).

Bank: Sorry?

Me: Oh sorry. I didn’t say anything.

Bank: Sorry. I just wanted to know how much money you wished to borrow.

Me: I don’t know.

Bank: (James making lunatic whirly finger signs next to his head)

Me: I think perhaps I should call back.

Bank: Well, if you think that’s best, sir…

Me: Yes, I think I’ll do that. Thanks, bye.

Bank: Thanks yes, speak to you later.

(As I hang up phone, hear delirious laughter from entire call centre staff echoing in my ears).

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I Married a Chartered Accountant

I’ve had a wonderful week at home with Lady Barton St Mary, during which we’ve continued with our retirement practice, ‘Sorting Stuff Out’ and ‘Getting Things Done’.

‘Sorting Stuff Out’ means revising all the clothes in drawers and wardrobes and giving/throwing away anything that is worn out/stained/on reflection a lousy choice. This was something Lady BSM was very keen to do, since she appears to think I am encroaching into her area of the big wardrobe with all my shirts, which may be a valid point. To be fair, her clothes do occupy 75% of a triple wardrobe, a 6 drawer chest of drawers, a blanket box and a bedside chair known as a chairdrobe. Nevertheless, my increasing sartorial interest has put her on her guard.

I did manage to reduce my clothes territory slightly, but still not quite to the satisfaction of her ladyship, I feel.

‘Getting Things Done’ is also an excellent exercise in having a fulfilling life, but includes the one particular area that leaves me at a disadvantage – namely, finances.

You see, not only is Lady Barton St Mary a beautiful and intelligent alpha female and responsible for running a multi-national company, she’s also a fully qualified chartered accountant, which means that

  1. She likes to be in control and
  2. quite rightly, she deals with all of our finances.

This also means that I have to make very little effort when it comes to dealing with financial matters. Let me put that another way. I make no effort when it comes to financial matters.

This week, we had two financial ‘Getting Things Done’ things that needed to get done. Firstly, visit the bank and speak to a financial adviser. Secondly, file the huge piles of paper that had accumulated in the kitchen and file it away as necessary. What follows is a typical example of my experience in dealing with finance.

Visiting the Financial Adviser

“Come in, come in,” said the cheery young man in a grey three piece suit, shaking our hands.

“Duncan,” he explained, leading us into his office on the top floor of the bank and offering us a seat.

He gave us a brief history of his career before explaining he ‘liked to ask lots of questions’. Oh dear, I thought,  I’m sure these questions aren’t going to be about the next series of Game of Thrones or whether Deal or No Deal has been better since they introduced box 23 and Noel started wearing suits… They’d be about finances.

Duncan looked at me.

“So, what sort of savings accounts do you have?” he enquired of me. I stared back at him. I’m sure his shirt was a Pierre Cardin. Lady BSM answered. His glanced over at her and then back at me.

“How much do you have in your current account?” he continued, a thin smile on his lips, an attempt to hide the look in his eyes. Yes, definitely Pierre Cardin. He wore a purple tie to go with the fine purple check of his shirt. I suddenly worried that I’d relaxed my jaw and was gawking at Duncan with my mouth wide open. Lady BSM answered and Duncan, satisfied with this outcome, did what all financial advisers do to me when interrogating us as a couple. He shifted in his seat and faced Lady BSM for the rest of the meeting, whilst I struggled to fathom out what the hell was going on. The following conversation wasn’t exactly what was said, but how it was interpreted in my butterfly brain.

“Have you considered the fiscal culminultitude of index linked statutory elements of inheritance tax in the next five years? It may be better to invest in some short term inelastic fulmination of percentile increments to eliminate the possibility of a footsie platitude adjustment.”

“True, but we must wait and see how the latest budget projections and the changes in The Finance and Dividend Act which may counterbalance any monetary vicissitudes,” countered Lady BSM.

“Of course,” sighed Duncan, enraptured at Lady BSM’s sound business acumen, whilst I counted the buttons on his suit cuff.

We left Duncan’s office having ‘Got Things Done’.

Filing Our Piles

What our piles looked like.

What our piles looked like.

This is definitely an exercise I cannot carry out on my own. I realise that all these bits of paper with numbers on mean something, but which ones are important and need filing and which ones need throwing away is Lady BSM’s department.

I must, at this juncture, point out that she doesn’t think she’s like an accountant at all. She certainly doesn’t look like a stereotypical accountant, but she does show the classic characteristics of one. For example, the other day she was tapping away on her laptop whilst watching TV, creating a spreadsheet. Not for work, but primarily, as far as I could tell, for fun.

So when it came to filing our piles, I just tried to categorise them and allow Lady BSM to do the rest. We appeared to have insurance documents dating back over the past 10 years, along with pension statements, bank accounts, ISAs, shares, electricity and oil bills.

Each piece of paper was considered by Lady BSM; at one point, she held a sheaf of oil delivery invoices, smiling benignly.

“Do we need all of them?” I asked. She frowned momentarily.

“Well, no, but I do like to look back in the fluctuations in prices and see how we’ve done,” she replied, dewy eyed.

That’s when I realised she really was an accountant. All this financial paperwork was interesting and exciting to her – ‘amusing bank statements’, ‘annual pension annuity forecasts I have loved’, ‘my 5 greatest index linked ISAs’…

Of course, I did my bit by shredding all the confidential papers that were surplus to requirements.

Again, we were successful, disposing of a couple of trees’ worth of paper and getting our filing system into some sort of order.

I avoided asking the question I really wanted to ask until today, merely because I know that I rarely manage to listen to the answer – namely, get an understanding of our where our money is.

“So,” I asked casually over breakfast, “how many accounts do we have?”

Lady BSM looked at me, wide eyed.

“Depends,” she said.

“What?”

“Do you mean a relationship with an individual financial institution or actual accounts?”

I looked at her, wide eyed.

Since she was already in the process of playing on Excel, she shifted her laptop screen to face me and brought up a list of names and accounts. She eyed me suspiciously.

“You’re bored already, aren’t you?”

I denied it.

I am aware that my wife is a financial genius who can generate an income out of anything,but by the time we got to the second page of her spreadsheet and the 24th account, I’d drifted off.

But at least I’m not panicking about her birthday present this year.

I’m going to collect all her favourite utility bills and put them in a folder. It will keep her amused for hours…

 

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Yet Another Evening with Rick Wakeman – 40 years later

“Have you ever seen him before?” asked the friendly man from New Zealand who was sitting next to me. He was on a 4 month tour of Europe with his wife, but had managed to pitch up at Cheltenham Town Hall in the second row to see ‘Another Evening with Rick Wakeman’. I had, I explained, having been taken as a 14 year old by rather reluctant but loving parents to the Wembley Empire Hall (now Wembley Arena) to see The Myths and Legends of King Arthur performed on ice. My dad would have seen Rick Wakeman as a ‘layabout’, but because his music sounded fairly classical in nature and he’d been to The Royal College of Music, he let him off. It was all very dramatic, lots of dry ice, knights on skates having sword fights, etc. The man from New Zealand had also seen him, when Rick had toured there. He’d told a story about the sword fight where all the knights die. One night, one of the knights was taken unwell and couldn’t perform, which left another knight, at the end of the choreographed battle, alone and skating around aimlessly whilst the orchestra and Rick played on and on waiting for a conclusion. Fortunately for all concerned, the knight decided the only way out was to turn his sword on himself and allow the next sequence to begin. “Have you heard about Rick having a curry during a Yes performance of Topographical Oceans?” I asked New Zealand man. He hadn’t. I decided not to tell him in case Rick used it in his act. Rick had a support group, called The Cadbury Sisters. I’d never heard of them and didn’t know what to expect, but heck, I had nowhere else to go.

The Cadbury Sisters at Cheltenham Town Hall

The Cadbury Sisters at Cheltenham Town Hall

It turned out that The Cadbury Sisters really were sisters, not part of the Cadbury chocolate family dynasty and came from Cheltenham (or rather more accurately a village called Edgworth just outside Cheltenham. From the moment that they opened their mouths, I was hooked. A real folky, crystal clear voiced, beautifully harmonised sound, just with one electric and acoustic guitar and a floor tom. Think an English version of First Aid Kit and you’ve pretty much got it. Lady Barton St Mary were so impressed we bought their EP in the interval from the girls themselves, who were happy to chat to everybody. Have a look at their video at the end of this blog.

IMG_1648

Rick in action, he’s moves very fast hence the picture is blurry. Nothing to do with my photography skills. Definitely not.

Then to the main event, with Rick Wakeman taking to the stage to the music of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, sitting at his Steinway grand piano and accompanying the backing music. This show was Rick talking and playing pieces. He explained that he’d started playing the piano at 5 years old, with his piano teacher, Mrs Symes, who taught him right up to the time Rick went to The Royal College of Music. In typical Wakeman style, he explained that he noticed two things about Mrs Symes: the amount of freckles on her face and the enormous size of her boobs, a theme Rick returned to rather often during the evening. He told us that his wife had suggested he play the first thing he ever played publicly, which was a 13 note piece called ‘See a Monkey on a Stick’. Rick told us that as soon as he received applause for playing it, he was hooked and his mother had to be called to drag him off the stage after his fourth rendition! To watch Rick Wakeman in action is spellbounding. His playing is effortless, his skills incredible. As the evening passed, he told tales of his time playing for Clive Dunn, Black Sabbath, The Strawbs and Cat Stevens, Tim Rice, stories about Jon Anderson and Yusuf Islam. In fact, I don’t know how I’d failed to realise it was Rick playing Piano on Cat Stevens’  number one version of ‘Morning Has Broken’. In between these tales, Rick played some pieces, classical and contemporary, including a chance to show his skill playing nursery rhymes in the style of different composers (Mozart, Ravel, Prokofiev, Rimsky Korsakov). He reminded us of all the different things he’s done – keyboard player with Yes, session musician, solo artist, star of Countdown, compere on Jongleurs Live and his contributions to Grumpy Old Men, making the demographic of his audience very wide and varied, although it must be said, the Cheltenham audience was predominantly over 50. Again, it was obvious when you knew it that Rick Wakeman played the piano on David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ (possibly my favourite Bowie song). But there was more. David Bowie was a neighbour and friend of Wakeman’s in the 1970s. One day, he asked Rick to come and visit and listen to his latest songs. Rick was very impressed and became the first person to hear all the tracks that were eventually recorded for ‘Hunky Dory’. “I want you to learn all these songs on the piano,” explained Bowie, “then we’ll arrange the music around you.” I was blown away. The encore (something Rick, like the rest of us, finds preposterous) was inevitably a piece from King Arthur, namely Merlin the Magician, taking me back to that night many, many years ago watching the ice show with the smell of dry ice in my nostrils, then later, as an older teenager, listening to the album at full blast whilst my dad shouted ‘turn it in!’ from the bottom of the stairs. It was a wonderful evening, a strange combination of laddishness and culture, one that’s sent me home eager to listen to classical music again. He never told the curry story, either.

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Run, Forest, Run

On Sunday, I ran The Forest of Dean Half Marathon. For all those Wordpretzels out there who don’t know where that is, it’s in the west of England, very close to the Welsh border. The Forest of Dean is a rather unique area, where wild boar roams the countryside and the locals sound like pirates, pronouncing their homeland as the “FarstaDean.”

Some of them look like pirates. They are also extremely proud and fiercely partisan, so at this point, I’ll give up on the description of The Forest of Dean and its inhabitants for fear of causing unintentional offence.

I’m a bit of a regular for The FarstaDean Half, but entered late this year, having felt quite poorly in January and February. However, my friend Sister Maria was taking part in the Farstadean Canicross. This strange pastime involves rather fit looking people tying themselves to dogs and being dragged around the course before normal runners have a go. That’s if you can call anybody who voluntarily runs 13 miles for fun normal. So I decided to enter, wanting to get there early and see her in action with Sasha or Mylo, her amazingly well trained Labradors.

Sister Maria in action. Don't try this at home. You'll break the furniture.

Sister Maria in action. Don’t try this at home. You’ll break the furniture.

However, poor Sister Maria was not well enough to run, so I still have to wait to see her in action.

Now, The FarstaDean Spring Half Marathon is always run on the Sunday when the clocks go forward from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time, meaning that not only do you lose an hour’s sleep; you have to run 13.1 miles as well. Which also means one wakes up at 5am and wonders whether one really moved the clock on before going to sleep or is it really 6 am etc…

You have to be there before 9.30am (8.30am?) for a race start of 10.00 am (9.00am???)

As usual, I stressed about being late. As usual, I arrived an hour early. Cheerful middle aged men direct your car into the car park, which is essentially a very soggy field.

I had time to kill. Never mind! I could get in the queue to collect my race number from the race headquarters, which is essentially a gazebo full of lovely volunteers handing out paper and safety pins. You enter one side of the gazebo a citizen and appear out of the other as a finely tuned athlete. I noticed that the race number had two sticky labels attached to it, which appeared to be the timing chip. Usually the FarstaDean has a strip you fix around your ankle, which makes you look like an ASBO offender in lycra. I wasn’t sure whether you tore off the strips and stuck them to your ankle. It seemed unlikely. I asked the cheerful steward in the hi-viz jacket and cowboy hat.

“Excuse me, are these the timing chips?” I enquired.

“Oh arr, you bain’t wanna run without that!” he bellowed.

“Ah, usually you have a strip round your ankle,” I explained unnecessarily.

“Pah! Thaat’s so laaast year!” he said.

More time to kill. I decided to get a coffee from the hot food stand, run by ladies who looked remarkably like members of the WI. Once more I queued behind a lady who ordered 2 coffees and 2 bacon rolls. One lady in a yellow frock and blue hair scribbled something on a small pad of paper. Her friend in a chunky cardigan and tweed skirt eyed their latest customer over the top of her glasses.

“That’ll be six pound, please,” the calculating lady said.

The woman in front of me handed over the cash and stared at the WI pair. They stared back, neither party blinking.

“Do you have my rolls and coffee?” she asked.

The WI ladies drew closer together and emanated that menacing  air only WI members are capable of.

“Oo no. We don’t handle any food,” said yellow lady.

“No, not food. Just money. Food safety, you see,” said glasses lady, handing over a (coincidentally) yellow raffle ticket. She pointed further down to two trestle tables, where other WI homies beavered away over steaming cups, soggy bread rolls and doughnuts.

Luckily, having witnessed how transactions took place, I dutifully handed over my money and received my ticket, moving towards the hot food stand. A lady with purple hair was barking commands.

“Audrey! More milk, we need more milk!”

Audrey, a woman in her sixties wearing red corduroy trousers and a sweatshirt with a picture of an owl on the front, looked startled, blinking the raindrops out of her eyes.

“Mother! Mother! We needs more milk!” she shouted into the wooden shack that represented their mothership. Mother was a tiny figure in a beige blouse and a  brown skirt, the waistband of which reached half way up her chest. She hefted out a 4 litre plastic container of milk, which appeared to be nearly as heavy as she was.

“How are these runners using up all the baastard milk so baastard quickly?” she crowed.

“Mother! Language! You cassn’t say that!” said the daughter, turning back to me and pouring my coffee into a polystyrene cup.

“There you go my lover, milk and sugar is over there,” she said soothingly. I watched the diminutive matriarch heave her burden onto the trestle table and decided to have my coffee black.

Coffee finished, stripped for action, I pretended to do some exercises while really watching the other competitors – men in day glo yellow hats and gloves they wouldn’t normally be seen dead in. Other men in shorts that are so short they’d be a hit in the nightclubs of Soho, Brighton and San Francisco. There were runners with professional looking kit doing earnest looking warm ups who will probably be walking at mile 4. Then the runner I just have to admire. He was wearing a Newcastle football shirt, Marks and Spencer’s blue check boxer shorts, red socks and plimsolls, known as ‘daps’ in these parts. His unique pre-race exercise appeared to be sucking hard on a king size cigarette. Just to let you know, I did manage to overtake him at mile 9. Then he roared past me at mile 11, never to be seen again.

The conditions were wet and windy, I knew it wasn’t a day for fast times, so I just decided to take in the scenery and finish in a very slow time for me.

As I sat in the long queue to get out of the soggy field, I stared vacantly at the front wheel drive vehicles stuck in the thick mud and had a rather sombre thought.

It appears that my half marathon days may be behind me. When I finished the race, I decided that The FarstaDean Spring Half Marath 2015 would be my last. I would announce my retirement and just run to keep the weight off, the reason I started running in the first place.

Of course, this is a symptom of a slow time. When I say I’m retiring from half marathons, let me put it another way. I’m not retiring from half marathons.

 

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(Awkward) Moment at (Almost) Voluntary Work

Wordpretzels, at the moment I spend my Wednesday evenings delivering at a college. Not any college, but one for people with physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries and associated learning difficulties.

As usual, I breezed through the double automatic doors, trolley in tow, and made my way to the reception desk, where Ruth sat.

receptionist

“Hello,” she said, smiling at me, “please sign in.”

As I was filling in all the boxes on my DIY visitors badge, Ruth asked me what was the purpose of my visit. I was slightly bewildered. I’d been turning up every Wednesday for the past 8 weeks, seeing the cheerful and friendly face of Ruth on every occasion. I started to remember that article, stating that men in their 50s become invisible. It had finally happened, with Ruth, no more than 25, failing to recognise or even remember me.

“Erm – I’m here for the Wednesday maths class?” I replied.

Her face broke into a wide smile of recognition.

“Oh, of course, hello Rob, I’m so sorry” she said.

I smiled back, feeling slightly better about myself and less concerned for her lack of recognition. Also, it was early evening on a clear day. The last bright rays of the sun, lowering in the sky, streamed directly through the windows into Ruth’s face.

“It’s OK,” I said magnanimously, “it must be difficult to see who’s coming in with the sun in your eyes.”

“I’m blind,” she said, nonchalantly.

“Pardon?”

“I’m blind,” she repeated, “didn’t you notice the sign on the counter?” she explained, pointing exactly to where a notice in a Perspex frame stated:

“RUTH, OUR RECEPTIONIST, IS REGISTERED BLIND. PLEASE MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN TO HER AS YOU APPROACH THE RECEPTION DESK.”

I swallowed hard. The driver of my butterfly brain struggled with the gears responsible for reversing out of a ‘faux pas cul-de-sac’. I could hear the grinding.

“Oh, gosh, yes I didn’t notice your, erm – anybody would think I was – well – erm – unobservant.”

The gears continued to grind. My butterfly brain controller was gurning like a village show champion gurner with the effort of it all.

Ruth continued to smile at me. My butterfly brain stalled. Ruth read it.

“Couldn’t you see I was blind?” she asked.

“No,” I answered honestly, “I didn’t.”

Looking at Ruth, at worse she had what my mother would have called ‘a cast in her eye”, meaning one eye was slightly misaligned. People of my mum’s generation never had a lot of time for politically correct terms.

She seemed pleased.

“Thanks,” she beamed.

There was a moment’s pause, a chance to make my way through the automatic doors. But no.

“So are you completely blind?”

The butterfly brain operator collapsed on the dashboard, weeping.

“Well – yes,” she stated simply.

“Oh! There’s your dog!” I blurted, noticing the big black Labrador dog in a harness looking at me as if I was a fucking idiot.

Ruth, to her credit, continued to smile wanly.

“Well,” I concluded, “have a lovely evening,” I said, collecting my ID badge.

“You obviously do an amazing job,” I complimented her as I headed through the waiting set of double doors.

For a second, I considered trying to make light of the situation by saying “ Well, if it’s worth anything, I’m extremely handsome”.

Somehow, whatever was piloting my butterfly brain lifted its sweaty, tear stained head from the controls and stopped me.

Let’s never speak of this again.

 

 

 

 

 

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