199. Open Book

Hash browns.
And I’m blushing… Spam.
I sometimes even have a full fat Coke.
The thing is, when you’ve been blundering around in the dark since 4.30am, breakfast at 8.30am is more like lunch when you’ve skipped breakfast, or is that brunch even though brunch isn’t really a thing, or…
What I’m trying to say is that my body clock is permanently fucked up. Shifts do that to you. They shave years of your life, by fucking with your sleep patterns and by messing with your serotonin levels until you don’t know if afternoons are evenings or mornings are lunchtimes or if wine is a good idea when you’ve got to get up in five hours time or if Spam and Coca Cola are a wise breakfast choice.
I once knew a kid at school who didn’t like the way his eyebrows met in the middle. One day he took his dad’s razor and shaved a little here and a little there until there was fuck all left on his face and he had to go to school looking like a freak of nature.
That’s what shifts do to you – they make it so you keep trying to correct things, get it right, add something to one side of the sleep/fuel balance then take something from the other side. A nap here, a snack there, coffee here, booze there, until your heart’s beating like a fucked clock, as Marwood once said.
One time I stopped drinking for a week and got a hangover… on the Wednesday. It took three days for it to kick in.
So now it just feels easier to keep adding things here, taking things away there, blundering in the dark trying to remember if it is 4.30am or 4.30pm because it’s just as dark at both ends of the day and wether I should be necking pints of tea or pints of wine.
And here I sit with my eggs and my beans and my hash browns and my toast and yes, my Spam and yes, a can of full fat Coke.
And a book.
The canteen at work is half filled with similarly bleary blokes shuffling in shabby uniforms that are as creased as their faces, jaundiced below the fluorescent tubes fluttering in the grease-stained suspended ceiling.
So rather than look at them I look at my book, champ down on the greasy salty slab of pink in front of me, try to remember if there’s any wine left in the fridge at home, and judging by my blurred senses I come to the sad conclusion that there is none.
A scrape of a chair, the clatter of an overladen plate, the shifting of the table where heavy arms rest, ready to eat.
A battle scarred table knife tips my book up so the front cover is facing the man now sitting opposite me.
“What you reading.”
It’s Rampton. He’s eating Spam too. A big, thick, pink slab of a man eating a big, thick, pink slab of a breakfast.
I say, “The Fallen Idol, by Graham Greene. He did Brighton Rock. The Third Man. They were made into films. The Fallen Idol was too. It was…”
“Never heard of him.”
Rampton shovels a piled fork into his mouth.
Books are like magnets. They either repel or attract. The reaction is sometimes positive, sometimes negative. I read in the canteen to repel people but sometimes they attract people. Some people look at a bloke with a book and think, ‘look at that poor cunt sat on his own with nowt better to do than read a book – I’ll go sit with him and cheer the sad fucker up’.
Which is the polar opposite of what I want anyone to do.
“I got a book for my birthday,” says Rampton around a mouthful of processed meat. “Lee Childs. He’s a proper writer, he is.”
He winks at me like he’s given me a valuable tip, like I can thank him later.
I sigh and put down my book. “When was it your birthday?” I ask, just for something to say.
“Sunday,” he says.
“How old were you?” I say.
He pauses. Frowns. Shrugs. “Does it matter?” he says.
“Not really,” I say.
We fall silent, apart from the sounds of eating.
After a bit I say, “Did you do anything nice?”
Rampton stops eating. He says, “When?”
“It was your birthday. Did you do anything nice, on your birthday?”
He tears at a slice of toast, looks up at the yellow lights, frowns, then smiles.
“Yeah, I did actually!”
I say, “Lovely. What did you do?”
He says, “I had a brilliant wank.”
I say, “Oh.”
Rampton becomes a bit more animated. “Nah, it were a bit special. Y’see, the missus got up and left us to have a lie in, y’know? Got the kids breakfast an’ all that. So when I woke up I were on me own an’ I had a right knob on. It were like a horse’s handbrake. Thing is, me an’ the missus’ve been ‘avin’ a few rows about shaggin’. I’m not gettin’ enough, y’know? Since we ‘ad the young ‘uns she’s gone right off the boil. Not bothered for it. Me though, I’m still randy as fuck! What’s your missus like? She still like to fuck?”
I swallow a dry mouthful of toast and take a sip of Coke. “I’d rather not say…”
Rampton shrugs. “Suit yersen. Well, we’ve had words, the missus ‘n’ me, just so’s we know where we stand. She said she’d make more of an effort in t’bedroom an’ I said I wouldn’t shout at ‘er so much. Anyways, I’m in bed an’ I thought I’d just crack one off, y’know? I didn’t reckon there were much chance of jump so I reckoned I’d better just sort miself out.”
I try not to picture the scene but I fail. I push my plate away.
“Not eatin’ that?” He says.
He stabs the piece of Spam left on my plate and drops it on his own.
“Well I’m at the half way mark an’ suddenly I realise I’m not alone. Our lass has snuck in under the covers! It were proper sexy. She comes up from underneath, like, between me legs. I slow my stroke a bit, thinking she’s gonna take the reigns, like, but no! Next thing, she’s lickin’ me knackers!”
Rampton leans over the table towards me. “You ever had your lass lick yer knackers when you been havin’ a tug?”
I avoid eye contact. “I… well…”
“Well I have!” he declares, triumphant. “An’ it were fuckin’ magic. So there I am, wankin’ away, getting me bollocks all sucked an’ nibbled, an’ our lass has got lovely long hair. Body’s a bit fucked since she put all that timber on after the kids were born, but y’can’t ‘ave it all, can yer? So her hair is ticklin’ me thighs an’ all that, an it feels fuckin’ ace, but then she starts lickin’… well… lower.”
“Oh…” I say.
Rampton leans even closer. In a hoarse whisper he says, “I know. Sounds a bit gay all that, don’t it? But let me tell you, Luci – you ain’t fuckin’ lived unless you had a lass lick yer arsehole while yer pullin’ yer pud. I were amazed. It were a fuckin’ revelation! I couldn’t help wonderin’ where she’d learned all these new tricks, like, but who the fuck were I to complain? There I am at half nine on fuckin’ Sunday wi’ me legs in the air, wankin’ wi’ a tongue half way up me arsehole while some sad twats are kneelin’ in church!! Best fuckin’ birthday ever!”
“That’s quite the picture you’re painting there, Rampton,” I say.
He looks smug and says, “I know! So anyway, I couldn’t last long like that. I shot me bolt an’ it felt like it came from me fuckin’ boots! Never felt owt like it! An’ y’know what? Our lass only comes up an’ licks all t’jizz off me belly! Honest, it were like a porno!”
I gag.
Rampton doesn’t notice. He frowns slightly. “That’s when it went a bit weird.”
I say, “All that wasn’t weird enough for you then?”
He shakes his head. “Nah, that were all fuckin’ brilliant. Our lass kind of shuffled up the bed, an’ I must have dozed off a bit, coz next thing I know our lass is comin’ through the door wi’ a mug o’ tea for us. An’ she’s laughin’ an’ callin’ for the kids to come an’ look, an’ in comes the kids an’ on goes the light, an’ they’re laughin’ cos I’m all tucked up in bed wi’ the neighbour’s dog.”
Time seems to stop.
Then it starts again.
I say, “What?”
He says, “Yeah. Neighbour’s dog. I didn’t know but ‘e got taken into ‘ospital that mornin’ an’ ambulance blokes ‘ad knocked on t’door to see if we’d look after ‘is fuckin’ dog while they carted ‘im off to ‘ospital.”
I say, “So, you mean… all that… with the… you know… under the covers…”
Rampton shrugs. “Dunno. I could ‘ave sworn it were our lass, but then again, that dog ‘as a lovely shiny coat.”
Rampton wipes his plate with a bit of toast. “Anyway, we got a call later. Bloke next door had only gone an’ died. Dog had no ‘ome, did it? Our lass an’ the kids were pleadin’ wi’ us to keep it, so I gave in. Said it could stay on one condition.”
His chair scraped across the floor as he stood, sucking bean juice off his fingers.
I said, “What condition was that?”
He said, “Kids weren’t to ever let it lick their faces. Dogs are dirty fuckers – never know where they’ve been.”
Rampton lumbers away.
I make a note to get two bottles on the way home that afternoon.

Un lit Défait by Eugene Delacrox, 1827

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198. Blunt Force Trauma

There’s been a lot of redundancies round here of late.
People who’ve been here seemingly forever suddenly gone, faces older than the factory itself disappearing discretely with a sagging cardboard box filled with their bits of old crap and a gold foil handshake that won’t last them six months.
It’s a damn shame.
I wander between the hulks of machines that once chattered like neighbours across fences, but are now quiet.
Polythene sheets designed to keep off paper dust look like body bags swaddling the corpses of iron giants.
The factory is still full of noise but it comes from one source, a gigantic print press that thunders like a polluted waterfall, spewing out reams of poor quality print by the kilometre – the quality control now run by accountants instead of skilled tradesmen, a production line dictated by the bottom line.
I don’t recognise people like I used to.
Where once there were characters there are now agency workers, bewildered looking people in ill-fitting boots and hi-viz tabards, timidly asking where the toilets are in broken English, the poor bastards.
Africans, Poles, Bulgarians, Lithuanians, Indians, Somalis, and…
A shambling mess of a man, limping along, his face like Quasimodo’s knacker sack.
I wonder what shore he’s washed up on, where’s he come from, where he’s going…
He sees me and he starts to grin. It’s horrible, I look away, embarrassed that he caught me staring…
He’s opening his mouth. He’s going to say something. I prepare to shrug, pretend I don’t understand before scuttling off to the dull grey safety of the office.
He says, “Now then Luci, you gawpin’ knob head! You gonna walk by without sayin’ fuck all then?”
I stop. Stare. Mentally unravel the puffy eyes, bent nose, swollen lips, chimpanzee shuffle.
Holy shit.
It’s Fucking Amazing Dave.
I say, “Fucking Nora, Dave!! What happened?! What happened to your face??”
Fucking Amazing Dave sighs, clutches his hands to his chest and raises his bruised eyes towards the factory roof.
“It were a lass, mate. I came to look like this ‘coz of a lass.”
I frown. “You mean… a lass knocked seven shades of shit out of you?”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks outraged. “Fuck off, mate! I know how to handle meself, y’know! I wouldn’t be getting no twatting off no lass!”
I say, “What about that Nicola Adams? She’s from Leeds. I reckon she’d twat you in five seconds flat.”
Dave grins. “I’d let her n’all. I fancy her summat rotten. I envy the bloke who gets to go five rounds with her!”
“She’s a lesbian, Dave.”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks shocked, then a horrible leer creeps over his battered face and he rubs the thighs of his dusty trousers with both hands.
He says, “Oh Jesus, can you imagine…”
I say, “Let’s not go there Dave. Let’s talk about the girl who kicked your arse instead.”
Fucking Amazing Dave throws his hands up, exasperated. “How many times, man? I told you – a lass didn’t twat me! I look like this ‘coz of a lass, not ‘coz a lass did it to me!!”
I sigh. “Then who did do it to you?”
If a smashed face could ever look whimsical, them that’s how Dave’s face tries to appear.
He says, “Love, mate. That’s what fucked me up. It were love.”
I shake my head, mutter, “Fuck me…”
Dave grabs my sleeve. “No, man, it’s true! You can’t stop love when it ‘appens! It just ‘appens! It’s like that song by that bloke who first came across as a soppy knobhead but now everyone loves him ‘coz he smashes it on Twitter… what’s it called…”
I say, “Angels by Robbie Williams?”
“Fuck off.”
“Oh, ok, then how about… I don’t know… Cliff Richards?”
Dave’s swollen eyes bulge. “Cliff? What the fuck are you on about?? Since When did Stiff Pilchards smash it on Twitter?? Besides, the only thing that walnut-faced nonce smashes on a regular basis is the arses of…”
“Steady on. Look, I don’t know who the fuck you’re talking about!”
Dave is getting agitated. “Yes you do!! That bloke who stopped world war three that time when her were a soldier! That singer who were a soldier!”
“Robson Green? Up on the Roof, wasn’t it?”
Dave turns purple. He shouts, “Robson Green weren’t a proper fucking soldier!! That was a telly show called Soldier Soldier AND it were shite AND that song were shite n’all!! No this bloke I’m on about, his name… it rhymes with Cunt…”
I say, “Ah! You’re on about James Blunt. The song was ‘You’re Beautiful’, I think.”
All the tension leaves Fucking Amazing Dave’s body all at once and he sags like a deflated lilo.
“Yes! Yes, that’s the lad. Well, that song, you know, he like sees a lass an’ falls in love an’ makes all these plans but she’s wi’ some bloke already so he just kind of naffs off somewhere else an’ has a bit of a cry about it. You know the song.”
I say, “Well, yes, but apparently the thing is that the James Blunt was off his tits on pills and kind of stared at this good looking lass on the Tube and it was a pretty creepy song, he says.”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks alarmed. “Really? That’s not the direction I was wanting this to go in. Makes him a bit cooler that he’s a pill head though. Respect.”
“I’m not sure I’d describe James Blunt as a pill head, mate,” I say, “but I kind of get your drift about that song. So go on then, tell us what happened.”
Fucking Amazing Dave wets his split lip with his tongue. “Right, so it were a couple of days back. A lovely sunny day, y’know, crisp, Autumnal, yeah? And I’m on my way through Headingley. Just been to Ronnie Maccers So I got myself a cheeky cheeseburger in one hand an’ a roll up on the go, y’know? I know smokin’ an’ eatin’ is a filthy habit, man, but it’s how I roll. So I’m going along, mindin’ me own business, checkin’ out all the student totty kickin’ about, an’ that’s when I see her.”
I say, “See who?”
“Her,” he says. “I see Her. She’s walkin’ with another lass, but I don’t really see her, I only got eyes for Her, y’know? It were like the world got all small but all big at the same time, yeah? Like we were the only ones in it but that were the only thing important any more, d’y’get me? An’ when I see her, she sees me. Right at the same moment! Our eyes just… locked.”
Dave slowly points two fingers at my eyes, then slowly points them at his own eyes. I feel a bit weird and uncomfortable.
He says, “I just take a pull on my rollie, an’ through the smoke I keep lookin’ at her an’ she’s perfection, man, just perfection, an’ she smiles at me, but not that smile a lass gives when she sees you step in dog shit, it were a smile meant for me, man, a smile just for me, for us. It were fuckin’ magical. An’ as I’m passin’ on one side o’ the road an’ she’s passin’ on the other, we never stop lookin’ at each other, our gaze is fuckin’ LOCKED, man! All we can see is each other. An’ at that moment, I know I’m in love. I love her, man! But the thing is, I knew she were goin’ in one direction an’ I were goin’ in the other. She were a student, got it all to come, an education, a great job, travel, a family, kids, but I weren’t for her, I knew that. She deserved better than some fuckin’ numpty that worked in a shit hole factory, so I had to let her go, man, I had to let her pass, but I kept lookin’ as she walked away, an she kept lookin’ at me, an’ that smile faded on her beautiful, perfect face, it became somethin’ sad. I think she knew it weren’t gonna happen, y’know, that I weren’t gonna turn round an talk to her, I were lettin’ her go. An’ as she went, I saw her raise a hand, wave at me, an’ I did the same, waved at her, an’ that’s when it hit me.”
Breathlessly, I say, “What… what hit you?”
He sighs. “A large chocolate milkshake.”
I blink. “Wait, what?? A chocolate milkshake? How did that fuck your face up?”
“Nah, man. It weren’t the chocolate milkshake that fucked me up, it were the windscreen that did that when I drove into the back o’ the parked car at forty mile an hour. But the first thing that hit me were the milkshake that I had in me cup holder, then the windscreen. Ironically they reckon the milkshake saved me life. Cushioned the blow a bit, y’know?”
I open and close my mouth a few times, then I say, “Wait, wait a minute, you were DRIVING all this time? You were smoking, eating a cheeseburger and falling in love, all the while driving a car?”
Dave shrugs. “It’s not just lasses that can multi task.”
“You cannot multi task, Dave. Your fucking face is evidence enough of that! You’re lucky you didn’t get killed! You’re lucky you didn’t kill anyone! Wait, did you kill anyone?”
Dave looks slightly offended. “Nah, man! Those two lads were fine! Bit shaken, like, but they were ok.”
“Which two lads??”
“The lads in the parked car, o’course. The two Pakistani lads who were illegally parked, eating a KFC. I mean, their car were pretty fucked up but it were still drivable, so it was alright. The thing is, they were illegally parked an’ they had no insurance anyway, so once we got the two cars pulled apart we all scarpered pretty sharpish before the rozzers turned up.”
I shake my head. “Only you, Dave. This could only happen to one person – you. How the fuck do you manage it? So tell me, what’s the extent of the injuries?”
Dave ticks them off on his hand. “Broken nose, fag burn on my forehead, fractured cheekbone, lost three front teeth, whiplash, and third degree burns on my arsehole.”
I say, “That all sounds pretty horrible… wait, what? Third degree burns on your arsehole?? Did the car catch fire or something?”
Dave shakes his head and winces. “Nah man. When my bonce hit the windscreen the McDonald’s apple pie I’d had balanced between my legs fell onto the seat. When I sat back down I squashed it, firing molten apple lava right between my arse cheeks. I’m takin’ McDonald’s to court, man. It’s a one off case. My solicitor reckons I’m bound to win. I should get enough of a payout for a new motor, to get my gnashers fixed and have a decent little wedge left over. But I tell you what that payout can’t fix though.”
Dave starts to shamble away. He says over his shoulder, “A broken heart, man. A broken heart.”

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197. The Wife of Brian

Another Monday.
I’m keeping my head down, creeping from cover to cover, filing cabinets and cupboards and other assorted items of office furniture, heading for my desk.
I’m avoiding that most horrible ritual at the start of any week – the weekend roundup.
Honestly, you could have been kayaking or dining out or visiting relatives in Dorset or birdwatching or sitting in bed with the flu or performing the hits of Nirvana with your Ukulele band or finger-fucking a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in a skip behind your local Tesco’s – I really couldn’t give a shit.
I just don’t want to hear about it.
I don’t want to hear about it, and in turn, I really don’t want to tell you about my weekend.
My weekends are pretty dull and so are yours.
Let’s keep a bit of mystique around our lives, rather than spilling our guts about the inanities of our free time to the first person we see at the water cooler.
Most people are a little bit guilty of this social crime but there is a repeat offender, a Peter Sutcliffe of Monday morning leisure banter who I am now desperately avoiding.
Office Brian.
Oh, how I hate thee, Office Brian.
Office Brian walks with an affected strut, a little like John Travolta at the start of Saturday Night Fever, that’s if John Travolta was born into a dull Leeds suburb and he was walking around piles of dog shit and sacks of half eaten McDonalds hurled from the window of a speeding Citroen Saxo.
Indeed, that might be where Office Brian picked it up, because that’s what Office Brian does. He’s a parasite, a mimic, a terrifying grey-blank canvas on which he drapes the habits and mannerisms of others in an attempt to create a semblance of humanity.
He invariably fails.
There is a thing called Uncanny Valley. It’s not a place, more of a response. You know when you see a doll that looks almost human, but for some reason the fact that it is ALMOST real just creeps you the fuck out?
That is the Uncanny Valley response. It’s like a primal reaction to a thing that is trying to deceive us, a wolf in sheep’s clothing perhaps. We like things to look human, cute things, but as you get closer and closer to them actually looking real, there is a dip, a valley. We suddenly feel uneasy, freaked out.
Oddly enough though, if things are even MORE realistic our affection kicks back in. We like them again.
Office Brian resides permanently in Uncanny Valley. Like Pinocchio, he so wants to be a real boy, but when you are made from emotional MDF then it’s just not going to happen.
I don’t know what it is about Office Brian that is so utterly wrong but everyone feels it, everyone gets it.
“I don’t trust that cunt. I don’t know why, he’s just… weird. I don’t trust him.”
I’ve heard that phrase in one guise or another, over and over and over again.
Fifty odd blokes who’ve worked with Office Brian over the years can’t be wrong.
But now I’m at my desk and I’m turning my computer on and sorting out all my shit for the day, but I know I’m not safe.
Here he comes.
Always the same.
He struts along, a fake half whistle on his lips, left hand in his pocket, right hand tossing a mug in the air, catching it again.
He pauses, happens to notice me, raises his eyebrows.
“Alreet, bud! How was your weekend?”
Always the same.
Always the fucking same.
his expression is one of optimistic interest, an almost genuine engagement, but not quite.
The eyes.
Sunk deep into his puppet head with little or no expression to them.
I mumble something utterly non committal. I avoid his gaze, stare at my screen.
He emits a little chuckle as if amused by some small quip, then he leaves me a gap so that I can do the polite thing and ask him, in turn, about his weekend.
I say nothing. I just scowl at my computer monitor.
So he chuckles again and launches into an enthusiastic description of his own riveting leisure activities.
“Ha ha! Yeah, we had a great weekend! Popped up to Burnsall again, in the old caravan, y’know!”
Office Brian has a caravan now.
A few people at work have bought caravans, the dull bastards, and spend many a grey, nondescript weekend staring out at the tea-coloured North Sea as a bitter gale batters their box on wheels while they struggle with monosyllabic words on a tatty travel Scrabble set.
Office Brian decided he should get a piece of this hot action.
But the thing is, Office Brian is the king of the half measure. He never does it quite right, because he doesn’t know what right is. He just goes through the motions, copying others, pretending to be normal.
So Office Brian goes and gets a caravan for eight hundred quid.
It is a tired, sagging affair with a mossy exterior and sun-bleached panelling. The interior is permanently damp and the gas lighting gives you hallucinations if you leave it on too long.
Don’t get me wrong. If all you can afford in all the world is an eight hundred quid caravan then don’t let me stop you investing in the mobile pleasure palace – knock yourself out.
But Office Brian has money.
He owns a few houses which he rents out. His dad has a bit of cash and is always bunging him a few quid here and there.
No, Office Brian’s forays into new territories are always done on the cheap – a half arsed affair that invariably ends in a rusting hulk being towed away as his faux-enthusiasm wanes and a new interest is adopted.
A set of bent golf clubs, an asthmatic Vespa, fly-blown fishing kit, a fucked Land Rover.
He drinks wine in an inflatable hot tub that he keeps in a draughty garage without windows.
And now he has a caravan.
“Yeah,” continues Office Brian, warming to his subject, “Yeah, we keep it up there now. It’s a farmer’s field really, but when we go up I run the show for him – collect pitch fees from other campers, mow the grass with his tractor, generally look out for the campsite. Saves him a job so he lets me keep it there for nowt.”
All the while, Office Brian shifts from foot to foot in a strange, small dance, bobbing up and down, flicking his hair. It is apparent that he considers this little anecdote to be quite the gem, a proper boasting point. I can imagine his mouldering caravan crouched in the corner of some boggy field, a thick pelt of wet leaves on top, long grass below with a liberal spattering of cow shit across it’s sides.
A proper Yorkshire Shangri la.
I feel my shoulders tensing up. I say, “Hmm.”
Office Brian sees this as encouragement. “Yeah, there’s no real facilities there but who needs ‘em? I’m happy sitting out with a bottle of vino, watching the stars…”
I remember that it rained most of the weekend.
I don’t say anything.
Office Brian has three children now. His wife has early onset rheumatoid arthritis. I imagine that crew of happy campers sitting in a damp caravan in the rain for the weekend.
I shudder.
He goes on. “We went up as a bit of an anniversary treat for our lass. We been together for fifteen years now! Fifteen! I should have murdered her – I’d have been out in ten! Ha ha ha!”
I don’t laugh.
I’m thinking. I remember him saying one time that his wife was a fair bit younger than himself. Twelve years, he said.
I say, “How old are you again?”
He blinks, still grinning. “Just turned forty this year!”
I say, “So if you’ve been with your lass for fifteen years, and she’s twelve years younger than you, and you’re forty, that means your started seeing her when she was…”
Office Brian’s stupid grin sags on his face. He twitches, trying to get it together.
He says, “Erm… maybe I got those dates a bit wrong…”
I say, “I reckon your early dates were very fucking wrong. Illegal, in fact.”
He laughs a weak laugh. I pretend to work. He goes to the kettle and fills his cup. He always stirs his tea violently, like he’s trying to kill something.
He comes back. “You’ve been up Burnsall a few times, haven’t you?”
He is being breezy, changing the subject.
I sigh, say, “Yes.”
He grins, raises his eyebrows, starts his weird little dance again.
He always keeps his left hand in his pocket.
Around the factory they call Office Brian, ‘Ladyhand.’
The rumour is that he keeps his left hand very pretty, with rings and nail varnish and moisturiser and stuff. They say he likes to call it a pretty name and wank off with his pretty hand. Not very progressive, I’ll grant you, but Northern factories aren’t exactly renowned for their liberal sensibilities.
He jiggles his mystery hand in his pocket, stirring around a great weight in car keys and pub change. Office Brian loves pubs, or boozers, as he calls them. He especially likes flat roofed pubs, which, as everyone knows, are the very worse kinds of pubs. They usually serve Carling Black Label and Trophy on electric pumps, play a CD of popular melodies by Chris de Burgh reinterpreted for the pan pipes and they smell of disinfectant and despair.
Office Brian used to run one such pub, back in the day. He worked shifts at the factory and when he was home he ran the pub. He was forever getting robbed or punched and all the sad sack regulars ended up fucking his girlfriend at one time or another, the girlfriend before this one. He kept running the pub and calling everyone ‘mate’ while they stole beer and stole cigs and fucked his girlfriend and took the piss for months and months, until he gave it up because he decided ‘there’s no money in the boozer game’.
The hand keeps jiggling his pub change.
The jiggling is suspiciously close to his genitals.
I look away.
He goes on, “Yeah, we love that walk from Burnsall to Grassington along the river. We went Saturday and Sunday, it was so nice. I says to our lass, I says to her, ‘come on our lass, let’s do that walk from Burnsall to Grassington by the river.’ We couldn’t go right quick, mind, but it’s nice not rushing.”
He wants me to ask why he had to go slowly, so I don’t say anything.
He pauses, allows me to ask him, and when I don’t he carries on regardless.
“Yeah, the young ‘un can’t go too quick but he managed it though, bless him. I were reet proud of the little lad, but he’s a tough ‘un!”
I look up. I say, “Wait, your lad? He’s only a baby isn’t he?”
Office Brian’s chest swells with pride. “Just gone two!”
I say, “But that’s a walk of, what, nearly five miles!”
He starts his weird little bobbing dance again. “Yeah, something like that. Should have seen the little fella afterwards! He slept that night, I can tell you!”
I could just picture the exhausted kid, slumped unconscious on a damp caravan couch.
I said, “Is this the same kid with all the allergies?”
Office Brian flinches. His son has got a shit load of food allergies because he tried weaning the poor little sod far too young, shoving chips in his mouth before he had teeth, boasting about his ferocious appetite.
For once Office Brian doesn’t say anything.
I say, “Making a kid walk too far, too young will fuck his legs up. He’ll be in callipers by the time he’s six.”
Office Brian smirks. “Don’t worry about little Brian – he’s hard as nails. He had a few blisters, mind, but he didn’t make a peep.”
Little Brian.
Office Brian’s dad is called Brian. His grandad was called Brian. Office Brian wanted to call his son Brian but his wife wouldn’t have it so he made his middle name Brian.
And calls him Brian.
I could just imagine this forced march across damp fields, a little band of reluctant, weary walkers. Children shuffling along, young wife hobbling with arthritis whilst the little boy stumbles through the grass and cow shit with blistered feet.
Why? Why do this to them? To what end?
Because Office Brian is uncanny, Office Brian is strange. He’s walking because it’s what you’re supposed to do, sleeping in a horrible caravan because other people sleep in other caravans. He makes his son walk miles because he thinks it’s normal, shoves chips in his mouth because he guesses it’s what humans do.
I’ve known him drive a hundred miles to kick the tyres of a clapped out Ford Cortina then drive the hundred miles home, just so he can tell people on Monday that he drove a hundred miles to check out a ‘classic motor’ but decided against it.
If you were to befriend Office Brian you could get him interested in anything.
Stamp collecting, snorkelling, surfing, cooking, football violence, politics, right wing politics, alt-right politics, racism, National Socialism, anti Semitism, Fascism.
As long as it cost under eight hundred quid he’d give it a go.
That’s how it happens.
You get a few dozen Office Brians, you give them some fucking stupid ideas and you let them lose.
Office Brian is a black hole, a void, a gap waiting to be filled by something, anything, regardless if it is good or bad or downright insane.
Next Monday he will tell me a similar story, on Friday he will ask me what I’ve got planned.
Office Brian will be down the car boot, down the boozer, at the seaside, in the caravan. He will be tinkering with a motor, seeing a man about a dog, but he could just as easily be at a rally, waving a flag, saluting in an alarming manner, burning books.
People with no ideas are more dangerous than people with extreme ideas.
People with extreme ideas are few but people with no ideas are legion.
I think that’s what unsettles me most about the Office Brians of the world.
It’s the emptiness.
Office Brian can be anything or nothing, a terrifying and indifferent Zelig, his face appearing time and time again in pivotal moments of history, taking part in pool parties and pogroms, atrocities and art shows.
Office Brian starts to whistle again, and I realise it isn’t a tune, it’s just a tone repeated over and over again. He walks away like a strange, cheap John Travolta and I know there is nothing in his head.
How I hate thee, Office Brian.
How I fear thee too.

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196. Virtual Reality Check

I am calm.
There is a job on my desk but it sits there, untouched, as I stare out of the window.
It is early – just before seven – and the office is mostly empty.
I have the windows open and clean air drifts in, fresh from the previous night’s rain.
I can smell wet grass, bus diesel, flowers, soil, a hint of cow shit.
Rough with the smooth, I suppose.
The North was industrial but is no longer, and the farms that have always hidden beside the hammering mills have become more apparent now. The fumes and clamour have faded, allowing the bleat of lambs and the lowing of cattle to be heard and the earthy smells of rustic life add a tang to the air.
Bees drone amongst the tree blossom. The office is on the first floor and and the windows are level with whitebeam, rowan, silver birch. Thrush and blackbird warble from the higher boughs whilst sparrows tumble amongst the lower leaves, bickering over caterpillars.
The office is only a space, it is the people who make it what it is.
A shit hole.
Without the people it can be quite pleasant, without the small minded arseholes and their petty woes and their bitter grudges the office can actually be a place of quiet contemplation.
I sit, listen to the sounds of the day waking, smelling the earth, content.
The silence is shattered by Ford Focus the colour of Lucozade screaming into the car park. I can tell that it isn’t an ordinary Ford Focus because it is painted a fucking stupid colour and it is being driven as though it has just been nicked.
The orange Ford Focus parks up and a fat man gets out. He is grinning. He is wearing the factory uniform – dull blue work fatigues, a bit like a prison uniform.
He stands there for a moment, grinning at his orange Ford Focus with pride, seemingly oblivious of how it contrasts with the drab clothes he wears.
He buffs the car with the corner of his shirt then waddles into the factory, ready to start a 12 hour shift to keep up with the eye-watering monthly payments he has to make on the orange Ford Focus.
One by one they arrive, reverse parking cars that none of them own before looking at their phones until they are safely inside the dull hulk of the factory.
The office is filled with the smell of instant coffee and cheap aftershave, the sounds of bent spoons in teacups and monotone bitching.
I sigh, start working.
People greet each other.
They say things like, ‘Morning! How y’doin’?”
The stock answer is a grin, a relieved roll of the eyes, and a sighed, “Friday!”
Because it’s Friday.
For most of the week the stock answer is a similar grin, an ‘I’m-bearing-up’ shrug followed by, “Not bad for a (Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday – delete as appropriate)”
And that is the peak of their personal observations about the day, until they reach their computers, look at the headlines on Sky news or the Daily Mail and then spend the next half hour bleating the opinions of right wing journalists at each other.
The idea that Friday is better than any other day really grates on me.
It’s the worst myth of all. Why the fuck are people relieved that they can finally do the EXACT same amount of work that they do every other day? What magic fairy dust has been sprinkled over Friday to make it so fucking special? Is it the fact that they’re going to have a ‘few cheeky beers’ that evening? If that’s the only thing that makes them look forward to Friday, why don’t they just get shit faced every night of the week like I do?
Yay, it’s Tuesday. Glug glug glug.
Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the week.
But if that’s the case, what’s to celebrate?
You’ve spunked five days of your life away in a job you hate so much that you exhibit relief that it’s finally over.
Shouldn’t you be weeping?
I know I feel like weeping.
It’s another week of your life you’ll never get back, a week where you could have been something useful, something you love.
Fridays stick in my throat like sediment, a bitter resentment towards the system we blindly adhere to, The Cattle Class mooing ‘Friday’ over and over again until it’s our turn to get a gold watch and a handshake at the doors of the abattoir.
A fluttering catches my eye.
A blue tit has flown to the open window and perches, looking in. It moves in stop motion, the tilt of it’s head occurring instantaneously. It studies me with an eye like a small black pearl, measuring threat, before hopping to the corner of the windowsill. It deftly plucks a spider from it’s web, the silk stretching, snapping.
The blue tit is gone, the web thrums slightly, then it is still.
A big bunch of keys hits the desk, clattering and sliding over the Melamine surface with a noise like a car crash.
“Mornin’!” says Intense Ginger Bloke.
Recently he has started to walk with an invisible roll of carpet under each arm. This is because he is heavy, around seventeen stone, the weight you get from drinking too much beer, eating too many pies and parking your Audi as close to the supermarket door as possible.
Intense Ginger Bloke is six feet tall and he sees this as an achievement. It is alright to be heavy, because his grandma tells him it’s alright. ‘You can carry it’, his grandma tells him.
Because she tells him it’s alright, then it’s alright.
Until his heart packs in, anyway.
I imagine his full weight falling like a cut tree, thundering against the carpet tiles with a shuddering boom, big pale paw clutching his chest as his Judas heart finally betrays him, quitting it’s job too early, too soon, telling him a truth that he didn’t want to hear, that yes, he could carry the weight but that his ticker could not.
I look at him, I say, “Yes. Morning. How are you?”
He grins and says, “Friday!”
He takes off his ratty Berghaus fleece. He needs the fleece to brave the unpredictable elements that might assail him from house to car, from car to factory. Some fifty feet in total on this fine Summer morning. Who knows what might have happened had he not had his trusty fleece to protect him.
I glance outside. Sun glitters over the field where sheep sit chewing amidst the warm dew, steam rising from their bodies.
I say, “What’s the weather like?”
Intense Ginger Bloke checks his phone. “It says the weather is fine.”
I don’t respond.
He hurriedly goes to hang up his fleece, and with a brisk pace he heads for the door.
He’s going to take a shit.
My mate Tommy calls him The Man With The Clockwork Bottom.
Every day, the exact same time, without fail.
I intend to make some Out Of Order signs soon, and hang them on all the nearest office toilets, just to see if he’ll shit himself before he can find an available cubicle.
Dimples waddles by, glancing conspiratorially around before whispering, “Morning!”
She’s such a compulsive gossip that she now treats even the most trivial statement as a confidential disclosure.
I say, “Yes, morning. How are you?”
She grins with relief, looks around, then whispers, “Friday!”
Dimples looks terrified. She whispers in the same tone with more exaggerated mouth movements, “Friday!”
She looks panicked. She whispers, “I don’t know!” and flees to the kitchenette.
Inane Jane sidles past. She walks like a heron that has been downed with a rock. Her long, pale, blotchy legs are placed one ahead of the other as if probing silt, flowy pastel fabrics wafting around her, draining her skin of what colour it might have had. Close set eyes over a beaked nose peer through tiny glasses. She has the hairstyle of a much younger woman which she flicks around like she’s the star of a shampoo commercial, her crowning glory, because she’s worth it.
It probably costs her a hundred pounds a month.
It doesn’t suit her.
She sees me, says, “Good morning! How are you?”
She speaks slowly and with great care, as if reading from a teleprompter, or as if she’s going to hold up a sign that says, ‘Keep talking – the office is bugged!’
I wouldn’t dream of telling Inane Jane how I actually am, in response to her stock greeting. I wouldn’t tell her that I want to scream, that I wish the factory would burn down, that I harbour a deep, unnamed dread, that I fantasise about Godzilla-esque reptilians surging from beneath the earth to scour the planet of the human menace.
Instead I say, “Yes, morning. How are you?”
Now Inane Jane flicks her unnatural tresses, composes her bird features into a witty smirk, stifles a slight titter, rolls her eyes and says, “Friday!”
I stare at her, jaws clenching, wishing I was a Super Villain.
She tiptoes away, extremely pleased with her humorous retort.
Bogwanker hurries past. He says nothing, which is quite refreshing. He is wringing his hands with great pressure, the flesh of each hand turning white under the pressure of the other. He is grinning. He walks as if every third step requires him to avoid a landmine, a great stride added to his shuffling gait. As soon as he reaches the refuge of the now deserted kitchenette, as soon as he thinks he is unobserved, he begins to speak silently to himself, laughing and chattering without a noise. It’s the most disconcerting thing I think I’ve ever seen and I see it every day.
I look away.
I hear a door swing open and heavy footsteps plod nearer.
Intense Ginger Bloke looms into view.
He is visibly relieved by his immense turd, his bowels happily evacuated until tomorrow at 8.05am.
He seems more excited than usual.
He can barely contain himself.
He says, “It’s arrived!”
I instantly think of Godzilla striding across the Leeds skyline, lazer beam eyes disintegrating Brutalist concrete architecture and insipid modern office blocks alike. I imagine screams and pell mell fleeing, I imagine huge footprints crushing pedestrian precincts.
I smile and I say, “Has it?”
Intense Ginger Bloke is deliriously happy. “Yup! I have Oculus Rift!”
He thrusts both arms into the air in a weird victory salute. His shirt rides up to expose a large, pale belly, covered in wiry ginger hair.
I say, “Will antibiotics get rid of it?”
He blinks, mildly bewildered. “It’s VR! You know, a virtual reality headset! They’re supposed to be five hundred quid but this offer came online where you got the headset AND the hand controllers AND all the rest for less than four hundred!! I said to myself, I said, ‘I’m having THAT badger so I hit buy it now!”
He slams his finger into the desk with excessive force. He is breathing heavily. His face is very red. I watch with alarm and fascination, realising that this could be it, this could be the day his heart gives up.
I give Intense Ginger Bloke my full attention.
I say, “What did your girlfriend say? It’s still a lot of money to spend on toys without a green light from her.”
He scowls. “It’s not a toy. It’s the future.”
“Whatever. What did she say?”
He beams. “She said it was fine! I couldn’t believe it! Mind you, she’s off to Barcelona for five days soon and I expect she’ll want some spending money, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.”
I think about his girlfriend.
She had a bit of a tough start in life but she wanted something better. She got it. She used to be plumpish but now the photos Intense Ginger Bloke occasionally makes me look at show a slim young woman, very good looking. He looks lumpen next to her in the photos, a very mismatched couple. She is working on a cross trainer in the garage, toning up for her holiday. She takes the occasional sun bed. This is a holiday she really wants, not a week in a field in a caravan by the muddy North Sea, an Intense Ginger Holiday.
She wants something better, she is going to get it.
Intense Ginger Bloke wants to be careful.
Very careful.
Oblivious to the potential for catastrophe, he ploughs on.
“I got it all set up last night. It were amazing!!! It’s so… real! You got the headset on and these sensors all around you and these hand controllers where when you look down YOU CAN ACTUALLY SEE YOUR OWN HANDS!!! Can you believe it??”
I glance down at my own hand. Open and close it. I say, “Amazing.”
He is getting even more heated. Manic. He stands over me, looming, pushing against the desk that separates us. I lean back slightly.
He throws his arms around, loudly explaining the excitement that a virtual world has to offer. He describes driving, walking around, setting off fireworks, swimming. He describes how he blundered of furniture in his living room while he learned how to adapt to this strange new world, how he made mistakes, how he learned from them, how he mastered the tricky controllers.
“Then I went online,” he gasped, becoming tired through his exertions. “I thought the games were amazing, but online… there are other people there!!! People you can actually talk to!!”
I stare at him. “What… like you’re talking to me, right now?”
He looks ecstatic. “YES!!! Just like that!!”
He suddenly hammers the keys on his computer and brings up YouTube. He plays a recording of what it looks like to be in this new virtual world.
It is simple, the shapes are mainly blocks, lacking texture. People don’t have legs, their bodies are tubes, the head is a ball with a friendly face on the front.
“Isn’t it…cool?” whispers Intense Ginger Bloke.
I think it looks pretty shit, but I’m not going to start an argument, not while he’s this fired up.
But now he’s becoming more animated. “There’s this shooting game, a bit like Lazer Quest! Oh, it’s so incredible. You’re in this… place, and, and, you get this lazer gun and you’re all together, on a team, all the people, and you’re fighting robots that are controlled by the AI, the computer, but you can hide behind things, and fire round things, and… and…”
Intense Ginger Bloke suddenly disappears.
I think, at last! He’s died!
He has dropped out of sight behind his desk.
I wonder if he died immediately or if he’s writhing around down there, clinging to life.
I start to stand up when an arm pops up.
It is oddly clenched.
It is pointed at me.
I hear Intense Ginger Bloke make a loud rattling noise. “DADADADADADADADADADA!!!!”
I’m bewildered, alarmed and delighted.
But then Intense Ginger Bloke surges to his feet. His face is red and sweaty, he seems huge and terrifying. It is now obvious that he is holding an imaginary firearm of some description. He lunges over me, his face contorted with fury and bloodlust, and bellows that same rattling noise, “DADADADADADADADADA!!!”
I say, “Fucking Nora!”
He barges clumsily against the desk, knocking over a pot of pens, paperclips cascading like shell cases. He is wild eyed and snarling, spittle flying from his curled lips, speckling my face.
Still murderously eyeballing me he lifts his imaginary weapon. He clears the imaginary jam. “Kerclick.” He re-cocks the weapon. He points it at my face.
I close my eyes tightly.
I open my eyes.
Intense Ginger Bloke is panting heavily, blinking, his face sweating. He looks confused.
I glance around. Other people in the office are staring at us, open mouthed. Inane Jane has a hand to her face, appalled.
Intense Ginger Bloke drops to his chair. “It’s all so… real,” he mutters.
I clear my throat, I say, “Your girlfriend. Where was she when all this was going on?”
He blinks. “When I started playing, she was just sat on the couch. By the time I took my goggles of at three this morning, she’d gone.”
I say, “I’d remember that if I were you. Think of it as a metaphor.”
“What’s a metaphor?”
I don’t answer.
I look out of the window.
The green of the leaves on the ash tree have darkened from the bright tones of Spring to the deeper, flatter green of Summer. Some leaves are yellow. Soon they will all turn, and fall, and grow again, just as they have done for twenty five years, and I’ve watched it happen every year, seen it grow from being the same height as me to the tree it is today, thirty feet high.
I’ve watched it every year for a quarter of a century.
The people I work with haven’t seen it once.

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195. Liver ‘n’ Let Die.

I am stood in the office kitchenette, staring at a slowly boiling kettle.
I am hung over again.
I’ve tried cutting back on my drinking lately, but the overwhelming horror of the mundane has sent me hurrying back to the mid-priced Pinot Grigio with an insatiable gusto.
The kitchenette is always a grim place, even the name is grim.
It sounds like an instrument of torture.
A kitchenette is a half arsed kitchen, the runt of the culinary litter. Nobody aspires to a new kitchenette. Nobody has a dream kitchenette.
Kitchenettes are shit.
Shitette, even.
Something catches my eye.
It is a bag of meat.
A bag of meat, defrosting on a plate on top of the battered microwave oven. The bag of meat slowly leaks watery blood onto a cracked, white plate and it makes me feel very queasy.
It has finally happened.
Someone has brought raw meat in to work.
This is a new low.
“Animals,” I whisper, pressing myself back against the sink as the kettle bubbles and clicks. “Fucking animals.”
I turn away but suddenly Dimples is there, grinning up at me. She is very short and very fat. She is holding two Tupperware boxes. She giggles at me.
I flinch.
She says, “Were you just looking at my liver?”
With a feeling of horrible panic, my eyes are involuntarily dragged down to her groin. I say, “I… I can’t see your liver.”
Dimples looks mildly bewildered, then she giggles again. She squeezes her rotund form past me, her immense, sagging breasts squashing against my cock which shrivels away like a salted slug.
She says, “No, dafty pants, my liver. I got some liver but I forgot to get it out the freezer at home last night coz I’m having dinner at me mam’s tonight coz she’s been badly so I’m defrosting it now to have with onions an’ a bit of mash tonight. I’m on Slimming World.”
She picks up the dripping bag. She frowns, squeezing the contents, checking if it is defrosted yet. There are gold rings on all of her fat fingers and her nails are painted a monstrous red. They probe and squash the chunks of glistening raw liver inside the bag, the meat slithering as if it is attempting to evade her cruel grasp. Gripping and fondling, squeezing and squashing, bright red nails chasing dark red offal through bloody plastic.
My scrotum tightens, puckers.
Watery blood dribbles down her fingers and trickles amongst the shiny gold links of the watch that digs into the fat of her wrist. Absent mindedly she sucks some blood off her finger.
My mouth waters horribly. Acid rises in my throat.
I mumble, “Slimming World.”
She says, “Yeah, I got Slimming World tonight so I got to be good, just a bit o’ liver an’ onions an’ a bit o’ mash. We got a weigh-in tonight so I’ve to be good.”
I look at the Tupperware and I say, “What’s that lot?”
Dimples giggles coquettishly, her lower lip glistening with liver blood. “It’s what they got on at the canteen. Chinese chicken curry, half rice, half chips. Lovely. For afters it’s sticky toffee pudding an’ custard.”
I say, “I thought you were having liver?”
“That’s for before the weigh in, to set me on. This is for after. A treat. For being good.”
“So you’re having liver and onions and mash to set you on, before having Chinese chicken curry with chips and rice, followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard?”
She blinks. “Yeah, but I’m having that AFTER my weigh in, as a treat, so that’s ok.”
I say, “Right. How long you been doing Slimming World then?”
“Three years.”
I say, “Lost much weight?”
She says, “Cheeky bastard! I lost four pounds!”
“In three years?”
“Yeah, it comes and goes. It’s not easy, y’know.”
I reckon that she can easily lose four pounds in a single bowel movement. I don’t say that though.
I say, “ Four pounds. Well done. You can really tell.”
Dimples bats her eyelashes at me. “Ta Luci!”
She drops the liver back onto the plate with a wet splat. She bends over to put her Tupperware in the fridge, pointing her gigantic arse towards me. She is literally twice as wide as I am. I think she gives her arse a little wiggle, but I can’t be sure.
And suddenly, reluctantly, I imagine fucking her in a giant plate of raw liver. Slithering around, heaving her immense bulk into a more accessible position, hands slipping off her vast contours as the blood smears and the dark red meat squelches under my knees, slapping against that gigantic rump, the smell of meat and the smell of her, then sliding beneath her, sinking into liver as she lowers herself onto me, pressing down on me in a super heavyweight soixante-neuf, obliterating me with her gut and the guts…
As whisper, “Fucking animals…”
She says, “What’s that?”
And I say, “I didn’t used to like liver. When I was a kid my mum cooked liver and it turned into leather. It felt like clay in my mouth. There were tubes in it that my brother said were worms, worms burrowing into the cows liver, worms that were cooked alive, but later I learned they were great fat veins where the blood would go, dirty blood for the liver to clean. I only like liver when I cook it now, lambs liver patted in flour and salt and pepper, lightly fried, left to rest, then red wine splashed in the pan, stirred into the flour and the dark burned bits, cooking off the alcohol, making a sauce…”
! stumble away from the kitchenette, away from the immense woman with an open shocked mouth and her bag of raw meat. I stagger along the corridor, onto the fire escape.
The air is cooler here. I can see grass and sky through the large window pane.
I’m relieved to notice that I have no trace of an erection.
I decide to cook pasta for tea.
And drink a lot of mid-priced Pinot Grigio.

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Sound Guys & Sticky Carpets

The podcast is here!

Follow the link below to download and listen to our first podcast, and find out what the Hell this picture is about.

Hope you like it.


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We can’t all get down the pub, can we?

There’s always something that gets in the way – work, family, an inconvenient criminal conviction for dog-bothering.

So what’s the alternative?

Well, this weekend I’m starting a podcast with my mates, Sam and Andrew. We’re drinking beers in a Northern pub and discussing the kind of bollocks that blokes down the pub usually talk about. It’s only vaguely planned, but those plans go out of the window as we meander off the path to wherever the conversation goes. I’m happy to say that I’ve found a rare alchemy with these lads so it’s not just a rambling load of old bollocks – I listened back to the recordings and I’m pretty damned pleased with them. Let’s see what you think.

We will definitely be discussing books, music, creative influences and compromising sexual situations. We will be using words like fuck, cunt, bollocks and wank.

We will be getting fairly drunk, but don’t let that put you off – we have chip butties at half time to soak up the worst of it.

We’ll be on iTunes and Soundcloud, and we’ll try to have a feed on our upcoming website.

So look out on here and on Twitter – @generallucifer, @andomain, @cyclingtiger – and if you’re buying, mines a pint and a packet of pig nuts.


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