209. Where Nobody Knows Your Name.

We shuffle off the bus like industrialised penguins, damp boots turning discarded tickets to a grey mulch littered with tab ends beneath our feet, making the boards slippery as we gingerly alight.
I’ve finished my shift. It’s four fifty in the afternoon, or is it evening?
it’s December, 1993.
It’s nearly dark.
It has rained but it stopped some time mid-afternoon and there is no sign of the sun.
I can’t remember when I last saw it.
Brake lights and headlights and street lights reflect off filthy puddles that shiver as feet and wheels disturb them, little windows into the world above, shattering and reforming every few moments.
Hands in pockets, face muffled by the high collar of my Army Surplus greatcoat I slip through the crowd along The Headrow and the crowd thickens, quickens, people joining the flow from office buildings and shop doorways and restaurants and pubs, and with them comes the cooking smells and the sour reek of wet bar towels mixing with the sweet blue fumes of the grumbling buses, heavy with lead, and the dog smell of wet coats on tired bodies.
The Christmas lights are up, twisted jumbles of bulbs and tinsel vaguely resembling a robin, some holly, a candle, an angel, but there are no leaves in the city, no birds, the lights are all electric and there’s certainly no angels.
No birds…
The daily screaming overhead begins as a million starlings sweep in, chirruping and bubbling, swirling in thick black shoals across the indigo sky, rising in towering columns, rippling like a storm lashed sea. They dance every night, a confusing kaleidoscope of life until, with a final shriek, they land en mass on the Town Hall, the courts, the art gallery and library, where they perch and argue with each other in the darkness.
I walk on quickly, slipping past old women with heavy bags hauled from the market, men with brollies and briefcases, young women with macs and headscarves smoking menthols and laughing about everything and nothing.
Slade and Wizzard and Lennon and Yoko blare from tinny Tannoys in the shops, competing with the brass band of the Sally Bash on Dortmund Square, dark uniforms arranged around the fat lad with the barrel, but I pass by unnoticed, push on, keep walking.
I’ve been living on my own for a few months now.
I come and go as I please, stay out, go home, no-one to answer to. I have a room in a run-down house for twenty five quid a week, cash in hand, and I love it.
After work I wander around for a bit, rummage through book shops, check out who’s playing at The Duchess of York, explore.
I find myself walking along Boar Lane with it’s pawn shops and discount clothes stores, tired and faded frontages half boarded up, crouching beneath sagging stone cliffs of the soot-blackened Victorian Gothic facades that are prevented from toppling into the streets with stacks of rickety scaffolding. A martial arts shop, second hand gold, a shop declaring
WE BUY OWT in filthy letters overhead.
I breathe it all in.
I love it.
Freedom is exploring the places that terrified you as a kid.
Being alone in a city at night is a child’s worst nightmare, but as an adult it is totally different.
It’s a matter of perspective.
The looming black dome of the Corn Exchange crouches ahead of me. To the right, an evil looking alley plastered with National Front posters ends in a pub door.
The Whip.
It’s a skinhead hangout, a pub I don’t go in. I’ve got long hair and while there’s a strong Goth and Rock scene in the city, you have to watch yourself. There’s been a little craze for kicking people to death round these parts of late, gangs of skins or casuals jumping people in dark alleys and giving them a good hiding, just for fun.
You have to be careful.
You have to keep on your toes.
I cross the street, round the corner, past The General Elliott where a bloke with a dog once made me buy ten lighters for a fiver or ‘he’d kick my fuckin’ teeth out’.
I don’t go in The General Elliott any more.
It’s now fully dark, the shops are shutting, the crowds are thinning out.
It’s quieter, colder.
I head for the pub.
Briggate, buses nosing slowly up the street, growling and wheezing like angry tramps, the lights of Marks & Sparks and Wimpy and Ratner’s reflecting off their wet, grime-streaked windows.
I duck into a narrow alleyway lined by high brick walls. There were dozens of these yards branching off Briggate, back in the day. Fishmongers, slaughterhouses, tanneries, hotels. The stench must have been overwhelming. Some were converted into smart arcades lined with shops, some sealed off by expanding businesses, but the best yards had the ale houses and they’re still there now, if you know where to look. The Ship, The Angel, The Pack Horse, Swan’s, but most famous of all, Whitelock’s.
I push through the Whitelock’s door into the previous century.
Polished copper, cut glass, ornate mirrors and low beamed ceilings. Soft light reflecting from every surface, shining in pools of spilled beer. Discreet booths with cracked red leather seats and punters nursing pints, smoking fags, talking in low tones. The ceiling is as brown as the inside of a teapot from decades of nicotine and the sticky carpet clings to your boots like an over eager lover.
I’m home.
I order a pint and find a corner.
Light a fag.
No-one notices me.
I’m not there.
It’s complete freedom. Nobody even wonders where I am, no-one is waiting. I could go for days and nobody would miss me, sink to the bottom of the Aire and it would be a week before anyone noticed I’d gone.
I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I didn’t get on at school, I didn’t fit in.
Because of that I spent a lot of time by myself, my own company the only company I could get, but it grew to be my favourite company, the only person I was truly at ease with.
And that’s how I prefer it now.
I can please myself.
I’m smiling, genuinely happy. I suck on my pint and take a pull on my fag, rummage in my canvas satchel and find my book, one of my favourites – Dubliners by James Joyce. I’ve been trying to read Ulysses for years and always failed. It beats me every time, but Dubliners is easy, and it’s beautiful.
I read in my corner, drink my bitter, smoke fags.
Soon I get hungry and place an order, then settle back down with a fresh pint.
And then it arrives.
A giant Yorkshire pudding filled with savoury mince and onions.
The steam rises to join the fug of cigarette smoke drifting lazily near the ceiling.
I tear into my meal, washing it down with mouthfuls of beer, and I honestly can’t remember being more content.
As I eat I listen in to other conversations. It’s a grubby little habit but I don’t give a fuck.
The old couple bickering over housekeeping money.
The solitary bloke telling his life story to a disinterested barman.
The four well dressed women perched primly amongst their expensive shopping bags, sipping nervously at glasses of a questionable red wine.
I fork some mince onto a soft strip of Yorkshire pudding and push it into my mouth.
The blonde woman says, “It’s a crying shame.”
The woman with the choppy hair says, “I know. You just don’t realise, do you?”
The blonde nods, sips her drink.
The other blonde, the shorter blonde, says, “If I knew my son was… well… I’d be heartbroken.”
I take a gulp of bitter, push a thick curl of hair away from my ear, listen a bit more.
The women are quiet for a moment.
Then choppy hair says, “My Dominic is around the same age and I worry. He’s at Cambridge, and we send him, you know, enough, but I still worry.”
The dark haired woman speaks up. “You just don’t expect it, not in this day and age. I mean… where are the parents? Don’t they care?”
The shorter blonde says, “Sandra, there might not be any parents…”
All the women gasp a little. There are sympathetic tuts.
Dark hair sighs, “There but for the grace of God…”
My curiosity is really aroused now. I glance up.
They’re looking at me.
They quickly look away.
I suddenly realise that it’s me they’re on about.
They pity me.
At first I’m angry. Furious.
How dare they? How dare they… presume?
But then I stop. The women are gathering their bags, checking watches, muttering about children and husbands.
They have to go.
I watch them, they do not watch me.
I light a fag and blow smoke and the ladies tiptoe from the pub into the damp night, back to their houses where they are expected, back to their gilded cages.
And I pity them.
I grin and push my plate away, pick up my pint and drain it.
I think about having another.
I can, if I like.
I can do anything I like, go anywhere like.
So I have another.
And another.
Later, I don’t know when, I walk out of the alleyway, onto Briggate.
It is almost deserted, except for the idling buses at their stops.
The rain falls silently, illuminated by the brake lights and headlights and street lights, by the green and the red of the shop windows and traffic lights.
I can hear the starlings high above me, talking in their sleep.
I walk down past the dark International pool, it’s warm chlorine breath misting the air, and cross the river, just walking, walking.
I look down at the river below and I’m happy, happy in the cold and the rain, happy that no-one knows or particularly cares.
In my own world I can do what I want.
I light a last cigarette.
I can go where I want.
So I go home.

Posted in The Stories. | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments


My bike wheel cuts through flint coloured puddles, crunching over wet diamonds of shattered glass kicked from the crumpled carcass of the 229 bus stop by glue-fuelled youths during the night.
It is half past five, Saturday morning and I’m nineteen years old.
Leeds is still.
I cross the bridge over the River Aire, it’s black surface slowly swirling with the thick rainbow eddies of a thousand different spills and leaks from cracked pipes and overflows that seep out of the foul arses of the soot-blackened factories squatting on the riverbanks.
I cross the canal. It is no prettier.
A sluggish wind stirs litter and leaves, a dull clunking pop can trundles over gutter cobbles.
A withered prostitute with sunken cheeks stumbles to the kerb, tries to flash me some tit that she doesn’t have and gives the universal sign for a blow job, offering to stick my cock where she’d once had teeth.
I shake my head and pedal on, head crouching closer over the handlebars.
Under pylons, under train lines, over silent dual carriage-ways, over the dead beck.
This part of Leeds – Holbeck, Hunslet, et al – is a shit hole.
Hunsbeck is what Peter O’Toole called this neck of the woods where there are no woods. It’s where he grew up. He almost got sucked into the print trade too, albeit as a reporter on The Yorkshire Post, but the draft took him to the Navy and good sense got him the fuck out of Dodge and into RADA, alongside those other lovvies with mucky fingernails, Albert Finney and Alan Bates.
Not everyone got out of Hunsbeck.
Almost no-one did.
I’m amazed anyone brought up round these parts can make it. Nothing is alive. Weeds struggle, rats die, poisons from a century of unregulated heavy industry leech up through the soil.
I flinch as gulls suddenly rise screaming from a skip crouching in the industrial estate to my left, filling the grey sky with their shrill protests. Beyond, the rickety terraces of Elland Road football ground tower over the red brick terraced streets that march away to the horizon in dark ranks, weak wisps of smoke leaking from a few chimneys signalling the start of a new grey day for the early risers.
And here’s The Factory.
I get off my bike, catch my breath.
I push through the battered front doors, lean my bike against inky bricks and push my card into the clock machine.
A heavy clunk punches a hole in the card, stamps a date and a time:
05.57 17.OCT 92
I’m here for a twelve hour shift and I already feel exhausted.
It’s my first ever twelve on a Saturday.
It’s considered a privilege but I’m not fucking stupid. Yeah, the money is ok but money isn’t everything. It’s not a privilege to drag your sorry arse to this forgotten hole in the world, not for any money.
It’s like going to Hell because you like a tan.
I can hear the print presses hissing compressed air, then the motors firing up one by one as the printers get organised. The assistants walk carefully back from the hot water boiler holding half a dozen mugs of tea in each of their already inky fists.
Everywhere in The Factory there is a common shout.
I’ve always hated this chant, I still do.
It’s so fucking mindless, a purposefully aggressive bellow that’s meant to somehow transform the shouter into a hard man, someone who might know someone who might be in the Service Crew.
It sounds like they are saying ‘Lids’.
Lids Uni’ed.
Fucking moronic.
I’m filling up my own tea mug when Hugs and Flint sidle through the front door, giggling.
They don’t clock in.
I remind them, “Don’t forget to peg in, lads. You’re a bit late so you’ll get quartered.”
If you’re three minutes or more late you get a quarter of an hour knocked off your wage.
Hugs shakes his head. “Nah. We were getting a lift in with old Fudgey and got ‘im to clock us in. We’re safe.”
I say, “If you were with Fudgey, how come you’re late?”
They start giggling. Flint says, “We saw Stacey the Brass down Holbeck. We stopped off for a quick nosh. Sets you right up on a mornin’, that does.”
I wince. “Is that her name? Stacey? I saw her earlier. She… she’s got no teeth.”
Hugs nods approvingly. “That’s how I like ‘em. That way she can’t bite yer bell-end an’ nick off wi’ yer wallet while yer screamin’ on the floor!”
Hugs and Flint start giggling again. “Besides,” says Flint, “If she ‘ad a full set o’ choppers she couldn’t ‘ave give us two fer one!”
I frown. “Two for one… how do you get… oh. Oh no.”
Hugs and Flint are roaring with laughter now. Flint says, “Yer should ‘ave seen her, Luci! It was fuck funny! She looked like a fuckin’ gerbil wi’ a gob full o’ nuts! I could hardly shoot me muck fer laughing so ‘ard!”
Hugs says, “Looked like an over filled letterbox, she did.”
Flint chuckles, “She ‘ad to go ‘ome after that. She were a mess, poor lass. So much yoghurt on her face, looked like she’d bin run ovver by a fuckin’ milk float.”
Hugs wipes his eyes. “Yeah, best tenner we ever spent!”
I shake my head. “A tenner? Poor cow. All that for a tenner, at her age…”
Hugs says, “Her age? She’s twenty five!”
They walk away, laughing and thrusting their hips, talking about what they’ve just done.
Twenty five.
There’s no way she’ll see twenty six.
I sigh and get to work.
Cutting. Pasting. Measuring. Glueing.
As I work the shouting continues over the hammer of the presses.
I grind my teeth.
An hour later Jock pops his head around the door. He says, “I didn’t know you were in, Luci! You wanna dustbin lid?”
I blink. “A what?”
He says, “Dustbin lid. A sarnie. I’m off to the sarnie shop. Takin’ orders.”
He waves a list at me.
I say, “Oh. Yeah, please. What’s a dustbin lid?”
He winks at me. “You’ll see.”
I sigh. “Ok. Listen, Jock, are those cunts out there going to shout all day? It’s doing my fucking head in.”
He thinks, then nods. “Yeah, they probably are. Leeds are playing at home today so they’re all excited.”
“What time’s kick off?”
I check the time. It’s seven fifteen. “It’s going to be a long day…”
I get my head down, do some work.
Dark room becomes light room with a bang of bright halogen and a whirring ticking of the timers. The dark room becomes a warm room from the heat of the bulbs and I squint at the artwork laid out in the painfully bright glare of the lamps, then another bang and the light room becomes a dark room once again, a cold room.
In the red glow of the safety light I peel the huge sheet of film away from the glass plate and feed it into the processor rollers, sensors kicking the machine into life, giving off a piss reek of warmed chemical.
I wait, staring into red darkness.
There’s no computers in 1992.
In reprographics it’s all piles of film and sheets of red rubylith, sticky tape, scalpels and a steady hand.
We photograph artwork onto film then cut the film into pieces, carefully paint out bullseyes and hickies in the negatives, splitting the components into Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.
It’s a long process.
There’s a lot to learn.
The apprenticeship is seven years.
Seven fucking years.
At the end of those seven years, maybe a month after I complete my apprenticeship, a manager will bring three boxes into the studio containing three beige Apple Macintosh 9500 computers.
From that day on, everything I’ve learned over those seven long years will go instantly out of the window.
But that’s four years away.
for now it’s a large table with fluorescent tubes inside covered in a thick sheet of glass, the knife, the film and a lot of time and patience.
I hate it.
I hated it then, I hate it now.
But I did it.
An hour passes, a long hour.
A fresh shout goes up on the factory floor as Jock staggers in with a cardboard box full of sandwiches.
Everyone gets dustbin lids.
I grab mine.
“Fucking Hell…”
Jock laughs. “That’ll put hairs on yer tits, Luci!”
I take my dustbin lid back to my workbench and tear open the damp paper bag.
There’s a breadcake fourteen inches wide inside, filled with at least two full English breakfasts.
Out on the shop floor, the presses fall quiet.
The shouting stops.
Everyone focusses on getting their greasy monster inside them and keeping it there.
I have a good go at it but give up half way.
The congealed lump of bread and greasy meat sits in my gut like a bowling ball.
I suddenly think of Hugs, Flint and Stacey.
I make it to the bogs just in time.
I wipe my mouth and splash water on my face.
I feel better. I check my watch.
Quarter past nine.
I groan.
it’s going to be a long day.

The bellowing resumes around ten.
The hours pass slowly.
midday comes and goes.
As the clock grinds closer to three o’clock the shouting gets louder, more co-ordinated.
Boomed songs of loyalty to their beloved club, threats to fetch their father’s gun to kill various teams they seem to think of as scum – Manchester, Chelsea, Millwall.
I’ve never understood this hate.
It always seems to come from some sense of being badly done by, of favouritism shown to other clubs at Leeds’ expense.
There’s never anything tangible, specific, just a general grumble that has become an incoherent roar.
It could be the story of the North as a whole.
To a certain extent the North does have a reason to be angry – entire towns died alongside the steel, coal and manufacturing that had been their lifeblood.
There’s ex-coal miners bellowing on the end of some of these print presses who starved on the picket lines and howled at the coppers who would burn ten pound notes in their faces.
But football clubs…
Are they just a place to focus this feeling of being badly done to?
Is that why bacon-necked men in Harrington jackets line up to kick fuck out of each other on the terraces of a Saturday? A chance to even some deep-seated cultural grievance, settle a few scores?
I haven’t got clue.
I’m still working when I hear the print presses fall silent once again.
I check my watch.
It’s three o’clock.
A dozen men march past the grimy studio window that looks out onto the factory, clad in Leeds United hats and scarves.
They march past the clock machine. They don’t clock out.
I suddenly notice something catching the light.
They all carry lengths of steel.
Some print jobs need perforations, to create coupons and tear-out pieces. To make perforations we use serrated metal strips, like thick steel rulers, only with a razor sharp edge. They are slender swords.
All the lads have lengths of this steel and they now hide them down jacket sleeves and inside coats.
They march out of the door.
I mutter, “Fucking Hell… oh, fucking Hell…”
I follow them out, keeping my distance.
The street is transformed.
Where it was once deserted, it is now crammed with cars, hundreds and hundreds of them. The entire street is full of cars, the dead grass verges are crowded with cars, the car park (For staff use only) is filled with cars.
They all seem abandoned, hurriedly dumped wherever possible.
The chanting is coming from a side street, a filthy industrial estate that ends at the railway line. The side street is also choked with cars and the lads march past.
At the end of the street is a rusted iron bridge that crosses the railway line, and beyond, the towering terraces of the football ground.
A heavy roaring is in the air, distant whistles and a great bellowing of thousands and thousands of voices.
The stadium.
That’s where the lads are headed.
I return to the factory, shaken.
Jock is brewing up.
I say, “Fucking Hell, Jock! I’ve just watched half the workforce heading towards Elland Road armed to the fucking teeth! They’ve got fucking… fucking swords!! They’ll kill someone! We have to do something!”
Jock takes a careful sip of his hot tea, winces, takes another sip. “Don’t fuss, lad. It’s why they come to this shit hole on a Saturday. The pay’s not good enough an incentive! They need a bit o’ fun to make it worthwhile. Don’t fuss…”
He wanders away.
I’m left with the idling machines, hissing, awaiting the return of the lads.
I try to do some work but my hands are shaking. I imagine the six o’clock news, scenes of riot and bloodshed and shameful naming of our city, Leeds, a nest of thugs and maniacs.
I’m not particularly proud of Leeds. I’ve no reason to be. I don’t follow any sport, I don’t have a tribe to speak of. Leeds has always given me a kicking n one way or another, it’s no land of opportunity. It’s a fucking filthy hole, to be honest, all soot-blackened stone and empty shops and a shitty maze of abandoned precincts.
But still…
An hour passes.
Suddenly the factory door is kicked open and the lads march back in, laughing and shouting. I expect to see signs of bloodshed, injuries and violence. Instead they seem huddled with hidden burdens under their jackets, secretive and excited.
I see Jock. He beckons me over.
He says, “Look.”
He opens the factory door, leads me outside.
I see Flint hurrying up the street, coat bulging. He pauses by a car, stops. Looks inside.
Suddenly the steel is in his hand, sliding down the gap between car door and window.
Then he’s inside.
He emerges with a wallet, sunglasses, a pair of leather gloves.
He hurries on, winking as he passes us to disappear into the gloom of the factory
I shake my head. “Is that… Is that what they were up to then? Nicking?”
Jock nods. “Aye. They never go see the match. They’ll shift that lot in the pubs early doors this evening, then piss what they make up the wall in the night. Bit of a bonus, y’know?”
He goes back inside.
I hear the presses fire up again, one by one.
The fun is over, back to work.
They are Leeds.
So that’s what it means to be Leeds.
Take what you can from who you can and fuck the rest.
Crime pays.
I go back to the studio, feeling depressed.
A couple of hours later I’m shuffling down the queue of men clocking out.
I’m last.
I get my bike and let the factory door slam shut behind me.
The last of the knackered cars putter out of the car park and the street is as deserted as it was that morning, an age ago.
It is dusk.
I’m knackered.
My eyes ache and my mouth is a thick carpet of tea and grease.
I get on my bike, push away from the kerb, pedal slowly down the street.
The gutters are filled with fluttering chip wrappers, polystyrene cups, football programmes, fag ends. A diesel train honks and clatters slowly across the railway line, hauling battered carriages of aggregate, billowing black fumes that hang in the air like ink in water.
There is a strange pause, a tilt from day to night, the flicker of streetlights turning the blue grey to lurid orange, illuminating the early girls on the corner, their silhouettes sliding across the red brick walls of an abandoned mill like obscene shadow puppets.
I ignore them, ignore everything, concentrate on getting home and going out, meeting mates and getting drunk, smoking fags, necking pints, getting fucked, throwing up, going down, getting up, get knocked down, get back up, because we are Leeds,
we are Leeds,
we are Leeds,

Posted in The Stories. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

207. The Shower of Love

I’m stood in the plate room, watching water piss out of the printing plate-processing machine across the cracked linoleum floor.
I take a slurp of hot tea.
I say, “Looks a bit fucked.”
Jimmy the Plate is sliding around on the wet floor waving a spanner ineffectually whilst Wobbly Steve shuffles nervously on the periphery of the spreading pool like a trapped rambler in a Devonshire cove.
“Fucking Nora,” he mumbles, looking genuinely in fear of his life.
I say, “I’d get up on a desk if I were you, Wobbly Steve.”
Wobbly Steve nods, starts to weakly climb up but he hasn’t the strength. Eventually he just rolls on and lays there, wheezing like an asthmatic seal.
“Fucking Nora,” he mumbles again.
“You’ve stripped the thread, you stupid cunt!!” Soulless Boss struggles from under the machine, drenched, a jet of water hitting him in the face like some kind of industrial bukkake.
I take another mouthful of tea.
Soulless Boss slides out, soaked clothes stained blue by the decades old crust of spilt developing chemical that hangs beneath the the plate machine like ominous stalactites.
He’s screaming incoherently, absolutely furious, unable to function properly. He reminds me of a character in Das Boot, fathoms deep, desperate to stem the flow of high pressure sea water as it bursts through the split rivets of their depth-charged submarine.
I chuckle to myself.
Soulless Boss sees me.
He looks like he wants to murder me, his face twisting and contorting, fists clenching, unclenching.
I reach for a flat headed screwdriver.
Soulless Boss’s eyes widen and he flaps his hands.
“Oh… now wait a minute…”
I say, “Keep your fucking wig on, Elton…”
I walk over to the plate processor and slot the blade into the rusty screw sticking out of the isolation ball valve in the copper downpipe and give it a couple of turns.
The water flow slows, stops. The room falls silent except for a steady dripping.
Wobbly Steve says, “Fucking Nora.”
“Why didn’t you do that ten minutes ago??” screams Soulless Boss.
I say, “Because I didn’t notice it ten minutes ago, did I? Plumbing isn’t my thing. When I noticed it I gave it a go. It worked. You should be thanking me.”
I turn and start to walk away.
Soulless Boss shouts, “Where the fuck are you going?”
“Maintenance,” I reply. “We need an engineer. None of us have a fucking clue what we’re doing, we’re just wanking off. Let’s just get Pob down, he’ll have it sorted in ten minutes and we won’t all drown.”
Soulless Boss stamps his foot in two inches of water. “I can fix this myself!!”
“No you can’t. You’re making it worse. I’m going to fetch Pob, so try mopping some of this water up, for fuck’s sake…”
I walk across the factory to the Maintenance department.
I like it here.
Stacked clutter of broken bits, things on their side with their electrical guts hanging out, the smell of solder in the air, swarf crunching underfoot.
I’m not a particularly practical person so I have an admiration for those who have a knack for fixing things. I don’t like it when they rub your nose in it, mind.
That mechanic who grins as he wipes his mitts on a greasy rag whilst shafting you for tinkering under your bonnet for a couple of hours, just because he thinks you’re a soft cunt because you don’t have shit under your fingernails… that bloke can go fuck himself.
The lads in Maintenance don’t question my sexuality just because I work in an office. I’ve known them for years, been out on the piss with them, drank tea and muttered in dark corners with them whilst skiving.
I’ve earned a small place at the workbench.
Bernie is sat in the corner, pulling at the blue and brown and red intestines of a fucked motor, whistling through his teeth. He’s long limbed, huge hands and massive boots. He rubs the side of his nose and leaves a sooty carbon smear.
“Now then, Luci. What can I do you for?”
Bernie is from Bradford, proper Bradford where it’s pronounced ‘Brrratfud’.
I say, “Aye up, Bernie. I’m looking for Pob. The lads in the plate room have been fucking about with the plate processor again and managed to half drown themselves.”
Bernie rolls his eyes. “Ah, fuck. Not again. That daft little twat Soulless wouldn’t have a hand in it, would he?”
I nod. “He’s up to his nuts in it. Got soaked. He’s wetter than Katie Hopkins at a Far Right Rally.”
“Serves the cunt right. Shame he didn’t get ‘lectricuted n’all.”
Bernie reaches for his tea mug and take a slurp. They drink more tea in Maintenance than the rest of the factory combined. I don’t know how they do it. I’d be pissing my trousers by eleven.
I say, “So yeah, I’m looking for Pob. Is he around?”
Pob is a reluctant engineer. I say reluctant – he knows his stuff, and can tell you what’s wrong and what needs doing and how to go about doing it until the cows come home, but when it comes to the actual task, the nuts and bolts of tightening nuts and loosening bolts, that’s when Pob becomes reluctant.
He grumbles and grizzles, curses under his breath as though it’s an unreasonable favour that’s been asked of him rather than it being his paid job, and he’ll do it this once but never again.
Pob is the physical opposite of Bernie, with short legs, round cheeks and bulging eyes. Seeing them walk down the factory together pushing their tool carts, Bernie walking slowly for Pob’s benefit, Pob skipping a little to keep up for Bernie’s benefit, is like watching a Laurel & Hardy sketch.
Bernie looks up at me with a raised eyebrow. “Pob?” he says. “He’s not in. Didn’t you hear?”
I perk up. “I didn’t hear. I want to hear. Go on – give it here!”
Bernie shakes his head, muttering. “Yer a fucking fishwife, Luci. Right, it’s like this. You’ve met Pob’s missus, yeah?”
I think back. “Yeah. I think so. Short. Bit dumpy. Big glasses and big tits. Laugh like a zebra?”
Bernie snaps his fingers. “That’s her. Well, her and Pob were always at it. Shagging all the time. Whenever Pob wanted it, his lass was up for it. Christ knows why – the idea of that fish-faced git grunting on top of me fills me with fucking horror. But y’know, horses for courses and all that. So, Pob and his lass had been on the ale all day and they come home with a curry, and after they neck that Pob’s missus starts to get a bit frisky on the sofa. But our Pob, he’s all full of bitter and Bhuna. The last thing he wants to be doing is getting jiggy on top of Mrs Pob. So he tries to put her off, let her know he’s not interested.”
I say, “How did he do that? He’s not the subtlest isn’t our Pob, is he?”
“That’s putting it mildly,” says Bernie. “Rather than saying he’s full of ale and trying to shag her would be like pushing a marshmallow into a moneybox, he says something different.”
“Oh God… what?”
“He says he don’t fancy her no more ‘cause she’s got fat.”
I flinch. “Fuck off! He said that? What was he thinking? And anyway, talk about the pot calling the kettle black! He’s a right tubby little fucker these days! Got a proper belly on him!”
Bernie nods. “Couldn’t agree more. Well, his lass got the hump big style, and quite rightly too. She took her bat and ball home, withdrew all privileges.”
I say, “He won’t have liked that. A bloke gets used to having it on tap. He takes it for granted. Turn off the tap, so to speak and… well…. I don’t really know where I’m going with that metaphor. It paints a pretty horrible picture…”
Bernie shudders. “Yeah. I don’t like thinking of that…. Anyway, she stops putting out and he stops asking, as a matter of pride. Stalemate. For five years.”
I jump. “What? Five years?? They haven’t done it for five years?? Jesus Christ, he was at it round the clock, back in the day. He must be pretty frustrated. He must be wanking his knackers flat to keep up with demand!”
Bernie shakes his head. “Nope. He won’t wank. He reckons it’s her job, and besides, he reckons wanking is a bit gay.”
I say, “A bit gay?”
He says, “A bit gay. He reckons it’s a bit gay to sit around yanking on a cock until it cums.”
“But it’s his own cock. He’s not yanking anyone else’s cock, which would arguably be a bit gay. He’s yanking his own cock.”
“He reasons that yanking any cock is a bit gay. Yanking cock is yanking cock, in his book.”
“Well his book is fucked up. But wait… he’s not had a shag OR a wank in five years?”
“Yup,” says Bernie. “Not drained his spuds in half a decade. It messes with your head, stuff like that. Sends you a bit loopy.”
I say, “I can only imagine. His bollocks must be like spacehoppers. Why have Pob and Mrs Pob stayed together then? Surely these are irreconcilable differences?”
“Bloody mindedness, I suppose, same as why they don’t shag. No-one wants to crack first. At least they didn’t, until one of them actually cracked.”
“Oh?” I say.
“Yup,” he says.
“Pob?” I say.
“Bingo,” he says.
“What happened?”
Bernie stuffs some wires back into the motor he’s working on and sits back. “They were on holiday this year, Faliraki or Benidorm or somewhere horrible like that. Don’t matter. So they’re five or six days in and Pob’s been sat by the pool drinking lager and watching lasses in teeny tiny bikinis swaggering past and it’s been sending him mad. He’s foaming at the fucking Speedos. His bollocks are aching and he doesn’t know what the fuck to do with himself, and he’s in the shower and Mrs Pob walks in and he caves. He asks her to help him out, something, anything to help him shoot his load. She tells him to fuck off but he begs her, just asking that she gives it a quick tug, nearly in tears, so she relents.”
“Oh! I wasn’t expecting that! What does she do?”
Bernie grins. “She wanks him off through the shower curtain.”
I blink a few times. “What? You mean… she opened the shower curtain, reached in, and…”
“Nope,” he says. “She grabs his cock THROUGH the shower curtain, a handful of curtain around his pipe, and pulls him off like that. She won’t even touch his cock! It’s just like pulling at a shower curtain for her with some little gimp moaning on the other side of it!”
“Fucking Hell,” I mutter.
I try to imagine the scene.
I wish I hadn’t.
I can’t imagine a Faliraki hotel shower curtain is the most romantic thing in the world, or the most hygienic, for that matter.
What a grubby little scenario.
I babble slightly, horrified. “I bet Pob felt dignified after he’d shot his bolt. Can you imagine how low you’d feel? I’d string myself up from the shower pole. I wouldn’t use the curtain though… God, can you imagine getting that room after The Pobs have gone home? Someone else’s spunky old shower curtain… Horrible.”
Bernie keeps working quietly for a while, then looks at me. “Y’know… y’know how they say that when you’re young, an early sexual experience can set your preferences for the rest of your life?”
I frown. “Erm…”
“Right, say for example, you had this sexy cookery teacher when you were a kid and her tits jiggled whenever she stirred her cake mix. Chances are, you’d get a hard-on every time you smelled cake mix after that. Or you accidentally walked in on your great big fat aunty Julie whilst she’s having a shower. In that case you might be going on the pull in the Bingo halls of the North after that, yeah?”
I say, “I think I get the idea…”
Bernie says, “Okay. So it looks like our Pob hadn’t shot his muck in so long, it’d restored factory settings, so to speak. He was a born-again virgin. Something of a blank canvas. Yeah, he would get fizzy at the sight of a lass in a bikini and all that but it wasn’t an intense experience, something to set him down a new path. But getting wanked off through a shower curtain…”
“You’re kidding me.”
Bernie shook his head. “So a couple of month back our Pob and his missus were in B&Q shopping for a new bathroom suite. She was asking him about what tiles he preferred or some such shit but when she turned round he weren’t there. Next thing you know, there’s a right commotion by the baths. Women screaming, an urgent call for security over the Tannoy, a clean up crew required in aisle seven, that sort of business. Mrs Pob wanders over and sees a right old kerfuffle in one of the baths with some angry bloke knocking fuck out of someone in the bath, half wrapped in a shower curtain with no trousers on. There’s a woman comforting a sobbing teenage girl and there’s a couple of old dears looking like they seen a ghost.
“Oh shit,” I whisper. “Pob.”
Bernie nods gravely. “The very same. The shower curtains had caught his attention. He happened to brush by one and it set him off. Before he knew it he was in a bath with his trollies round his ankles whisking his bell-end against a floral shower curtain shouting, ‘Just give it a quick tug!’ He traumatised some poor lass shopping with her parents for unicorn wallpaper so her dad proceeded to beat the living shit out of our Pob, who couldn’t escape due to his being in a bath, having his trollies round his ankles and also due to being intimately entwined in six feet of patterned plastic. If security hadn’t arrived they reckon the bloke would have succeeded in strangling him to death with a shower hose.”
“Fucking Hell,” I mutter. “I’m surprised that wasn’t in the Evening Post…”
“They shipped him off to a mental hospital for evaluation, so it wouldn’t have been politically correct for the papers to use the irresistible headlines regarding shower curtains and Psychos, so it looks like they decided not to bother.”
“Understandable. So what happened to Pob?”
Bernie says, “Sectioned him for a bit. The trick cyclists got him on the couch and asked him the usual – stuff about fancying his mam, made him look at ink splats, they hypnotised him, all that shit. They reckon they managed to undo all the fucked up shit regarding shower curtains. Said it was a temporary psychosis. He’s fine now, apparently. He’s meant to be back at work soon but these things take time.”
I sigh. “Until he gets right we’ll have to just muddle through. I don’t suppose you fancy having a look?”
Bernie laughs. “Fuck that. I’ve got enough on without crawling about under that ancient bag-of-shit machine. Besides, Soulless Boss is a right cunt. He can prod around in that thing and hopefully get dragged into the rollers.”
I thank Bernie and head reluctantly back down to the plate room.
It’s carnage in there.
There’s rollers lined up on the floor in puddles of dark blue chemical and a sulphurous stench in the air. Wobbly Steve is ineffectually pushing filthy water around with a sodden mop and Soulless Boss is shouting at Jimmy the Plate as he loosens bolts at random.
Without some sort of intervention I reckon the machine will soon be beyond salvation.
So I do nothing, just watch on.
But then I hear a rattling noise.
A tool trolley.
The door opens and the trolley clatters in, followed by Pob.
He’s back.
I can hardly look at him, not after hearing what he did. I’m worried I’ll just piss myself laughing.
He says, “Now then Luci. I hear you got a processor problem.”
I glance at the carnage spread across the room. “You could say that.”
Pob looks alright. He looks… calmer. There’s a hint of a black eye and a healed cut on his lip, but other than that he looks, well, fine.
He nods at the mess. “Soon have this sorted. Jimmy, stop undoing things and pass me that roller…”
He works quickly. I’ve never seen him like this. He gets everything back where it needs to be before he decides to crawl under the machine and check things out.
The floors is still smeared in dirty water and chemical.
Pob squats down and runs a finger through the mess. “Hmm… I don’t really want to be laying in that.”
I say, “I can crush some cardboard flat, if you like. There’s some boxes…”
“No,” says Pob. “I’ve got it.”
He reaches into the his tool trolley and pulls out…
A shower curtain.
New, unopened, still in it’s packet.
Pob winks at me. “Great things, these. Saves me getting all covered in shit, yeah?”
I don’t say anything, I just back away slowly.
He opens the packet and lays the shower curtain on the floor, then slithers across it, grunting, to disappear under the machine.
We can hear him fumbling around.
Soulless Boss shouts, “How’s it looking under there, Pob? Do you know what’s wrong?”
There’s a moments silence, then Pob replied, sounding strained. “Yeah, I can see what’s wrong. It’s a bit tricky though. I need a second pair of hands.”
Everyone looks at the filthy floor. No-one wants to lay on that.
Pob says, “You don’t have to get under here, just reach down, someone.”
I step further back.
Soulless Boss reaches down, groping around.
He says, “Where?”
Pob says, “left a bit. Left a bit. There.”
Soulless Boss says, “Got it. Now what?”
Pob says, “Just… just give it a little tug.”
Wobbly Steve mumbles, “Fucking Nora.”
I leave the room.

Posted in The Stories. | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

206. Lodger More

I stir a pan of pasta sauce on the hob in the cramped kitchen, look out of the window over the back garden and let the noise in the house wash over me.
Bongo is here.
He stands behind me at the kitchen counter, huge and slouched, dad-bod belly and a Star Wars t-shirt sagging over Fat Face trousers, droning on about his woes whilst his son plays with my kids in the living room, cartoons blaring from the telly as they launch themselves off the couch and tussle on the carpet.
I’m exhausted.
There is a ghost of my reflection in the window in front of me and I can see deep hollows around the eyes, my cheeks pasty and puffy.
I’ve been working ten hours a day on four hours sleep, drinking to numb myself on an evening, woken two or three times a night by my nocturnal son, up at four thirty for work, hangover hitting around ten in the morning, coffee and Cokes and teeth grinding sweats, working through it, then home to wash clothes, collect children from nursery, cook dinners, wipe tears and arses, run baths and read stories and tuck into bed, then repeat, repeat, repeat…
How does that hollow-eyed puffy-cheeked fucker in the window do it?
Why does he do it?
Why not just chuck it all in, kid? Why not wave the white flag and fuck it all off?
Because that’s not how it works.
You keep going.
I touch the glass and he touches my fingers.
Keep it up, kid.
Fight another round.
“What are you doing?” Bongo booms through a mouthful of something.
I say, “Some muck on the glass.”
I stir the pasta sauce. It’s almost done.
He says, “Right. So anyway, it’s really hard at the moment. College is messing me about with my lecture times and I have to fit them around my shifts at the care home, and don’t get me started with noise from my house mates…”
Bongo has split up from his missus. It’s very fashionable these days, it seems. Everybody’s doing it. Irreconcilable differences, apparently, but the way I read it, Bongo is a lazy cunt who is unwilling to grow up and is never going to change.
He’s an eternal student.
What grown man is still bumbling through endless lectures and courses and minimum pay shifts in his mid-thirties when he has a wife and a son to support, rent to pay, student loans, commitments and promises, responsibilities?
The hollow eyed bloke agrees with me.
Bongo spent almost all of his twenties at one university or another, studying art at various levels and disciplines, courses he did for fun with no intention of translating those qualifications into something that might earn him a living.
He went and worked in a call centre after eventually qualifying, never to lift a paint brush in anger again.
There he met a girl who became his wife.
She wanted more from life than a call centre so they saved up and quit, travelled, saw the world, came home, then she came up with the teaching game-plan.
Bongo had made this agreement with his missus – she’d work, he’d go back to school again to study to be a teacher. Then, when he qualified, he’d work while she did her teacher training. A long term goal that would eventually reap rewards. Hard work. A commitment and a promise.
So he studied, he attended lectures, he took a part time job to help out a bit, and eventually he qualified.
He got a teaching job, but…
It was hard work.
It wasn’t all mugs of coffee and banter in the staff room with laid-back academics in tweed jackets like Bongo had imagined.
It was late nights marking papers, lesson plans, Ofsted and teenage lads calling him a fucking cunt in a noisy overcrowded classroom while he shat himself in fear in front of the blackboard.
In less than six months he decided to quit and he proudly declared to his wife his intention to go back to school yet again, study something vague and unfathomable over a three or four year period that might or might not result in the possibility of a job at the end of it.
She would keep working a while longer, support him, and when he qualified (again) she could then study to become a teacher.
but his wife decided to quit too – she quit him.
Somewhere along the way they’d had a child and now that child was in my front room whilst he moped in my kitchen.
To save money while he studies – because he has no-one to support him anymore – he lives in a cruddy bedsit.
Not a place to take a kid when he’s got custody.
So he trawls around friends and family, dropping in unannounced to use their facilities and raid their fridges.
He’s always done this, before he had kids, before he was married.
He’d turn up to stay the weekend, watch movies and drink beer, but conveniently forget to bring any beer, gratefully accepting the offer to have a few of mine before hoovering up a dozen cans and emptying my cupboards and fridge, like a far-from-charming Tiger Who Came to Tea.
It’s an act that grows tired pretty quick and it takes a proper brass neck to keep it up, year upon year, with friends who’ve always been there for you.
And now he’s complaining about his digs.
He says, “I can’t possibly bring my son to where I’m staying, y’know. It wouldn’t be right! It’s cramped and although I can use the front room whenever I want to, it’s not always possible, what with all the lesbians and that.”
He takes a long pull on his beer bottle and crams a handful of peanuts into his mouth.
I say, “Lesbians?”
I imagine some curious sapphic infestation.
I imagine what sort of trap you would need to ensnare an unwanted nest of lesbians.
He nods. “Yeah, the woman who owns the house. Lesbian. Lesbian landlady. It’s her rules, y’see. She calls the shots. She said I can have access to the front room except when she’s ‘entertaining’, but it seems she’s always ‘entertaining’. Christ, it goes on constantly, day and night. Lesbians coming and going all hours, mostly coming, by the sounds of things. I’ve walked into the living room before now with my morning bowl of Shreddies and seen things squirming and groaning on the hearth rug that would blow your mind. Believe me, it’s VERY demoralising for a single bloke to lay there in a cold and lonely bed listening the howls of ecstasy coming through the partition wall.”
I say, “That sounds like a fantasy scenario for a lot of blokes.”
He grimaces. “She’s butch. Very butch. Big back, like a polished oak table. Big hands. The girls she has over are all quite pretty though, funnily enough. I don’t know what they see in her. She’s very gruff, ordering them about. Put this here, put that there, open wider, go faster, slower, that sort of thing. She’s very bossy. If I tried that sort of thing with a lass I’d be out on my ear.”
I say, “I can only imagine.”
I start to serve up my kids’ tea.
Bongo clears his throat. “Any chance my little lad could…”
I take down an extra plate, load it up.
He says, “And when are you eating?”
I say, “Later. My wife’s working late tonight so we’ll eat later.”
Bongo looks crestfallen. I go through to the dining room, set the table, call the kids through to eat. Bongo sits next to his son to help him eat.
I go through to the kitchen and open the fridge, reach for my last beer.
It’s not there.
The empty beer bottle sits on the counter, next to an empty bowl of peanuts and a half empty jar of gherkins that had been unopened an hour earlier.
I go through to the dining room.
My kids are eating happily.
Bongo’s son, a notoriously slow eater, has finished.
Bongo says, “He loved it! Is there any more?”
I sigh, refill the lad’s plate, put it in front of him.
Bongo grins innocently. He has sauce all around his mouth.
He says, “So… do the kids still share a room?”
I nod. “Yeah, they prefer it. We asked if they wanted to have their own rooms but they said no. It’s nice. We have story time all together and…”
“Yeah yeah, sounds great. So, what have you got in that spare room then?”
I shrug, say, “It’s a bit of a dumping ground at the moment, some boxes from the last move, that sort of thing…”
Bongo is nodding encouragingly.
I pause, close my mouth. Then I say, “No.”
He leans forward. “Think about it! You got in the shit a bit back with money and stuff, I need a place to stay, we’re all mates, my lad could kip with your kids every other weekend, all in together! It would be great!”
And I consider the reality: getting rent from him would be like getting blood from a stone, he’d eat me out of house and home, he’d nick my beer, bog roll, deodorant, toothpaste, food, washing powder, the breath from my lungs and the very last dregs of my will to live.
I imagine him sat there, in the living room, between my wife and I, changing the telly channel to yet another war documentary whilst drinking yet another bottle of my beer…
He can see the flat refusal in my eyes.
He starts to plead.
“Look, that lesbian has given me notice on my digs! Less than a month! I’ve got to find somewhere reasonable that might let me have my lad over every other week. All this roaming around, it’s doing me in! All I want is something steady, I won’t be a fuss, I’ll pay my way and keep my head down, you’ll see.”
I could almost relent, but I’m not fucking stupid. I know him too well.
I try to think.
There’s something in the back of my mind, an alternative, something that might work out for everyone and get this big daft parasite off my back.
I remember.
I say, “Wait. I might have an answer.”
I dial a number, wait for them to pick up, then I say, “Hi mate, it’s me. Listen, are you still thinking of renting out your spare room? I might have someone who’s interested.”
“Yeah, man!” says Fucking Amazing Dave. “Sounds fuckin’ amazin’, man! Send the cunt over an’ I’ll show him the pad!”
I hang up, scribble the address on a scrap of paper and give it to Bongo.
I say, “Go round and check this place out. I reckon it’s perfect.”
Bongo gives me a big stupid grin, his eyes tearing up a bit. “Ah, cheers Luci. You’re a mate!”
I grunt.
I just want him to go.

I don’t hear anything for a few weeks.
I know that Bongo has moved in with Fucking Amazing Dave and that they’re getting on like a house on fire.
I know that Bongo can’t steal food From Fucking Amazing Dave because he never has any food in the house other than an impressive shelf full of hot sauces and condiments in his fridge, but the low rent means Bongo has money spare for take aways, which are Fucking Amazing Dave’s main food supply. Besides, the spare space in the fridge makes room for cheap lager which they chip in for on a weekly basis.
The other things they have in common is a love of movies, computer games and spliff.
A match made in Heaven.
Bongo doesn’t darken my door for a couple of months, and that suits me just fine.

I’m walking through the factory when I see Fucking Amazing Dave.
He’s frowning, taping up a split box of envelopes with masking tape and muttering to himself.
I walk over, say, “Now then Dave. How’s it going?”
He turns, scowling. Then he sighs. “Well, not too good, to be fair. I don’t reckon it’s your fault, but that Bongo… man… what a pain in the arse he can be!”
I wince, feel a bit guilty. I can’t deny that I’d basically off loaded Bongo onto Fucking Amazing Dave. In my defence I’d carried the fucker for over a decade and I was knackered, maybe I thought it was someone else’s turn to take him on, someone with a bit less on their plate.
I say, “Look, Dave, I’m sorry about that. I thought you guys had a lot in common, what with you both liking a smoke, and gaming, you know…”
Fucking mazing Dave nods. “To be fair, he can be a decent bloke! He’s a good laugh, like, pretty easy going, he’s not playing music at three in fuckin’ mornin’ like some folk! It’s just… I mean, yeah, he’s a bit slow wi’ the rent, but who ain’t? And he’ll neck more than his fair share o’ tinnies, an’ yeah, he does hog the spliff… he’s a taker, y’know?”
I sigh. “Yeah, I noticed that…”
“An’ fuck me, he likes the sound of his own voice!” Continues Fucking Amazing Dave, warming up. “He’s quite the mansplainer, is our fuckin’ Bongo! Shit alive, he’d talk me through a wank given half a fuckin’ chance! Always over me shoulder, tellin’ me what I’m doin’ wrong an’ how I should be doin’ it! I tell ‘im, ‘You fuckin’ do it then!’ an’ he get’s all huffy an’ slope off to ‘is room!”
“Sounds like Bongo.”
Fucking Amazing Dave leans closer. “Listen. Our Bongo… does he ‘ave some sort of issue… y’know… wi’ his… y’know… arse?”
I frown. Try to remember. “Hmm… arse… I don’t think…. Oh, wait! Yeah! He’s got a really spotty arse. Bacterial infection I think he said… ha ha! Massive spotty arse! God, I’d forgotten that. Fuck me… Oh, it’s not contagious, if that’s what you’re thinking!”
Fucking Amazing Dave glowers. “If that cunt gave us a spotty arse I’d kick ‘IS spotty arse to the back of ‘is cuntin’ throat, big fucker or not! Well, that explains somethin’. There’s this great tub o’ powder he keeps in the bathroom, an’ every mornin’ I come in there after ‘e’s been in an’ there’s all this fucking dust in the air, an’ on the bog seat there’s this fuckin’ silhouette o’ ‘is massive fuckin’ arse cheeks, like a fuckin’ arse ghost. I don’t like thinkin’ o’ other people’s arses on mi own pot, like, no-one does. Y’don’t go lookin’ at y’bog seat thinkin’ ‘wow, there must a bin ‘undreds o’ arses on that seat!’ No, y’try keep those thought right out o’ y’mind. But Bongo, that cunt leaves a fuckin’ arse ghost, every mornin, just to remind me that HIS great spotty arse was there before me own, peachy behind! It fucking irks me, y’know?”
“I know. He’s left an arse ghost round my place a few times. It’s like those shadows on the walls at Hiroshima… it creeps me out…”
Fucking Amazing Dave snaps his fingers. “Oh. while we’re at it, there’s somethin’ else! A few week after he moves in, he starts shiftin’ all this old furniture in. Not into ‘is room, mind – into the front fuckin’ room! There’s this big fuck off chair, like a Shackleton’s high seat off the telly ads back in the eighties, remember?”
“Shackleton’s High Seats – they’re lovely?”
“That’s the ad. Fuck me, we’re showin’ our age now… Well, one o’ those, an’ this big fuck off desk! I don’t want a big fuck off desk sat in the middle o’ me fuckin’ room when I’m playin’ Wii Golf! It fuckin’ inhibits me swing! It’s right in t’road!”
I say, “That’s taking a liberty! Do you want me to have a word, Dave?”
Fucking Amazing Dave grins. “Would yer, Luci? I’d appreciate that! It’s just a bit awkward, y’know? Bit ‘ard to bring up arse ghosts, shit furniture an’ ‘im being a greedy nosed cunt without sounding like I’m ‘avin’ a go, y’know?”
I nod. “Don’t worry. I’ll ‘ave a word.”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks relieved. “Thanks Luci. I’ll tell you what though – ‘is mate’s sound. Really nice bloke. A bit clean cut for me, not drinkin’ or smokin’ or nowt, but a top lad. If ‘e ever wants a room ‘e’d be more than fuckin’ welcome!”
I frown. “His mate? What mate?”
“That mate ‘o ‘is that comes by every couple ‘o weeks. Little bloke. Crashes over. Loves a bit ‘o gamin’ too. Top bloke. Y’know ‘im?”
I say, “Dave, that’s Bongo’s son.”
Fucking Amazing Dave shakes his head. “Really? Fuck me, I never knew that! I though ‘e were just one ‘o ‘is mates!”
I say, “Dave, he’s eight years old.”
“Seems mature for ‘is age.”
“Next to you two, maybe so… Dave. Leave it with me. I’ll have a word.”

I get home from work.
There’s a car parked on my drive.
Bongo’s car.
He gets out as I’m unlocking the house door, booms, “LUCI!” in his usual over the top greeting and gives me a bear hug.
I say, “Bongo.”
He follows me in, trailing after me as I pick up the post, kick off my shoes, flick on the kettle.
I say, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
He laughs. “Oh, nothing, just a social visit! We’re practically neighbours, now, remember?”
“I suppose so. It’s about, what, two miles?”
Bongo shrugs. “Something like that… So, how you been?”
I say, “Fine. you?”
He shrugs. “Not bad! So so. Getting by, yeah?”
He wanders around my kitchen nervously, opening cupboards, looking at packets and tins. He goes to the fridge and rummages around.
I say, “Are you sure it’s just a social visit?”
“Hmm?” Bongo merges from my fridge with a celery stick and a pot of hummus. He offers me a dip.
I shake my head. “Very generous of you but I can’t stand the stuff. It’s my wife’s.”
He crunches and gulps, nodding his approval.
“It’s good! Hummus is good! You should get into hummus!”
I don’t say anything.
He clears his throat. “Look, I wonder if you might have a word with Dave…”
I raise an eyebrow. “About?”
Bongo looks uncomfortable. “It’s fine and everything, Dave REALLY likes me and we get on GREAT, but there’s just a few things that get on my nerves just a tiny bit…”
I say, “Go on…”
“Well,” he begins, “Did you know just how much weed he smokes?”
“I do, actually, but that’s his business. It’s his house.”
Bongo says, “Easy for you to say, but I’ve got lectures! I’m almost permanently high! I can’t study when I’m off my face!”
I say, “Don’t smoke any then.”
He rolls his eyes, “Oh, mate! Listen to yourself! If it’s right there, under your nose, you can’t help it! It’s one toot then before you know it, it’s three in the morning and we’re fucked, eating pizza, watching Apocalypse Now! I can’t keep that up!”
“I don’t know what to say, Bongo. It’s his house, his rules. If you don’t want to get fucked up, stay in your room for a bit, study up there!”
“But my desk’s in the front room!”
I say, “It shouldn’t be! The desk should be in your room, with the rest of your stuff! The living room is Dave’s space. It’s Dave’s house. You pay for the room so keep your shit in your room! Don’t fuck him off, Bongo. You need this. It’s this or you pay an extra hundred a month to listen to a butch lesbian banging chicks, or worse. And another thing. Keep your dusty arse to yourself. Have a thought for other people.”
Bongo looks shocked. His mouth falls open. He scoops a great dollop of hummus into it and begins to chew, looking wounded. “He… he told you about my bottom powder? That’s a very intimate medical problem! I’m hurt!”
“Your intimate bottom powder is making it’s way into Dave’s lungs and that’s fucking bleak. You leave your intimate bottom powder wherever your bottom goes and other people don’t need to see that. Mate, you’re thirty fucking five. You’re a father, for Christ’s sake! Grow the fuck up and start thinking of other people.”
Bongo’s eyes start to tear up. His lip wobbles. He scoops more hummus into his mouth.
He says, “This last year… it’s not been easy…”
I sigh. “I realise that. That’s fair enough. But you have to try! Just keep your head down, study, qualify, and for fuck’s sake, get a proper job!”
He sniffs and stares longingly into the open refrigerator.
He says, “Dave’s fridge smells funny. He only keeps beer and condiments in it.”
He reaches inside for a bottle of my beer, but I close it before he can take one.
“At least he’s got a fridge. Get your shit together, Bongo, and one day you can have your very own fridge and keep what the fuck you like in it.”

This goes on like this for weeks.
I feel like the fucking U.N.
Fucking Amazing Dave complaining about Bongo, Bongo bitching about Fucking Amazing Dave. Bongo introducing more random furniture into the house and leaving arse ghosts all over the place, Fucking Amazing Dave getting wasted and disturbing Bongo’s studies.
I’m getting phone calls in the night.
Bongo is raiding my fridge with increasing frequency.
It gets to the point where Bongo and Fucking Amazing Dave stop talking altogether.
Fucking Amazing Dave leaves a note on Bongo’s in-the-way desk informing him that he has to move out.
Bongo moves out.
His furniture, however, does not.
My phone rings, I pick up.
It’s Fucking Amazing Dave.
He screams, “Where’s that big stupid cunt o’ yours fucked off to, Luci?? Is he up there wi’ you??”
I hold the phone away from my ear. Then I say, “Shit, Dave, I’ve never known you this pissed off! He’s not here, I promise. What’s he done?”
“He’s fucked off without payin’ me rent for a month, taken all the fuckin’ beer from the fridge and the bathroom looks like Keith Richard’s fuckin’ sneezer! There’s arse powder all over the cunting shop! An’ on top o’ that, the bastard’s left all his fucking shite old furniture! I can’t fuckin’ move! It’s like tryin’ to play Wii Golf in a fuckin’ charity shop! Help us out, Luci! Call the cunt! He’s not picking up for me!”
I hang up, call Bongo.
He answers, bright and breezy. “Hi Luci! You’ll be glad to hear I’ve moved. Got myself a lovely place in Kirkstall, great housemates, a fully stocked fridge! Really easy going and laid back… it’s all cool!”
I say, “It’s not all cool. You left Dave’s place a right shit hole, you nicked his beer, you owe him money and there’s more old furniture round there than an episode of fucking Bargain Hunt! What the fuck are you playing at, Bongo?”
Bongo laughs. “Oh, calm down, Luci! I’ll sort it out! I’ll have a van there by the end of next week to pick up my stuff, I’ll drop off the money at the same time and I’ll leave some farewell beers too. I was in a bit of a rush leaving so may have been a bit untidy, but come on, Luci! You know Dave – his house is no palace! It wasn’t tidy when I got there!”
I grind my teeth. “Whatever, Bongo, just make sure this shit is over by Friday. I’m sick of it. I feel like Judge fucking Rinder, sorting all your domestic shit.”
He laughs again. “Don’t worry! Anyway, got to go – we’re playing a Mario Kart Tournament and I’m paired with a lovely girl called Sally and…”
I hang up.
A week goes by and I hear nothing, then on Saturday, Fucking Amazing Dave calls.
He says, “Where’s this fuckin’ van, Luci? I waited in all day yesterday an’ today, but no fuckin’ van!! No van, no money, no beers! He’s one cheeky cunt is that Bongo, Luci! He’s muggin’ us off, you ‘n’ me both!!!”
I sigh, yet again. All I seem to do these days is sigh. “I’m sorry, mate. I really am. I’ll call him.”
I call Bongo. Again. He picks up, laughing. “Ah, Luci! It’s my old mate Luci on the phone, everyone! I’ve got you on speakerphone – it’s a game we’re all playing, a forfeit. Whoever calls you, you have to put on speakerphone! Ha ha ha!!”
I say, “Listen here, you stupid cunt. You owe rent to the poor fucker you used to live with and he’s getting ready to set fire to your fucking furniture if you don’t pay up…”
I hear the phone go muffled, some hurried footsteps and a door slamming.
Bongo whispers, “There was no need for that, mate! You made me look a bit silly there in front of my friends!”
“And you’re making me look like a total cunt in front of mine!!” I snarl. “Where’s that van?? Where’s that money? Where’s that fucking beer??”
Bongo whines, “I got let down last minute on the van. It’ll be next week, I promise!”
I say, “Right, see that thing in your hand? Not your cock, your fucking phone. Next time something comes up, use it, yeah?”
I hang up.
The next week goes on forever. I’m as busy as usual, too busy, but all I can think about is that lazy twat, Bongo.
I just know the van isn’t going to show.
I just know it.
And sure enough, no van.
Fucking Amazing Dave loses his shit. I’m trying to talk to him on the phone but he’s incoherent.
He hangs up.
I groan.
My phone rings.
It’s Bongo.
I answer. “Where the fuck are you?”
He snivels. “Sorry, Luci, it’s just my grandfather died this week. It’s all been up in the air.”
I roll my eyes. “Do me a favour. I don’t want to hear this shit. Grandfather? Give us a break. And what’s your excuse for next week? And the week after?”
I’m about to tell him it’s probably too late but he breaks me off.
“It’s true!!” He sobs. “It’s his funeral today! We’re going to the crematorium in twenty minutes. Listen, my dad has hired a van for tomorrow. We’re driving up to collect all my grandfather’s furniture around lunchtime, so don’t worry. His things are very precious to us. It’s all we have left to remember him.”
I say, “So are you going to Dave’s after that?”
Bongo says, “What do you mean?”
I say, “Are you going to collect your stuff after you’ve collected your grandfather’s furniture? Shall I tell Dave to expect you mid-afternoon?”
Bongo says, “All my furniture IS my grandfathers. I took it for safekeeping when he went into a nursing home six months ago. I’ve been trying to find space for it and now I’ve got it sorted. We’ll be there tomorrow.”
I hang up.
Oh fucking Hell.
I run out and jump into the Punto, floor it down the road.
I hope I’m in time.
All the while I’m phoning Fucking Amazing Dave, trying to tell him to leave the furniture alone, but he doesn’t answer.
Ten minutes later I pull onto his street.
Fucking Amazing Dave lives on a funny old road. It faces onto a stretch of waste ground near a scrap yard. Not a pretty place, but It’s where he calls home.
I see the smoke first.
Then the flames.
There’s a stack of shattered furniture piled high on the waste ground, burning fiercely, black smoke climbing into the sky.
Fucking Amazing Dave is leaping around the fire, whooping and howling with his top off, taking swigs from a bottle of knock-off Jack Daniels. There’s an empty petrol can nearby.
I park the car at a safe distance, get out, walk wearily towards the fire.
Fucking Amazing Dave sees me and comes running over, eyes wild.
He screams, “See?? See?? THAT’S what happens when you fuck wi’ Dave! No-one fucks wi’ Dave or you gonna BUUURN!!!”
I say, “Yep. You’re not wrong there.”
We watch the flames leap higher. I take the bottle from his hand and take a small swig.
I take my phone out of my pocket, check the time, realise that Bongo will be at the crematorium.
I leave him a voicemail message. “Hi Bongo, It’s Luci. Don’t bother with the van. Dave has just delivered all that furniture to your grandfather’s new place. Don’t bother calling back. Bye.”
I hang up.
We watch the fire a little longer but Fucking Amazing Dave starts to shiver.
He says, “Fancy a quick game of Wii Golf, Luci?”
I shrug. “Fuck it. Why not. You’ve plenty of room now.”
We go inside.

Posted in The Stories. | 3 Comments

205. Ginger Sponge & Custody

Late Shift.
I arrive at work feeling pretty good, rested. This is rare for me. Usually I’ll turn up at the weathered, paint-peeled door to The Factory in a state of exhausted despondency, the door looking pretty much how I feel.
But not today.
I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, some time in the sun, reading books and drinking cold beers with sea spray on the warm wind. Usually I see holidays as an expensive luxury, just another worry to struggle paying for, but this time it was a necessity.
My wife could tell I was struggling. Sinking. Things were getting on top of me. She booked a holiday that entailed doing nothing and wouldn’t let me find something to do, so I did just what I really needed to do.
I did nothing.
It worked.
Now I feel rested, able to face the unending stream of shit that cascades onto me for eight hours a day without hurling myself headlong into the nearest convenient piece of thundering machinery.
I walk into the office and see Intense Ginger Bloke hunched over his keyboard, leg jiggling, air whistling through hair-clogged nostrils like the last words of a dying inflatable sex doll.
He smells weird.
They do say gingers smell differently. I’ve never noticed it in red headed women, but men… Most ginger men I’ve known have been highly strung fuckers, leg-jiggling shouters, red-faced bellowers. Not every ginger, just a lot of them. Prone to fits of rage at the slightest provocation but rarely with a violent ending. Just… angry. It seems to make them sweaty. Sweaty ginger blokes can occasionally smell like an electrical fire, a knackered toaster, a fucked kettle.
I wonder if ginger men are actually robots…
Intense Ginger Bloke seems tense, more tense than usual.
I say, “Morning.”
He looks up with red rimmed eyes, blinking. He says, “Oh, yeah. Morning. Nice holiday?”
I nod. “Yep. Smashing.”
I chuck things into my drawer – tea, a bag of sugar, paracetamol, Cuppa Soup. I press the power button on the computer and it DONG’s into life. I adjust the height setting of the office chair, look up.
Intense Ginger Bloke is looking at me across the desk divider like a Beagle who’s been told he’s got terminal cancer and won’t make it to his seventh birthday.
He says, “Our lass is leaving me.”
As greasy tears well up in his piggy eyes I fight the urge to fist pump, shout ‘YES!!!’ and do a little dance.
I love being right.
I’ve been predicting that she’ll leave him for at least two years now. He’s a right one for posting blissful pictures on Facebook of a perfect family life but I’ve never bought it.
All those little griping stories he tells me about how she’s pissed off at him for buying stupid fucking toys on a whim, how he casually criticises her parenting abilities, how he flatly refuses to allow her a little more financial freedom because it would ‘mess up’ his bewildering payment/savings system of fourteen separate bank accounts.
He’d never take her for a night out, never go on holiday unless it was to the caravan in a windswept field facing the grim grey North Sea. They don’t ‘do’ presents for birthdays or Christmas or Valentine’s anymore because ‘you don’t need all that stuff to prove you’re in love.’
Turns out perhaps you do.
Those pictures he posted on Facebook showed a young woman gradually losing a bit of weight, getting her hair done differently, wearing contacts instead of glasses, applying her make up like a YouTube tutorial, improving her image over months and years whilst the grinning mug stood next to her gained weight but refused to lose the Berghaus fleece covered in dog hair, come rain or shine.
He always put on a voice when he quoted her, a stupid voice, but when I met her once at some function or other she turned out to be warm and intelligent, witty, her voice far from the oaf that her ginger partner portrayed.
I remember him telling me about the evening he bought his virtual reality goggles and how he stood flailing in front of the computer, describing to her what was happening with great excitement, but when he took the goggles off he found himself alone, in the dark, and that she had gone to bed…
Alarm bells.
Warning signs.
Red lights.
He saw none of them.
Everyone else did but he didn’t.
I look at his sad face and I want to slap it, hard. I want to describe exactly how he fucked up, give him a walking tour of his errors but it would be of no use whatsoever.
You see, his last relationship ended the same way.
He’d taken that girl for granted too, presumed all her late nights behind the bar at the local golf club were spent pulling pints when really she was pulling… well, who’s to say?
Good luck to her.
The first Intense Ginger Bloke knew about it was when she didn’t come home, and then he realised her belongings were gone.
A day later a total stranger turned up demanding his bed, saying it was the property of his ex. This was the new chap, the bloke who’d been quietly getting the benefit of that bed whilst Intense Ginger Bloke was at work, but instead of punching his lights out, Intense Ginger Bloke paid him £100 for the bed.
I’d have dragged it into the garden and set fire to the fucking thing, personally.
So now he’s looking at me with his lip trembling, the injured party, once again the victim of a cold hearted woman, and all I want to do is laugh.
But I don’t.
I sigh.
I say, “Shit, that’s bad news, mate. I’m really sorry to hear that.”
He gives a brave smile. He says, “It’s not my fault, I wanted to work at it but she didn’t. She’s changed, since having the young ‘un. I mean, we had our ups an’ downs before that, like anyone does. It’s just afterwards… I wanted more kids but she was dead against it.”
He leans in, brow furrowing. He says, “I think it were chemical.”
Confused, I say, “Chemical?”
He says, “Yeah. Well, everything was fine and then it wasn’t! Nothing changed but suddenly she was unhappy, arguing, picking at me all the time. So I said to her, go to the doctor. You’re not right! It’s them hormones, they’re all fucked up. What you need is for the doctor to give you something, some tablets maybe, to straighten you out then everything will be fine!”
I flinch. I say, “You said that to her? You said the reason she isn’t happy is just hormones? How did she take that?”
He shakes his head. “She went fucking mental. Blew her stack. Like I say, hormones…”
I shake my head too, for a totally different reason.
The stupidity.
He says everything’s fine because nothing changed, but that’s precisely why she was unhappy.
Intense Ginger Bloke is a man of simple tastes. He’s meat and tatties, holidays at Filey, pints of bitter, grumbles about foreigners. He’s all about what roads you used to get to work, to Manchester, to Cornwall. He’s fuel consumption, smart meters, pension plans and spread sheets.
He likes Mrs Brown’s Boys.
He calls the old Top Gear team ‘the lads’.
He still quotes Only Fools and Horses.
He’d call Nigel Farage a maverick if he knew what a maverick was.
He’s never tried whisky or gin or vodka, never smoked a cigarette, never taken drugs, never had anal sex, given or received.
He’s funny about what he eats.
In the dining room and in the bedroom.
In other words, he’s a boring cunt. A really, really boring cunt.
don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for boring cunts in this world.
It’s doing all the boring shit that anyone with a single iota of imagination really can’t be bothered with.
Boring cunts lap it up.
But boring cunts don’t sit well with people who are going places.
His ex girlfriend is going places.
Without him.
When he met her she was living at home with dysfunctional parents who had a hard time paying bills from one day to the next, just blundering through life.
She wanted better than that.
She saw Intense Ginger Bloke driving a well polished Vauxhall, saw that he had his own house, paid his bills on time, had a steady job, didn’t drink heavily, didn’t do drugs. Sure, he was no looker, but that also meant he wasn’t shagging anything with a pulse.
He was safe.
This was all fine, but what she couldn’t see at the time is that he is also an incredibly boring cunt.
And he is intense.
The steady routine worked for a few years, the savings gradually built up in that strange labyrinth of 14 bank accounts, and they bought that 1970s three bedroom semi-detached in the dullest suburb of Leeds which has been Intense Ginger Bloke’s destiny from birth.
They got the dog, they got the caravan, then they had the child.
Tick, tick, tick. All the boxes.
Intense Ginger Bloke was over the moon. His life was filled with his spread sheets, his caravan club committee meetings, his Toby Carvery Sunday lunches with dozens of obscure family members that make up his social circle, his cans of lager whilst watching the Formula 1 on one of his gigantic televisions.
He isn’t yet forty.
She isn’t yet thirty.
There’s a ten year age gap between them but it may as well be twenty years, thirty years, forty years.
Because this is it.
She didn’t need a crystal ball. She could see the future.
That’s the problem with someone who is safe, who is dependable, who is secure.
They’re predictable.
She could see the second child on the horizon, maybe a third. She could see the ambition to swap out the single axle caravan for a double axle, the endless carveries, the lines of rain washed caravans with tattered St George cross flags fluttering overhead.
Picking up dog shit whilst trying to kick the brake on an overladen pram.
Swapping the sharp jacket for a practical fleece.
The Intense Ginger vision that led from her twenties to the grave, laid out in a practical spreadsheet format, detailing his inevitable weight gain and probable heart attack in his late fifties, and her own decline into despairing frumpyness as the mother to his children, the cook for his beige meals, the cleaner of his understains, the fetcher of tins from the caravan fridge whilst he laughs around the barbecue with his caravanning cronies about that fucking time Derek fucking Trotter fell through the fucking gap in the cunting fucking bar.
She smartens up her act.
She goes running.
She eats healthily, not the stodge HE likes for his tea.
She changes her hair, changes her make-up, changes her glasses for contact lenses.
If he won’t take her out then she’ll bloody well take herself out.
Midnight turns to one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, four.
Girls nights out become weekends away.
And then… and then…
Intense Ginger Bloke shakes his head again, blows out.
He says, “It’s come out of the blue. I just didn’t see it coming. Why didn’t she say something?”
I could see it coming from my side of the desk for years but he didn’t notice a thing.
I’m speechless.
He slaps the desk and sighs, rubs his face.
He says, “Right, I’ve got to crack on. Lots to do.”
I say, “Yeah, it’s probably going to be a busy one today.”
“No,” he says. “I’m working on my spreadsheets. I’ve got to work out budgets, who gets what, fair allocation of time with the child…”
“Your daughter.”
“Yeah, her, fair allocation of time with the dog, caravan custody…”
He drones on, I zone out.
He taps keys and mutters to himself for a couple of hours.
I get on with my work.
After a while it occurs to me that Intense Ginger Bloke is really enjoying himself.
I wonder if those Nazi administrative types enjoyed their nice tidy ledgers filled with neat, triplicate horror.
His leg is jiggling overtime and he stops occasionally to stab the buttons on a calculator. He mutters, shakes his head, types again then gives a little smile.
Just before lunch he pushes away from his desk and drains his tea mug.
“Ah! That’s sorted! I just need to see Soulless Boss about changing my shifts and getting a pay rise, then everything will be fine.”
I look up from my work. “Pay rise? We haven’t had a pay rise in years. How much are you asking for?”
He checks his figures again. “Let’s see… a hundred pounds.”
I laugh. “A hundred quid?? Fuck off! They won’t give you a hundred quid a month!”
He blinks owlishly at me. “A hundred quid a week. I need a hundred quid a week extra or I won’t get by.”
I check to make sure he’s not taking the piss. He’s not. I say, “Why the fuck will they give you and extra ton a week, four hundred a month? Why?”
He looks indignant. “I supervise the studio. It’s an important job and it’s about time the role is recognised!”
I say, “You take jobs from account handlers and give them to me and I do the work. You’ve not batted a stroke all day, apart from your fucking spreadsheets. You think that’s worth an extra hundred?”
He scowls. “Yeah, I do.”
I say, “Good luck with that.”
He says, “I need it. Without it I’m fucked. I won’t be able to afford to eat!”
I say, “Where’s your list of expenses. Let me see.”
He tilts his computer monitor and I lean over to take a look.
I shake my head. “Fuck me… Really? You’re budgeting a hundred and thirty a month for TV and Broadband? You save a hundred a month for ‘car sundries’? Caravan storage, all these other bits… fifty a month for your fucking phone? Mate, you’re not starving! Cut out all that crap and you’ll be fine!”
He turns a deep red and glowers at me. “I need my telly. I’ve got fuck all left, at least I’ll have a telly to watch.”
I say, “Yeah, whatever… I don’t see child maintenance on here. How much is she asking?”
He says, “Oh, Don’t worry about that. I don’t have to pay any.”
I blink at him. “Excuse me? I thought you just said ‘I don’t have to pay any’. I don’t want to be alarmist, but you have a daughter so I think you have to pay!”
He says, “No, I’ll be looking after her half the time so I don’t have to pay. I’m sure of it.”
Something occurs to me. “Wait… You say your lass is leaving you. Where is she going?”
He shrugs. “Dunno. I think she’s getting a flat somewhere, but I can’t see it being a great place, what with her only working part time.”
I say, “But she’s leaving… with your daughter. If your lass’s flat is a shit hole, then your daughter will be living in a shit hole for fifty percent of the time!”
“Not my fault,” he growls. “She chose to leave me. If she can’t afford a decent place, that’s her lookout.”
I’m at a loss. “But… your daughter…”
“Not my fault.”
I look at this stubborn, pig-headed arsehole in front of me and I fail to feel any pity for him.
I don’t need to feel any – he has enough self pity for both of us.
If it was me in his position, if my marriage broke down, I’d do the right thing and leave, not send my wife packing. My priority is my kids. The idea of me sitting there in a three bedroom house on my own when my kids are cramming their possessions into a shitty bedsit somewhere makes me feel sick.
I realise for the first time just how fucking greedy and self centred Intense Ginger Bloke really is. He’s a taker, not a giver. That precious fucking house of his, his TVs and his computer, his gadgets, his games consoles, his drone, his caravan, his fucking toys, they all mean so much to him.
He’s like a dragon crouching over his hoard, both furious and frightened that one shiny thing might be taken away, when in reality the most important things are slipping away unnoticed.
I imagine that flat where his girlfriend is moving – a dingy rental, and I know how dingy rental properties can be because I’ve lived in a fair few. I’m imagining his daughter wondering what the is going on, what she’s done wrong to be sent to live there and why she can’t sleep in her own room all the time.
It makes me angry, and I’m going to say something, but then I stop.
I remember his girlfriend.
Intelligent, witty, good looking.
I remember Intense Ginger Bloke describing her staying out late, staying out all weekend.
She’s not stupid.
She’s not the type to suddenly jump without there being a safety net.
So I make a few new predictions.
There’s someone else.
Another bloke is in the picture, just as Intense Ginger Bloke was the safety net to catch her when she left home, there’s someone else catching her now. Yes, maybe she’s moving into a flat but I’m willing to bet it’s a six month lease, enough time to let the dust settle with her angry red haired ex, to get the cheque for her half of the equity in the house that he has to pay her to avoid selling his precious house.
And she won’t want him around every day, picking up and dropping off their daughter. No-one wants to see their ex every day, not when you can get greater custody AND have them pay maintenance too.
No, I can see what’s happening.
But he can’t.
All he can see is his spreadsheets, the numbers, the trinkets and toys, the material things that mean fuck all when all is said and done, shit that pleases one day and is in the charity shop window the next.
He thinks this is Hell, but it’s actually the honeymoon period. The shit is still to hit the fan.
I know that over the next few months I’m really going to hear about it, he’s going to moan and sob, possibly lose the house, lose some custody. Maybe he’ll join Fathers For Justice and dangle from the top of Leeds Town Hall in a sagging Spiderman suit, whining about the relationship that he managed to fuck up.
I wonder if it’ll be worth hearing all this shit, and then I’m sure it’ll be worth it, just for one thing alone.
For when this sad cunt gets back on the horse and starts internet dating.
I can only imagine the bizarre stories that will crop up.
So I give him a sympathetic smile, grab his mug and say, “Cheer up, mate. How about a nice cuppa?”
He smiles at me, eyes filling up, says, “Yeah, that’d be great, buddy. Thanks.”
I fill the kettle.
I know I’m a two faced cunt, but it passes the time.

Posted in The Stories. | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

204. Air Conned

The sweat rolls down my face.
The slightest movement is an effort, struggling against the damp, heavy clothing clinging to my body that grows heavier with each passing minute as the cheap synthetic fabric absorbs my sweat.
I take a sip of brackish water.
Flies drone through the soupy air, circling. They occasionally land on my head and I spasm in revulsion, my temper flaring as I flail impotently at them.
“Bastards…” I mutter. “Fucking bastards…”
Everyone is a Fucking Bastard to me at this moment. Everyone, everything.
A rivulet of sweat makes it’s way between my shoulder blades, down my spine, then soaks into the already sodden waistband of my trousers.
I shudder.
I look at my watch. Less than three minutes have passed since I last checked the time.
I have five hours to go.
Five hours, five days, five years, it seems meaningless in this heat.
Five minutes is fucking purgatory so any more time added makes little difference.
I take another sip of water.
I occasionally think I must be in a Turkish prison but then I look up and realise I’m at work, in an office, in the year of our Lord 2018.
It seems like madness.
I look across at the I.T. department. It’s hitting them particularly hard, but they are quite delicate flowers. I’d like to say they’re dropping like flies but the flies seem to be the only organisms thriving in this hell hole.
They I.T. department are dropping like an I.T. department in a Turkish prison. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
The air conditioning packed in three years ago.
The I.T. department are mostly to blame for this.
When the air con was still coughing along it didn’t get a moment’s peace. Some dickhead in a shirt and tie would sidle over to the controls, peer over their varifocals at the settings and give them a tweak.
Warmer air would flood the room.
Tuts and huffs would break out, then some bold chancer would stride over and press a few buttons.
Cold air would blast out.
Then June from Accounts would sashay over, clutching a thin cardigan across her bony frame, squint at the settings, and soon a monsoon heat would pour down your neck as you gasped for air.
This went on all day, every day. Hot, cold, warm, cool.
People fell ill. The constant change in temperature made people have funny turns, strange fevers. A sick atmosphere descended on the office staff.
And then someone died.
The Air Con died.
The office is a delicate ecosystem, designed to operate efficiently in a constant temperature, reliant on technology to maintain the equilibrium.
Take away that technology and you are reduced to chaos.
Without air conditioning, the office is basically a tin shed with minimum ventilation, it’s tinted glass absorbing the heat and throwing it into the room like a giant three-bar fire.
That was three years ago.
Emails have been sent, managers have wept in front of the financial director, all to no avail.
The air con is dead and it will remain dead.
Our job is now to simply survive.
An I.T worker walks slowly past, conserving his strength. His feet are bare and his Next suit trouser legs are rolled up. His damp shirt is open to the navel and his tie forms a make shift sweat band around his bald head.
We glance at each other, expressionless.
He walks on.
He holds his stained glass beneath the water fountain and a trickle spits out then stops.
He sighs, turns to the tap, fills his glass with a slightly brownish fluid.
From his pocket he retrieves a packet of Dioralyte, tips it into the water and stirs it in with his finger.
He walks slowly away.
The door to the canteen opens.
Dimples walks in and flinches as the hot, stale air hits her.
“Blinkin’ ‘eck, it’s like getting off the plane at Faliraki!” She cries.
She looks bereft.
Someone shouts across the office, “Dimples, what’s on the canteen menu?”
Dimples looks close to tears. “Stew an’ dumplings. Stew an’ effin’ dumplings, in this heat!! It’s getting more an’ more like effin’ Tenko with every minute!”
A moan of anguish rolls through the office.
I hear someone say, “I can’t have salad again. I’m eatin’ nowt but salad. I’ve got to the point where if I sneeze, I shit salad all over the back of me pants. That can’t be right, can it?”
Someone snarls, “Stew an’ dumplings?? Stew an’ fuckin’ dumplings?? AL I WANT IS SOME FUCKING COU COUS!!”
I hear a crash as a monitor hits the floor followed by a brief scuffle, then uncontrollable sobbing.
Office Phil jumps up. “Listen, why don’t I nip out and get fish and chips for everyone? It’ll be like being at the seaside! Tins of shandy, mushy peas, it’ll be great!”
Morale picks up a bit. Everyone coughs up a tenner with the promise of three quid change upon Office Phil’s return.
I decline the offer, because I’m not a fucking idiot.
I gaze out of the window and watch as Office Phil hurries across the car park and jumps into his 1998 Vauxhall Corsa. He screams out of the car park and turns right up the road.
The fish shop is down the road, to the left.
The right turn takes you to the pub.
Office Phil isn’t coming back.
He won’t be back for a week.
June from Accounts saunters by. She is wafting herself with a Spanish fan she’s brought in, a souvenir from a lovely holiday she had in the Costa del Sol in the eighties, she says, before it got all tacky, she says.
June from Accounts thinks she’s gorgeous.
She isn’t.
She thinks she’s slender, leggy, elegant, but try to picture a heron that’s just been run over by a golf cart, then stick a wispy ginger wig on the unfortunate heron, and a flimsy floral print summer dress that’s a bit too off-the-shoulder/wing, then you’re getting there.
June from Accounts likes it hot. She wanders by, hoping to treat the boys to a fleeting glimpse of varicose vein, a greying bra strap, a hint of corm plaster peeping from the side of her sling backs. A tuft of fine hair protruding from the mole on her chin wafts gently in the breeze from her fan.
She crows, “Ooh, it’s lovely weather! All you moaning minnies, getting grumpy because we’ve finally got a proper bit of Summer! Enjoy it while it lasts, that’s what I say!”
She struts up and down, slowly, some strange pretense at sensuality. She is pigeon-toed, so always seems to be tripping up over one of her own feet. I’m appalled and fascinated in equal measure.
June from Accounts doesn’t drink. “I don’t need a drink to have fun – I’m high on life!”
This is a favourite adage of her. For those of us who need to drink two bottles of cheap wine simply to feel half human, it’s a fucking insult. I want to clip her round the back of the ear with a house brick then chuck her in a fucking pond.
(I know it’s not very politically correct to suggest such a thing in this day and age, but we all feel this way from day to day, it cannot be denied, and if we bottle up these feelings they’ll turn into a tumor the size of a grapefruit and nobody wants that.)
I’ve heard that June from Accounts likes to dance at social do’s. On nothing stronger than a cranberry juice she’ll take to the dance floor and go for it, grinding against all and sundry, rubbing her bony hips against a variety of groins and beer guts, treating unwary onlookers to a flash of withered tit barely concealed beneath an alarmingly diaphanous gown.
I avoid all forms of social function for this very reason.
But now I can’t avoid June from Accounts. She seems to think she’s lifting the spirits of the office with her weird display, a demonstration of how a positive attitude can transform a knackered office roasting in thirty five degree heat and smelling of halitosis and bin juice into some sort of island paradise, with her as a hula girl serving Mai Tai’s in a grass skirt.
She simpers as she swaggers, flapping her fucking fan, completely deluded.
Then somebody says in a slightly too-loud voice, “Oh, do park your boney arse, you knock kneed rat bag…”
I barely suppress a snort of laughter. Sniggering ripples through the office.
June from Accounts gasps and glances around. An expression of pure rage flashes across her face, quickly masked by one of aloof amusement.
“Jealousy is a terrible thing, you know…” She saunters back to her chair, all the while wafting herself with that fucking fan.
It angers me that she seems so pleased with her feeble retort. I know it won’t stop future grandstanding and hideous flirtation. She’s nearly sixty – If a sixty year old man was capering around the office half naked he’d be burned at the stake right there in the car park, and rightly so, but this dizzy trout has a free license to shake her tits whenever and wherever she pleases.
I briefly consider getting my cock out and doing a bit of Irish dancing, but decide against it. The infernal heat is playing tricks with my mind.
The door barges open and two blokes walk in, struggling with a huge box.
Judith from I.T. accosts them.
“Err… can I help you?”
One of the blokes waves an order form under her nose. “We’re here to fix the air conditioning.”
A buzz of excitement fills the muggy air.
Air conditioning! Cool breezes! Oxygen!
The two blokes are treated like kings. An assortment of beverages are provided, all at a horrible temperature.
Throughout the afternoon we are treated to banging and clattering coming from the roof space overhead. It is music to our ears.
Although I’m trying to keep my fluid intake up I know I’m getting dehydrated. The fans whirring on every available surface blow the warm air straight into our faces, drawing more and more fluids from our systems.
Everyone is at breaking point. The air shimmers outside, the glass panes of the windows are too hot to touch and radiate a horrible heat straight into the room. All eyes are on the ceiling, imagining those brave lads crawling around up there, fitting pipes, connecting electrics, bolting things together.
And then they reappear. Judith signs a few forms while we all watch, and the blokes make for the door.
A sudden spontaneous round of applause starts, and the blokes give a little uncomfortable wave, then they are gone.
The office staff gather around the air conditioning control unit.
I watch, from a distance.
Judith says, “Right, we’ll have no-one messing around with this! It stays on one temperature and that’s that. It’ll be on the cooler side, and if it’s too cold then you can put on a bloody cardigan. Here goes!”
Judith types in the numbers, presses the ON switch.
Far away, a fan kicks in.
We wait.
And wait.
I hold a hand up to the nearest air con unit.
The office staff look at me.
I say, “Nothing. Not a fart.”
Everyone looks devastated.
Someone shouts, “I can hear one unit running! Over here!”
We walk over to a locked room, with a keypad on the wall.
The server room.
Judith punches in the numbers and opens the door. A freezing blast of cold air flows out.
She quickly closes it again.
She says, “The air conditioner was already working in there… it was getting a bit tired, but it worked…”
She scuttled out of the office, in the direction of finance director’s office.
Half an hour passes.
Judith returns, defeated and weepy.
She says, “The finance director they would only stretch to the one unit and the computers get priority. The law says they only have an obligation to provide water. I told them the water cooler is broken, but he just said to use the tap. The air conditioning isn’t getting fixed. It’s never getting fixed…”
Judith rushes from the room to have a good long cry in the toilets.
It’s at this point that we should just kick off. Trash the joint. Barricade ourselves in the server room and smear the walls with our own shit, smash up the servers in a Luddite rage, storm the finance director’s office and tear our his liver, gorging upon it in front of his terrified dying eyes…
But we don’t.
Because we’re fucking English.
Instead we sigh, mutter, and return to our sweltering desks, tap slippery keyboards, peel errant pieces of paper from our damp forearms, dream of pints of cold lager.
Then there is a tremendous boom.
We all stop working.
I hope the air conditioning unit in the server room has exploded, but I check my connections and everything is on line.
Then there is another boom, then a rumble.
Beyond the hot dark glass of the office, clouds are gathering. Stacks tower high into the atmosphere, golden fringed with dark grey hearts, green tinted and loaded with electricity.
A fat drop of rain smacks the glass, smearing the dust.
We all stand by the windows, work now forgotten, staring at the skies in wonder, listening to angry heavens, smelling the smell of rain on pavements through the the slight openings the windows will allow, a smell of my childhood, seventies streets and rusty swings.
We are all quiet and quietly excited.
We stand together, listening, smelling, hoping… praying for a storm.

Posted in The Stories. | 3 Comments

203. Missing Inaction

I’m watching him.
He glides past, face forward. He clutches a coffee can, a chipped cup, a half empty pint of milk that looks like it’s well on the turn.
He stumbles a little, recovers, glides on.
Face forward.
His face is red and there is a slight sheen of booze sweat on his brow, damp stains at the armpits of his greying white shirt.
It is 2.30pm.
Boozer’s Purgatory.
Lunch is but a distant memory and he is attacked by yawns and heavy eyelids, the brief respite of chips and full fat Coke turning from hammering heart and synthetic alertness into a soporific sugar slump of epic proportions.
The alcohol that has sat in his system all day, perhaps all year, yowls for company. The morning’s nausea is replaced by thirst.
A nice cold cider would take the edge off. Ooh, look, it’s sunny out. Beer garden weather. I might have a coke, but it’d be nicer with a J.D. in it, ha ha.
Office Phil is struggling.
I call him Office Phil, but he has picked up a new name in the office, one that I haven’t given him.
He’s just known as Weird.
‘I caught Weird watching me again.’
‘I saw Weird coming out of the ladies toilets again.’
‘Will someone give Weird a shake – his snoring is putting me off my work.’
‘Is it just me, or can I see a bra strap under Weird’s shirt?’
I’m watching him now, waiting for the signature Weird move.
Here he goes…
Facing forward, his eyes become wide and seem to swivel in his head like a chameleon’s.
Bloodshot and runny, his huge eyes check me out. They see the work I’m doing, what I’m drinking, what I’m wearing. They slither over everything, leaving a psychic snail trail wherever they go.
I instantly feel like I need a shower.
He passes a desk and his eyes grope the surface, contaminating everything – job tickets, stationary, a birthday card…
He stops.
His hand shoots out, grabs the card, holds it up.
Eyes darting, he feeds on its contents, draining every last drop of heartfelt sentiment.
He puts the card down.
It is still a card, but it is now a dead card, cold and meaningless.
I’m willing to bet it’s the first birthday card he’s touched in years.
He glides on, careful footsteps, eyes darting.
I shudder.
He is a thing caught in a net and hauled to the surface, gasping and flapping, lantern eyes bulging and reeking of the deep, a creature not meant for the daylight.
The only light that attracts him is the blinking and flashing of a fruit machine in a dank pub corner, a friend to bleep to him through an otherwise lonely evening.
Weird lives with his mother.
Weird is rapidly approaching fifty.
Weird pretends to have an affinity with me, because he occasionally rides his bicycle to work. He tries and fails to create an air of bonhomie, as if we are a pair of wild gypsies of the road, exploring the world awheel in a carefree manner.
I ride a bike to work because I don’t like the faff and expense of owning a car, and because, well, I like riding bikes.
Weird rides a bike to work on the days when he knows he’s so far over the limit that at best he’d be pulled over into a grim lay-by and breathalised by the local constabulary resulting in loss of license and a hefty fine, at worst he’d hurtle straight into the side of a mini-bus full of special-needs kids on jamboree to Flamingo Land, killing all of them in a spectacular fireball whilst he miraculously remains unscathed, resulting in shameful tabloid headlines and a lengthy prison sentence where he’d be routinely used sexually by all and sundry in between bouts of mind splitting drunkeness from drinking the hooch he’d brew in his own toilet using bread crusts and mouldy fruit.
On the booze days he deems it wiser to drag his decrepit Halford’s mountain bike (circa 1988) from the shed and bump it up and down kerbstones along miles of paths to work, wobbling past tutting grandmas and struggling mothers with toddlers and pushchairs.
He’ll stagger in to work twenty minutes late, face blotchy, helmet askew on his melon head, scratching his pot belly through a sweat drenched Budweiser t-shirt, and tell anecdotes of the road, of crazy drivers and tricky junctions, pot holes and torturous hills.
I’ll nod politely, not wanting to discourage, then let him stumble to the toilets to vomit ferociously and douse himself with tap water, until he shuffles back to his desk, shuffles past his desk, to the canteen for bacon.
He’ll start work around ten, but then the difficult part begins.
I’m convinced Weird used to work in the office years ago, before he left with a flourish, only to return a while later applying for his old job again as if nothing had happened, indeed, as if he’d never actually worked here before.
He’d made such little impact on the office first time around that when he started again, in his old job, people actually treated him like a brand new employee, complete with orientation days, training and a whole fresh slew of second chances.
I grudgingly admire him for that.
The problem was, in the time that he’d gone he’d somehow completely forgotten what his old job had entailed, so when he came to knuckle down to work and get cracking, he simply couldn’t do it.
He could not do his job.
They tried to retrain him but to no avail.
He couldn’t do it.
Judith, his manager, just glossed over this fact, mainly because she can’t do her job either and I guess must have felt some sympathy for Weird.
This was three years ago.
Judith used to keep herself busy in the office making tea for everyone and keeping up spirits by being a nice person, all for the bargain price of sixty thousand a year, but now that Weird is here she has him make the tea for her, and it makes her feel more important now that she has someone else to do the meaningless and trivial tasks for her, even if it does mean she is effectively completely redundant.
So Weird sits at his desk, blinks at the screen, sighs, yawns, scratches, then gets busy.
He potters around, collecting the tea mugs in his department, then he brews up.
After that he tops up the Post-It notes, pens, paperclips, printer paper.
After that he disappears for an hour.
After that he fetches Blue Roll from the warehouse, then makes more tea, then hides in the toilet, then makes more tea, until lunch.
And after lunch…
Sometimes he makes coffee, just as he is doing now.
Other times, when he feels frisky, he finds a woman to talk to.
Sorry, a woman to talk at.
He talks at them while his eyes slither over their bodies, drinking them in, storing the information away in some murky corner of his mind for later dubious usage.
He tries to smile when they actually say something back to him, but all that happens is his top lip curls away from his stained teeth and his eyes glare emptily.
He’s the only person at work who’s had formal warnings simply for looking at people. It’s even more tragic that he takes these warnings in a ‘fair cop’ kind of way. He knows full well what he’s up to and how creeped out women are in his presence.

And now Monday is here, but Weird isn’t.
I hear Judith muttering darkly to Dimples in the kitchenette.
“He rang in this morning, asking for the day off. I said no, but he said please, so I said yes. He said he had an upset tummy.”
An upset tummy? I suppose twenty four cans of Export lager and a diet of kebabs and Vindaloo will upset even the strongest tummy.
Judith relents, gives him the day off.
but then he rings in on the Tuesday and asks for another day off.
Judith asks if he still has an upset tummy, but strangely Weird says no, he just says he’d quite like a day off because the weather is nice.
Judith takes a hard line. She says no, she wants him to come in to work.
Weird says ok.
Weird takes the day off anyway.
Judith phones him later to find out where he is and gets his answer phone.
Judith is not happy.
It’s the last we see of Weird for a week.
He goes AWOL.
Judith is fetching tea, going to the warehouse for Blue Roll, washing up dirty cups.
Judith is most displeased.
She leaves many, many messages on Weird’s answer phone. Some are quite stern, some are concerned, some are pleading.
Now she involves the shambolic mess that passes for Human Resources at The Factory and they stumble into action.
Letters are sent and are unanswered.
More letters are sent, this time by recorded mail, and they remain unanswered.
Three weeks pass.
Judith is thoroughly sick of making tea and fetching Blue Roll, tasks she now considers beneath her imaginary skillset.u
Judith decides on drastic action.
She decides to visit Weird’s House.
The next day, Judith is back in the kitchenette, drying cups with wads of Blue Roll.
Dimples waddles over, smelling gossip.
Hiya Judith, want me to dry up? Oh, by the way, how did it go at Weird… I mean Phil’s house?”
Judith turns red. “I went round with Cardboard Supervisor. They said it might not be wise, a woman going round his house on her own. They were worried about what might happen.”
Wow. Concerns were raised in case an employee might rape or murder his own boss on a welfare visit.
I keep earwigging.
Judith sighs. “It was a hot day yesterday, remember? Well, we turn up at his house and we can hear music. We knock on his door. No answer. We keep knocking. The music really was very loud, so Cardboard Supervisor takes a look through the front window. He can see through to the back of the house and the patio doors were open. Suddenly he sees Phil. He comes dancing in from the back garden. He’s only wearing a pair of Speedos and a cowboy hat! He’s got dark glasses on and he’s grown a full beard. He goes dancing into the kitchen, grinding around and waggling his hips and bottom. It was rather horrible, to be honest.”
“What music was playing?” Dimples looks fascinated.
Judith has a think. “Honky Tonk Woman, I think. Well, he dances in and lights a cigarette and fetches a beer from the fridge! He’s about to go dancing out into the back garden again when Cardboard Supervisor bangs on the window. Phil drops his beer with a scream and it explodes, sending beer everywhere. Cardboard Supervisor shouts for him to answer the door. We stand there for a while, at the door, and the music is turned down. Phil eventually comes to the door. He’s still in those bloody daft trunks and cowboy hat. He didn’t even bother to grab a towel! He’s covered in beer and suntan cream. He’s got a golden tan, by the way. He goes a lovely colour, the lucky sod. I just burn. Anyway, I say to him, ‘Phil,’ I say, ‘Phil, what’s going on? You’ve not been to work for three weeks and no-one has heard from you! We were worried! Why haven’t you been at work?’ And you know what he says?”
Dimples shakes her head, hanging on Judith’s every word.
“He says, ‘Bit stressed.’ Can you believe it? He’s got the easiest job in the office, he lives with his mother and he tans like David bloody Dickinson in a car fire and he’s saying he’s stressed! We asked if he’s been to the doctors and he says no. We ask what his mum thinks about this and he says he goes out every morning like he’s off to work, but when his mum goes out he returns home and gets out in the back garden on a bloody sun lounger!!”
His mum. They ask what his mum thinks. He’s forty seven and his employers are asking his mum’s opinion of this shit show.
Dimples says, “Well, are we going to advertise his position then? It’s a breach of contract, and he’s not got a doctor’s note. I mean… it’s not like he really knows what he’s doing. It’s the opportunity to get shut of him that you’ve been waiting for!”
Judith turns red. Smiles weakly…
The next Monday Weird stumbles into the office, late. He’s got a hipster beard, a deep tan and a sweat stained Hawaiian shirt on. He reeks of beer fear with an undertone of Ambre Solaire.
He sees me, says, “Hell on those roads this morning. Some right nutters about.”
I just stare at him.
He looks over my shoulder. “Looks like we’re running low on Blue Roll. Lucky I came in today.”
I say, “You’re lucky to still have a job, mate.”
He pulls himself up to his full five feet seven inches, swaying slightly. “Not at all. Judith pleaded for me to come back. She said we’re struggling without me.”
I look over at Judith. She’s watching us talking. She blushes, looks busy.
I say, “Better get the kettle on, Phil.”
He nods, turns a bit green under his tan. “Aye, I suppose. I just need to nip to the loo.”
He staggers away to retch his guts up.
I go back to work.

Posted in The Stories. | 4 Comments