Sunday, 3 July 2016

Up all night, flushing a mattress down the toilet.

If, like me, you're of a certain age you might remember a blurry image from those halcyon days of television before the advent of a decent bloody picture, an image of a man dressed in flannel pajama bottoms, tank top and beret leaping from a bed and straight through the floor of a hotel bedroom as his long suffering wife rued the day she'd agreed to a second honeymoon.

I watched that particular episode of Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em with my father. It was the first time I'd seen Mr. Crawford's wonderful portrayal of the hapless hero and, as I sat on the floor beside my dad's armchair in my own flannel pajamas, a little bit of wee came out.

I became a big fan of the show, though it was ruined for me when I went to see it on stage. There was far too much singing and why did they dress Frank in a different hat? That mask was a bit scary, too.

The trials and tribulations that Betty Spencer, the aforementioned wife, endured through the well meaning but ultimately counter productive, even destructive, actions of her perpetually bewildered spouse never failed to amaze and amuse. The simplest of tasks would develop, over the thirty minute period of quality time my father and I wasted in front of the crackling box in the parlour, into catastrophes of devastating proportions. The comedy regularly managed to be nail biting while remaining faithful to the genre, the jeopardy created by Frank's conspicuous innocence, stupidity and steadfast refusal to give up even in the face of insurmountable odds never straying toward the melancholy but remaining focused sharply on the laughs.

As each problem arose and escalated Frank would be forced to adapt his plan, invariably causing more damage and necessitating further half arsed notions be entertained and engaged. His ideas, even to the little lad with the pee-spot in his pajamas, were always obviously flawed and could never work, but the plans he came up with were the best he had to work with and so work with them Frank did. Frank was many things, but a quitter he was not.

Yesterday, I awoke slowly. I reached out for my phone and squinted at the screen to see what time it was then, suddenly aware that an hour ago I'd pressed stop rather than snooze, leapt from my stinking pit and into my trousers.

Generally, I'm an early riser. I seldom have to be, but it occurred to me years ago that time spent sleeping is time wasted, little chunks of life where we may as well be dead spread evenly throughout our existence. I have to sleep, but I make sure I sleep the bare minimum. Yesterday, for the first Saturday in a long time, rising early was a necessity.

Dickfingers was making her final, long journey to the desolate north to collect the remainder of her possessions and I still hadn't finished stitching prawns into her mattress.

First thing to be bargained away in favour of freeing up some of the rapidly dwindling time between the now that was then and the impending arrival was my ablutions, with the exception of my teeth. I engaged in a little multi-tasking and began dashing from room to room collecting bags, cases, wall hangings and boxes whilst scrubbing away with the baking soda toothpaste and looking for my other shoe.

At last, I was caught up. Now time to walk my dogs, I grabbed my coat and headed for the door. Passing my armchair I spotted, still hanging from a nail on the wall, an enormous canvas that belonged to Dickfingers and that I knew she loved. I plucked it from the wall, placed it by the front door and stepped out into the grey morn.

I heard a gentle thud as I locked the door behind me. I clearly remember hearing it but at that time I'd immediately decided it couldn't be anything important and, whatever it was, it'd still be there when I got back. Off I set, gently puffing my pipe as my dogs plodded along beside me, pausing occasionally to check their Pmail. It was a cool morning and the sky above was obscured by the heavy, dark clouds now threatening to spill their contents on the gloomy streets below.

Thirty minutes later, after an uneventful morning wander, I arrived home as the first heavy raindrop struck the sparsely insulated portion of my head. I slid the key into the door and engaged the latch as I stepped forward, smiling at how well the initially disastrous morning was turning out, and smashed my nose into the uPVC that had failed to reveal an entrance after striking an obstruction an inch or two beyond the threshold.

My eyes were screwed shut with the pain, so I didn't see the bright flash and was unaware of the breaking storm until I heard the long, low rumble of the thunder that followed and the sudden deluge of heavy, icy water that immediately began to turn my inappropriately selected jacket from a light tan colour to a deep, Ford Granada brown.

Try as I might, whatever was wedging the door closed wasn't going to budge. The rain poured from  the tip of my nose and rendered me blind by virtue of it's sheer ferocity. I slipped my phone from my pocket and forced my hand through the available gap, taking a photograph of the situation indoors in an effort to come up with a plan.

The image on my phone's screen revealed how the large, well loved canvas I'd placed by the door just half an hour earlier had toppled over as I'd left. In an amazing coincidence, the exact proportions of the canvas were the exact proportions of the space on the floor between party wall, door frame and meter cupboard. The edge that lay furthest from the door was against a large, heavy box that was destined for the same destination. That box, which was heavy but not too heavy to stop my forcing entry, in turn filled the gap between the canvas and the bloody piano.

Aren't pianos heavy?

The surprisingly sturdy frame of the canvas was impossible to break or to move through either the X or the Y axis, it would have to be lifted, however the gap was far too narrow to get my arm through. Unless I removed my coat.

I removed my coat.

Getting colder and more sodden by the second, I slipped my arm through the gap at the top where I could force the door an extra inch or so open and began moving it closer to the ground, employing a sawing action as I pushed the plastic inward with my shoulder until, sat on my arse in the pissing rain, I finally managed to get stuck fast.

I wriggled, pushed and panicked but all to no avail. Further hindered by having two large dogs attached to my right arm by leads (dogs who, given the inclement conditions, were exceptionally eager to get inside) I began searching my mind for a way out of this predicament in which I now found myself. Then, like the seventh cavalry charging into view, help arrived.

A local chap, having seen me sitting on my doorstep in a tee-shirt during a thunderstorm, had become concerned and had come to help me. I was so grateful.

The big dog, however, was not. He can be somewhat protective and had assessed the situation, that being me out of action and on the floor whilst a potential threat approached, and decided to act unilaterally. As the chap approached the gate he called out, having to shout above the wind and storm, and the big dog took this as an indication that the point in which to spring into action had arrived. Baring his teeth and flattening his ears, he sprang.

Fifty kilograms of German canine muscle being launched skywards by four powerful legs, as it turns out, produces the exact amount of energy required to free a man of my proportions from a uPVC door, at the expense of my watch strap, six inches of forearm meat and the iPhone that I'd still been holding. As I wrestled back control of my hounds and watched the cavalry flee back the way he had come I came to believe it all pointless, that this was a conundrum with no answer, a riddle with no solution...

...and that I was fucked.

My time living in this grotty, ramshackle shithole has seen me have to break in, for one reason or another, on several occasions. On each occasion I have, once back inside, taken steps to prevent anyone else using the same method to ever again gain entry to my humble Horwich hovel. Yesterday, I realised what a great job I'd done. The place is a veritable fortress.

Resigned to the fact that there was no other option I elected to break a kitchen window. This meant securing the dogs to a wheelie bin whilst I climbed the back yard wall, unlocking the gate, untying the dogs, standing the wheelie bin back up and refilling it with the shit now strewn all around before, finally, selecting a broken brick from the smorgasbord of detritus that lies half hidden in the weeds flourishing unchallenged beside a long established and inappropriate traffic cone.

I approached the back window, masonry in hand and preparing to deliver a satisfying though fiscally devastating blow, when I heard a click.

Through the window before which I stood I spied the big dog plod into the middle of the kitchen floor (beneath the ceiling maiden that contained the clean bedding I was looking forward to enjoying that night) and begin shaking vigorously, soon to be joined by his substantially smaller, though apparently no less absorbent nor shaky, fellow pack member.

The big dog has long since taught himself to operate levers and latches. I think I've seen him trying to master fire. I fear for the future.

It was this ability that had allowed him to gain entry through the unlocked back door to Fortress Two Hats. I'd not thought to try the handle.

I retrieved my phone from behind the barricaded door and checked the time. Ten minutes before she'd said she'd arrive. Perfect. Dickfingers has never been on time for a single thing in her life, I had time for a shit.

As I relaxed into my movement I phoned her.

"Hiya, how far off are you?" I asked, expecting the answer "Birmingham".

"We're just turning the van around outside." The revelation came at the same moment that my arse exploded, emitting a sound similar to that made by a swarm of bats leaving their cave at dusk. She was not only not late, she was a little bit early. Talk about turning over a new leaf.

A frantic session of lifting and carrying and an awkward goodbye later and the deed was done. It wasn't a task I'd particularly wanted to carry out but one that we were both eager to complete as quickly and as easily as possible. Of course, easy isn't always possible. In those cases, easiest is all that's available. And easiest isn't necessarily easy.

Shit happens, wall hangings topple over, doors get left unlocked and forearm skin grows back, sort of. Oh, and bedroom doors get opened by annoyingly smart and stinkingly wet German Shepherds eager to gain access to the bed that contains the only set of bedding you own that doesn't already smell like wet dog and making it smell like wet dog.

All that could have made the morning any more Spencer-esque would have been for the dog to have done a woopsie while he was on there.

Whatever needs doing needs be done. If it needs be done it'll be done even if a dog has to take control of the situation. Most of us won't ever have to stay up all night to flush a mattress down a hotel toilet, but sometimes we'll all feel like that's exactly what were doing, so desperate to escape the consequences of a situation that we undertake increasingly difficult, damaging and destructive acts until we achieve the outcome we desire or else achieve the knowledge that we failed and can move on.

Either way, given enough time, the tale of your valiant/futile struggle will one day be no more than a funny story to tell your wife on your second honeymoon.

Stick at it.

Be more Frank.


Friday, 1 July 2016

High fidelity.

It's no secret that I have, in these latter stages of my existence, become inextricably entangled in the misery of perpetual poverty. On occasion, when younger and considerably less fiscally challenged, I would find myself a bit short of readies after one of the weekends of debauchery that I regularly enjoyed whilst still among the vibrancy of Manchester (If you're from outside the UK, you may know Manchester as "Shit London") but I'd have a full tummy all week, I'd still smoke and the bills would all still get paid on time. Many a Monday morning I would describe myself as not having a "pot to piss in" while munching on a bacon and sausage sandwich in the crew room at work.

I was very ignorant.

During the lowest point of my plunge into the despair in which I now dwell I'd found myself in a routine where I would eat one evening meal every other day. Eventually, I began to struggle to supply sufficient provisions for even this meager diet and would occasionally go three and sometimes four days without eating.

To be clear, I mean not eating, not one single morsel, not even a cornflake, would pass my lips. I lost weight, muscle, hair and, eventually, all self respect.

I own dogs. I owned dogs when I was well off and I own those same dogs to this day. They, unlike me, have eaten well throughout even the darkest of my days. They were, and remain, my priority, the only things I have that I care for and from the moment I'd rescued the first from the shelter I had made a commitment. A commitment I have found difficult, one that has caused me seemingly endless worry at times, but one that I have taken seriously and have fulfilled.

Some might say "You could've sold those dogs and eaten, they're only dogs" and to those people I say "fuck off". But I digress...

It was a dark and, this being Horwich, stormy night in December. I was walking my commitments before retiring to the relative comfort of my hot water filled duvet and sign off on another day survived. It was pub chucking out time and the local "traditional English" chippy (run by a chap named Stavros and serving such delicacies as the traditional British donner kebab and pizza) was in the midst of it's busy period. I held my breath as I approached, as I did every night at this point on our excursion so as not to smell the food being prepared and enjoyed by those who would have full tummies all week, would probably still smoke and who wouldn't be fearing the bailiffs knock whilst describing themselves as being without a pot should the need to relieve themselves arise.

A chap in a hi-vis jacket and rigger boots exited the chippy as we approached. He'd plainly enjoyed a good few hours of hard drinking and seemed to be suffering from Tourette's syndrome as he bid the chip shop staff farewell before bouncing off a lamppost and weaving his way up the hill in front of me. As he walked he opened the container he carried. The tantalising aroma of kebab meat with extra chili sauce filled the air and, now unable to avoid inhaling those meaty fumes as I walked in his wake, my mouth immediately began to water.

He removed a strip of the greasy meat and held it high above his head, lowering it into his upturned mouth and greedily swallowing it as a fledgling would a fat, juicy worm. His mouth quickly free to receive a second strip, he selected one from the tangled mass within the container and began to raise it aloft. He paused on the pavement, inspected the strip of meat clasped between his fingertips and, having decided that this piece carried too much sauce, proceeded to toss it onto the floor before continuing on his merry-as-a-newt way home. I stopped in my tracks.

It was a sizable piece of meat, lying there on a patch of pavement and kept dry from the sleet that had begun to replace the more usual rain by virtue of it's close proximity to a wall. The red sauce shimmered in the light cast by the nearby streetlamp.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching.

A woman was following me up the hill. She smiled nervously as our eyes met and she saw me, standing there in the rain when all other's were rushing to get indoors. She crossed the street and I waited for her to pass, already having decided that the need to sate the pain I felt to be greater than the need for any dignity and actually looking forward, excitedly, to eating a piece of discarded fast food from a gutter. Once the lady had passed I turned and stooped to secure my bounty, just in time to see my favourite commitment lick her chili sauce stained dog-lips.

There's gratitude for you.

They say the darkest hour comes before the dawn. The following day we were awarded a food parcel by the Salvation Army. It saved our lives, of that I have no doubt. My thoughts that night had been far darker than even I, with my penchant for all things noir, care to share.

When I was young, at about the same time that I'd discovered dancing and debauchery in the flesh pots of my closest Metropolis, there seemed to be a constant stream of images on the evening news showing children so weak from hunger that they didn't possess the strength to blink away a vomiting fly. They had suffered to a far greater extent than I ever have, I was still able to go without a meal so I could buy a sack of dog food, they'd surely have eaten the dog food. They'd lie motionless, appearing to me to be slipping away slowly and in an almost dignified manner. It never occurred to me that they were in agony but too weak to react to it, locked inside a withering shell as their core writhed in agony and flies lapped at their excretions. An image on a television can't portray the hell being suffered inside a soul. They would have given anything, betrayed every shred of human dignity, for a morsel of meat such as that my dog enjoyed on the pavement up the hill from the kebab shop. I know they would have, because even with my (far less extreme but still bloody painful) limited experience of starvation I, too, would have.

I've been hungry again recently. Not as hungry as back then, but still bloody hungry. It doesn't worry me greatly though, even given that my starting position this time is so far lower than that which I held when I began the initial slippery slide. I'll either fail or prevail, time will tell, and either way it won't matter in this whole, great, grand scheme of shit. Not to me at least, though the dogs might get a little pissed off when they try and boil the kettle to make their tea. Hopefully, they'll get hungry before I start to rot so I can continue to provide from beyond the grave.


After all, I made a commitment and one should never be afraid to fulfill a commitment.

No matter what the situation, there is great dignity in fulfilling a commitment made. It might be hard, it may hurt, it might cost you dear and there's a possibility the ultimate fulfillment comes as the result of your dogs noshing away on your most succulent parts and any of your steaming offal that they manage to expose with their frantic clawing and tearing, but nothing fills a chest with pride like a job of such magnitude being so well done.

Righteous pride in one's actions can be as comforting as the smell of hot rubber coming from beneath a duvet.

There's a chance that those around you won't know or appreciate the effort you've put in but it's important to see something through to the end. Maybe don't feed animals at the expense of yourself, but remember the little commitments you make every day. Those promises and arrangements made, those children that are currently annoying you but that will hopefully one day chip in to help with your trip to Dignitas and those commitments you make to yourself, they're all important. And remember...

...almost every commitment can be fulfilled without the need for a painful death on the floor of a cold home.