Wonderful, Wonderful!


George’s Stag Do, Saturday 23rd

10:00

Kung Fu is driving me, Esther and Lisa to B&Q to fetch some pebbles for Lisa’s newly denuded back garden (aka Devo’s shit’n’go). We have spent the week crippling ourselves by digging up the turf and dumping it behind her outhouse so Devo can no longer use the back garden as his personal cesspit (correction: so he can use it as his personal cesspit, but so the cess doesn’t cling obstinately to unruly grass stalks and freakishly giant weeds).

As I daydream away, Lisa and Esther heave sacks of rock onto the trolley, like a post-feminist poster. The composition is ruined by Esther spitting;

“Why don’t you help instead of standing there, you lily livered girl!”

I’ve always wished that I had a trigger word to turn me into a man, like Marty McFly and his ‘chicken’-related freakouts. After today, it seems that ‘lily livered’ works pretty well.
Before I know what I’m doing, I’m slinging sacks of rocks around like a past-it Desperate Dan.

“Don’t break them, you idiot,” says Esther as I hurl them into the trolley.
“Put them in properly,” says Kung Fu, who never, ever, tells anyone what to do.

I don’t mind admitting I was scared, and I began rearrange the sacks, my red cheeks lighting my progress like mood-indicating LEDs set to ‘schadenfreude.’

“Whoopsy, I did a boo-boo!”

12:00

Met Harvey and his Japanese wife Eiko at Sheffield train station.

They have had to fly the 9,650 miles (fact!) from Singapore to Bradford to get a Pakistani visa, in his ‘country of origin’. On first glance, I thought Harvey was even more full of himself than usual; second glance told me it was merely his white afro, grown to four times the usual size.

This is the man who customarily told me to “sort yourself out,” when my first pubic attempts at a wayward teenage hairstyle got beyond the regulated ‘no. 3 all over’.

Ha, how the mighty have fallen. And how silky their curls are.

“You don’t have to have big hair to be a scientist, but it helps!”

We take brunch at Millennium Gallery, as a squadron of cadets and their officers march past.

“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” I deadpan, “we turned into a police state while you were away. Sorry.”

I like the way that sounds. I bet it’s really cool and sexy having all your civil liberties disavowed.

“I went on a school trip to the DMZ,” said Eiko, unfazed, “my friend fell over and when she looked up, a whole North Korean regiment had their assault rifles trained on her.”
I have nothing to compete with this. I consider saying that I threw half a snowball onto the roof of an unoccupied police car when I was 13. No, that won’t cut it.

I remember the burning question that I wanted to ask Harvey at 3am on some insomniac night months ago.
“You know how you came to the UK when you were 11, but we weren’t friends until we were 15, who was your BFF before me?”
“Mark Dour” he says, naming an odd semi-midget who had the unfortunate quality of being instantly forgettable.

“Aha!” I say, with the glee of someone who’s just found out that their lover’s exes are all dweebs.

“Anyone else?”

“Well after him, I didn’t have any friends for a year.”

My glee turns to concern. Not for Harvey, mind: nobody wants to hear that their partner/BFF was undateable now do they?

Harvey and Eiko are travelling from the sublime to the ridiculous, aka Tokyo to Swansea (via Asia, Europe and South America). Harvey has been applying to do a PhD in something theoretical and poncey, and Swansea is the only place that’ll have him (“we’re not travelling to the US,” Harvey says, “coz they rejected me…”).

“The interview went really well,” he tells me, “and after a tour of the university, one of the professors took me aside.

‘You know what,’ he whispered, taking in the theoretical physics department in one gesture, ‘I don’t believe any of this nonsense!’

17:00 to Buddha-knows-when

Zeugma: ‘a figure of speech in which two or more parts of a sentence are joined with a single common verb or noun.’

In Zeugma’s restaurant, London Road, I am a figure of fun corralled between two or more manly dads.

It’s time for my regular social experiment: passing as a man. I pull my shirtsleeves down over my girly bracelets and lower my voice.

To the right of me is Demi’s dad, Paul, a skinhead scouser with a soft underbelly. Sitting across the table is George’s dad, looking like a jolly, gelled mafiosa. His catchphrase of “wonderful, wonderful,” (with the emphasis on the ‘wonder’) regularly punctuates the alcoholic fug throughout the night.

We are swapping stories of money and what it does to people.

George’s dad, Tony, has the rich baritone of a self-made man.

He tells us he was holidaying near San Marino in a hotel ‘full of stunningly beautiful Russian girls who refused to smile.’

They were the children of oiligarchs, bred with no manners, ‘pushing past me on the ladder up to the diving board,’ and generally being well-dressed arseholes.

“It’s sham capitalism,” I say, warming up. Tony’s eyes say ‘I’m listening’, but I haven’t thought what to say next.
“Erm, Communism failed and now there’s money floating about. No-one knows what to do with it coz they’ve never had it, so the mafia came and took over.” I think that makes sense.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.

A minute later, listeners are whisked away to a Peugeot car dealer in Liverpool, who Tony says inherited a dealership from a man with connections with local warlords.

The previous owner used to leave a car parked on the forecourt with keys in the ignition. In the morning, it would always be back there, traces of blood and black market stains removed. The new dealer refused to carry on this habit, and had 4 cars smashed up; the police told him to put the car back on the forecourt…

That’s nothing, Demi’s dad Paul says, I was asked for protection money from a child in a multistory carpark.

‘Gimme a tenner and I’ll look after your car,’ the boy says.
‘S’alright, I’ve got a Rottweiler in the back,’ I tell him.
‘But can it put out a fire?’ the scrote says, eyes twinkling. I gave him a tenner for the cheek.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.

“How are you doing, stuck in the corner?” George asks when we meet in the toilets.
“Fine,” I say, quite pleased with my manly performance.
“I told Paul that one of my cousins here was gay,” he tells me, “and he leans forward and says ‘Is it ‘im?’ pointing in your direction.”
Bollocks.

Oh well, at least I can get drunk. In the Riverside, I bump into Tony in the toilets and ask if he’s merry yet.
Inexorably,” he replies and I give my jackal’s laugh, echoing off the porcelain. I bet if I ask him in another hour or so, he’ll say “Indubitably,” or some such Wodehousian alliteration. Tony’s sidekick is Alan, an old friend. He has the elastic face of a joker and together they giggle and ogle like a pair of twentysomethings.

We move on to Harlequins, a pub mislaid somewhere round the corner from the Riverside.

Mancunian Del and me are charged with dragging George, the paralytic stag, there. We take our eyes off him for a second, and he is suddenly riding a bike. Chained 3 feet off the floor on a fence. He does a wheelie and nearly cracks his head open.

“Come on,” we say, and drag him across the dual carriageway.
“I think it’s down here,” I say and we wander down a dark street. After a minute, George snorts in disgust,
“You don’t know where you’re fucking going,” he shouts, “I’m going back to the pub” and he legs it into the darkness.

My confusion is confounded by the sudden voice of God.
GO AWAY! YOU’RE DRUNK!” God says, with the disappointed nasal authority of a train announcement.
“What the fuck is that?” Del whimpers.
GET OUT OF THE ROAD!” the voice demands, and I try to locate the source.
Halfway up a dark block of flats, the blue death-glow of a huge flatscreen TV flickers in the gloom of an unlit room, casting shadows into the street. It stands to reason that the anally retentive voice of God could boom from the low rent recesses of a Sheffield hovel.
GO AWAY, YOU’RE DRUNK! GO AWAY…NOW!!!”

This is too much.
We get the hell out of the road and the neighbourhood (and that’s a Zeugma…).

“PUT THE LIGHT DOWN AND GO AWAY!”

Harlequins is where the night starts to blur for me. At one point, Alan starts flicking the thick head of a pint of stout onto the even thicker head of a local, and I flee outside. Alan is just cheeky enough to point to me if the bruiser asked who did it…

In the cooling air of a Kelham Island backstreet, Tony tells me he used to live near here with the baby George, and the whump of the forges used to make it impossible to open the windows in summer.
“That’s the sound that industrial bands like Cabaret Voltaire tried to emulate,” I tell him.
“Oh, very good” he says, memory fusing with retrospective knowledge, “Wonderful, wonderful.”

If only everyone I spoke to thought the same.

As the booze bodycount rises, the group is stripped down to a hard core of 5 or so. Back at George’s American Psycho apartment, we chatter into the night like 33rpm girls .

Ah, this is it, true friendship; the sort that can outlast a million drunken megalomaniac impulses. In the words of Michael Jackson, with friends like these

“It don’t matter if you’re black or white,

Or a lily livered boy of questionable sexuality.”

Life’s a game of three thirds…


Mon

Lisa smokes like a cooling tower. She’s convinced this wont be a problem in our utopian future. Do as much damage as you want and just replace the parts.

“I want a lung transplant, but I don’t want them to be too big,” she frets, “I’m already bloated enough.”

Tues

Lisa is coming to stay for the night while Dom is away.

“Shall we have a pamper session and get loads of chocolate?” I say with sheer abandon, clasping my sticky palms together in supplication to the God of feminine delights.

Esther looks me up & down, stony faced.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Nothing.”
“Don’t I look normal?”

I was sure I was incognito as a normal bloke today. I was sure I’d got away with it this time.

“Normal. For an 80 year old man playing golf,” she qualifies, surveying my loafers, argyle socks, beige chinos, baby blue Harrington jacket and skipper’s cap.

Oh.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZXI9RJSgok]

Wed

Staggering back on the wrong side of town from a night out, Esther spots a tube of lippy and grabs it.
“That probably belongs to a prozzy,” I caution.
“Nah, it’s too expensive to be a whore’s,” she reasons, smearing it round her mouth.

Thurs

A moth bullied Linda tonight. She was flat out on the bed in front of our giant prehistoric TV and it came hurtling at her, mistaking her glowing white belly for an obese light.

She twitched with annoyance when it impacted, half-heartedly shooing it away with a turgid paw. After a while of relentless buffeting, she took herself downstairs.

“No way am I watching The Mothman Prophesies.”

Fri

I’d quite like to get a tattoo. They seem like a good way of hiding puny white arms under a mask of rebellious alpha masculinity. Better than relying on speech, which I would probably get wrong:

‘I’m a naughty boy, sorry I mean a bad boy’.

Instead, a tattoo would proclaim;

I eat pain for elevenses.

Speaking of elevenses, Esther has formulated a diet for us. It’s called The Thirds Diet and it means that between us we only eat one portion of any given meal; I have two thirds and she has one.

A sample day in our diet:

Breakfast: One mini chocolate brioche for me, a half for her.
Elevenses: Most of a yogurt for me, scrapings for her.
Lunch: Two thirds of a bacon sarnie for me, crust & rind for her.
Afternoon Tea: Three pieces of cherry & chilli choc for me, one for her
Tea: One ready meal unequally divided into two.
Pudding: An almond Magnum: she gets the frozen top first; I get the half melted bottom.

Sat

My exp-pat cockney pal Alfie is accompanying me round the university degree show. We go to see one of my student’s work. Liz is very blonde and has combined wedding photographs with Photoshop unicorns and rainbows.

Alfie is good in these situs, swapping his barrow-boy patois for bourgeois dinnertable talk in a heartbeat.

“I like these. They’re very, dare I say, kitsch,” he says to Liz with a smile.
She’s not going to understand that. I want to nudge him and whisper ‘She doesn’t know anything.’
“Th-Thanks,” she says, trying to gauge if it’s a compliment or not.
“Yes, reminds me of Jeff Koons,” he adds thoughtfully.
Her face goes blank.
“They’re good” he translates.
I steer him away before she overheats.

My parents got me this. They assure me that fans thought Liberace was straight. ikr!

Alfie has got me a ticket to see the fashion degree catwalk show. He says he got it especially for me, but I know he offered it first to a girl and she said no.

As soon as we arrive, he transforms into a full-on diva. The seats are nearly full.
“We’re going to sit at the fucking front,” he decides, “we’re fucking VIPs!”
The front seats all have names on which aren’t ours.
“I’m having a fucking drink!” he strops.
“The drinks are only being served after the show,” an usher explains.
Alfie goes straight up to the bar and yanks two free from under the protective covering.
“We’re fucking VIPs” he explains.

The show is the best student one I’ve seen. A monster comes on at first with ten-foot arms and legs, glaring at the crowd. Then ten-foot tall amazons stride up and down parading their freakishly proportioned bodies. My god, what’s wrong with them? They’re not hunched over or sagging in the middle. Freaks.

At the afterparty, I have one of those moments. I’m introduced to one of the models and I look up at her.
Surely by now I will know how to speak to women? There will be no unattainables any more- adulthood is place of accepting our common humanity etc?

“Wow,” I murmur in an awed child’s voice. I’m not going to say what I think I am am I-
“You’re really tall,” I murmur as I gaze up, stupefied at her (and at me).
She looks over my head and walks away.

A little while later, our friend High Bri comes over. He passes the model and is a good 2 inches shorter.

“Ha, that girl is even taller than you,“ Dom says with Record Breakers glee.

“No she fucking isn’t,” says Bri, going back over and straining to show that he is, in fact, marginally higher.

“I win,” he shouts in a voice unintentionally like golem.

Life would seem to be about small victories played out on the epic battlefield of human activity. There is no ultimate victory, only desperate deeds done in semi darkness, with the vague hope that you’ll have time to eat your pot noodle or have an orgasm before the next blow falls.
Or something.

Sun

“I want hot dogs for lunch today. What’s a portion?” I ask Esther.

She raises her eyebrow. Of course, how could I have been so insubordinate?

“I’ll decide,” she says in a no-messing tone before adding, “Jah will provide. And decide.”

I’ve never realised how must Esther sounds like a rasta…

“I googled ‘sad rasta’ and found NOTHING. I give you this instead: a rasta dictator, aka Esther.”

Minaj a trois? Nah, folie a deux.


Mon

Rudely woken up by Goldie donkey-kicking me in the morning glory.

It’s a day for making plans. Lisa’s given up on the Dukan diet and got a new one-

“I wont eat anything after 8pm” she tells us. “And I’ve got an idea. It’s like Indecent Proposal. But it’s about houses.”
We wait.
“Well, it’s not like Indecent Proposal…I want to offer Florence and Aiden a houseswap.”
“Oh yes?”
“Yeah, they can have my crappy house and I’ll have their lovely flat.”

“The answer’s no!”

Tues

Esther and Lisa are going misty eyed about afternoon snoozes that lasted forever and didn’t cause an evening of self-recrimination.

“Oh, the golden days when we used to turn on Murder, She Wrote and settle down for a snooze. There’d be a whole uninterrupted hour with no adverts to wake us up…”

“But then CBBC would come on!” interjects Lisa, her reverie clouded over with trauma.

“Oh God!” says Esther, her eyes wide, before making a series of loud farting and screeching noises.

After a moment, I realize that she’s imitating the sounds of CBBC.
They shudder involuntarily.

“It’s coming…!”

Lisa: “I was watching a video by that Men-ag-é woman [Nicki Minaj]. She sings a bit, then there’s a bit that goes “d-d-duh d-d-duh” and makes you feel really dark inside.”

Wed

Apparently everyone has a good side. But that means…

“Have I got a bad side, darling?”
“God yes!”

What’s that supposed to mean?!

Thurs

“Where’s the book I’m reading?” I ask vaguely, hunting in the piles of stuff littering my side of the bed.
“Don’t know” says Esther, eyes glued to the TV.
After another ten minutes of my rustling in the undergrowth, she tuts and hands it to me.
“How come you’ve got it?!” I demand.
“Dunno,” says shrugs, but I’m not buying it.
“Go on tell me…”
“Erm,” she bats her eyelids, “I’m fed up of you ignoring me and just reading your bloody books. So when you’re not looking, I shove them down the back of the bed…”
“You little tike!” I shout, before burying my head in the book.
Esther glares, but I’m gone, deep into word-land. I resolve to push the bed flush to the wall next time she goes downstairs.

Fri

At work, I overhear a tragicomic careers interview between an annoyingly posh adviser and a common-as-muck student.
“Have you applied for any jobs recently?”
“Err, well a bit like”
“Oh, and did you get any useful feedback?”
“Only from like KFC…”
“Oh. (Pause). Ok, and what did they say?”
“Just that like, us application was unsuccessful coz us wont what they were lookin’ for.”
“Oh.”

Oh indeed. There really is nothing to say if you are rejected by KFC.

“Graveyard of chickens. And dreams.”

Sat

Me: “How did you get on with your 8pm diet?”
Lisa: “Well it turned into an 8.30pm diet coz Dom didn’t get back till 7.55pm and I was like, “Right that’s it, I can’t eat tea.” But he said “No I’ll put it in now…Make it a half eight diet…” and then I thought ‘I’ve got a cornetto left; I’ll start the diet tomorrow’.”

Esther heard someone smashing a TV that had been left on the pavement, and spied a builder wielding a sledgehammer against the back of the monitor, then reaching in and yanking out the brain (cathode ray) and spinal cord (transformer). He held them aloft like a trophy, then shoved then in a bin and walked off.

“I wonder if he leaps out of his van whenever he sees a TV and dishes out his vigilante justice…?” she muses.

I think ‘There should be a reality TV series called From Ladettes to Luddites’. But I don’t say it coz it’s not funny. (It’s punny).

Sun

“I had a dream about those men with bulls, what are they called…maskadors?”
Titter. “No, Lisa, matadors.”
“Oh yeah. And then I killed your pregnant girlfriend” she sings to Dom.
“What?!” he sputters.
“In my dream. Sorry.”
He scans the room. “You people are fucking weird!”
“I did tell you in the middle of the night…but you were asleep. Will you do some digging in the garden with me?”
“I’ve got to practice.”
“You could pretend you’re burying my body?”
He perks up.
“Nah, I’d cremate ya.” He says, “feed you to the pigs…”
“I wish I was gay,” says Esther, non sequitur-esque. “Then maybe I’d be taken seriously like a man. And I wouldn’t have to change my sexuality.”
“I wish I was a woman,” says Lisa.

“Picasso & Friend: the original Maskadors”

Don’t mention the war!


To celebrate his four score and ten years (and counting), we organized a get together for my last remaining Grandad.

I never remember if he was in the airforce or the navy. Turns out it was both. He was in the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), the airforce branch of the Royal Navy. Confused.com.
To cover my balding patch, and as a wink to my aged ancestor’s past, I wore a Sea Captain’s cap from our East Anglian boating hol.
“You outrank me!” said Grandad in his FAA blazer, and I was going to make a joke about out-camping him too but then I remembered the £90 notes Esther had made for the occasion, superimposing his cheeky face over the Queen’s, her coiffeur and crown peeking out at the top.

There were 80 guests: cousins he’d not seen for 40 years, secretaries who’d worked for him 30 years ago, a 20-piece brass band and one single, room-filling, Phoenix Nights style throwback DJ.

It seems Political Correctness was the only person not invited.

The DJ jokes about “the Jew’s table!” who haven’t paid up, and Mum orders Dad to go and have a word with him, giving him chance to escape the clutches of his brothers who have pummelled him with questions (he usually manages to avoid all contact).

Other highlights include my gay Verger Godfather coming onto me:

Him “I used to be able to lift you up, now look at the size of you!”
Me “Shall I pick you up?”
Him “Chance would be a fine thing!”

For the rest of the evening, he came over periodically to take my photograph under some pretense or other.
“You’ve got a lovely smile” he’d say, and snap away.
When it came time for the 400th family photo, he elbowed Esther out of the way with the line

“You’ve been replaced by a younger model!” (he’s nearly twice her age).

It must have taken a herculean effort to plan and choreograph the party. Guests had been summoned from far afield and from the dim and distant past, and a brass band, my g’dad’s favourite musical tipple, arrives halfway through to play.

“Are you enjoying the band?” I ask him.
“One of them’s out of tune” is all he says.

Grandad has laid out photographs of his youth and young manhood on a table for the purple rinses to reminisce. You never get to see your Grandparents as peers, but there he is, instantly identifiable in each photo by his grin, like a provincial Frank Sinatra. After the performance, a trombonist comes over and points to a photo.

“Ooh I remember him!” she says with animation, pointing at a photo.

I look at which family member she’s aiming at.

It’s Hitler on the front of a wartime newspaper.

“My parents used to hide me under the table so he couldn’t get me” she explains, as if he were the family dog.

I imagined the air raid siren going off and her parents whispering “quick he’s coming!” and this frightened girl with a quivering kiss curl listening from her table fortress for the sound of a mustached murderer creeping past the window.

“I know where you live”

During the national anthem (yes really), Esther’s irreverent balloon-waving causes an old chap on the table opposite to point and sternly act out a more jingoistic effort. The enthusiastic demands this approved arm-waving required cause her elbows to flick out, knocking her half a lager & lime over the table of relics (the photographic ones, not the guests). A rescue party is sent out, and after frantic swabbing, the photos are rescued.

Finally, it’s time to get a lift with gay godfather back to Grandad’s house. “Ooh, lovely” G’dad exclaims as Esther helps him out of the car, and she thinks, I’m not doing much, before looking down and realizing he can see right down her top.

Happy Birthday indeed.