Fielding comebacks from Noel


“That’s a very Georgian beard,” a drunken artist said to me recently, and then when I looked like I might be about to thank him, he clarified; “That means weak.”

It’s a ruff not a beard, dumbass

I went away and thought about what I should have said. A few suggestions came to mind in the first 10 minutes:

“You, sir, are drunk and fat, and I shall be-” this is where I would falter and look at the floor – “weak bearded in the morning.”

No, Churchill couldn’t help me. What about:

“It’s not a beard, it’s pubes,” and as this sunk in, I’d add; “So, what you think is my body is actually my penis.”

That was too scary an image even for me. A month later, it came to me as I was having a shower:

“You, sir, have a Tudor physique.” And as he worked through his monarchical history, I’d save him the trouble: “That means morbidly obese.”

It’s so-so, I know. The best comeback I ever came back with was effectively handed to me on a plate. I’d bought some Prince-style high heel ankle boots from an ebay shop that catered to women with really big feet (men) and had just managed to make it to the bank machine in Spar before my night out.

“I like your shoes, mate,” came a voice from behind me and I turned to see a ten-headed man-pack. “My mum would like them,” Head No. 1 added, “I’ll give you her number.”

His face fell as he said the last bit, the words drifting over the cold tiled floor towards me like balloons towards a birthday boy.

“Thanks,” I said genuinely. “But I’ve already got it.”

Game Over. He didn’t even pretend he was going to beat me up, he/they just nodded and left.

All Hail the Winner!

Mostly though, while everybody else is on twitter-time, bouncing ideas around as fast as they can think them, I’m still posting my ideas by pigeon mail. Only the other day I was trying to sing a love song to Esther but I couldn’t remember the words:

Me: ♬ You’re the something something something of the something something, oh baby, oh baby… ♬

Esther: I like that, is it Steve Martin?

Me: No, it’s Stevie Wonder, I just can’t sing.

I’m well jel of the way stand up comedians can riff endlessly on the spot like action figures with longer than normal pull strings on their backs. Noel Fielding is a prime example. The other week I asked if I could interview Noel as he was passing through Sheffield on his solo tour. His PR asked me for my number and told me he’d be ringing me at midday on a Thursday for a 15 minute interview. Ringing me! Unfortunately, I had lots of students booked in that day, so I swiftly told them all to jog on so I could have a 2 hour gap just in case, you know, we became BFFs. Finally, at 5 minutes to 12, after having emptied my bowels and bought a cappuccino to sip as I was talking to him – no biggie my casual slurps would say – I received a text: ‘Really sorry but Noel has cancelled all interviews today’. Arsecockles! Three hours later, I got another text saying he could ring me at 6 if still convenient. Well, I’m still not going to say no, am I? The next half an hour was a frantic scrabble to keep up with someone who’s mind is a rhinestone-studded random idea generator, where every other line is a comeback to himself: Noel: Hello, is that Sheffield? Me: Hi Noel…I mean, is that London calling? Noel: (giggling) Yes, this is London calling.

Me: Do you mind if I record this? Noel: What, for training purposes?

Me: Ha, no I’m not a very fast writer…

Noel: Is it so you can touch yourself listening to me later?

Me: Haha, (silence as I actually consider it) erm, can I then?

Noel: Ooh I just dropped my contact lens and it killed a passing flying ant… Me: Oh (taking it half seriously) – you’d better pick it up. Noel: No, it was actually a bottle lid, it landed on a small boy’s face… Me: (Giggling) erm… I guess with celebs the smooth stone of their personas is created by the social encounters that flow over and round them every moment of their waking lives. I guess once you give up the idea that you’re ever going to be left alone, you can start having some fun… Or as Johnny Rotten put it when I asked if it was him:

It’s Farrrrrquharrrrr Farrrrrtybottom. I’m here, I’m ready, I’m free!

One day I’ll think of the perfect comebacks and I’ll ring the buggers up to tell them…

Me: You know that time you said that thing…

Them: No. Who are you?

Me: Well what you said was…Hello? Are you there? Come back, I know what to say now!

It seems I’m the Prince Regent of Comebacks.

So on second thoughts, I’ll take Tay’s advice and shake it off! 

James, Sharon and Taylor Too


Tuesday

Pal George, he of our regular man-dates, has got us all guest tickets to see his uncle, singer of 90s indie gods James. They are playing the Academy, supported by Echo & the Bunnymen, self-proclaimed Best Band in the World Ever.

When we get there at 8pm, they’ve already started.

“This is the best fucking song in the world,” slurs Ian McCulloch as the glissando first notes of The Killing Moon drizzle down our spines. The class of 1984 are here in force, filled out and worked over by time’s cruel bullying. But before we know it, the Echo has faded, leaving just some weird Kabbalah cursing in the toilets and a lake of tepid piss traversing the cubicles, looking for something 30 years too late.

James’ appearance on stage summons up unheard-of acts from men I would cross the street to avoid. In comparison, McCulloch’s lairy bravado was just a childish front, and now the soft underbelly of a thousand blokes can wobble in lovely sentimentality.

The only way I can see the stage is from the far corner of the balcony. Here, the floor shakes with drunken stomping, and tipsy men gyrate with 12 pint grins.

I eavesdrop a text convo between a fan and his absent wife (perks of being tall).

“Has he told you to sit down yet?”

“Nah. He’s played our album though, and some new ones what are good.”

Our album. Bless.

These hard men are united by soft anthems, as Tim Booth wiggles his metrosexual hips, a luminary in loon pants.

With Just Like Fred Astaire, (which he sang at George and Demi’s wedding), Tim walks among his people like Ben Kinglsey as Ghandi, a forest of arms sprout cameraphones along his path. He is their skinhead poet, their Singing Counsellor who listens while they softly weep of neglected boyhoods and the hard shell the world made them wear. This is Rimbaud, not Rambo, and the mad jesters of Madchester recite his poems with chest pounding love.

This is an armistice on machismo, a peace corp of men wearing flower t-shirts. Sit Down vs. The Killing Moon: I never thought such an anthem of domesticity and inaction would win devotion over such thrusting, masculine yearning, but tonight I glimpse my part in the phalanx of the phallus and it is just like everyone else’s.

“It’s weird”, Tim tells me afterwards, “but our fans are different everywhere we go. In Mexico, it’s teenagers; in Greece it’s 30 something women. And here it’s big blokes.”

As we leave, I make the mistake I always do, and try to pat Tim on the back and get some sort of friendly validation even we’ve only met once. He doesn’t turn round.

"When I open my eyes, I want you to be gone"

“When I open my eyes, I want you to be gone”

Wednesday

I’ve been referred to a Mindfulness course by my doctor. Mindfulness is like Buddhism, without the silly Buddha bit.

I manage to be 10 minutes late to the first one today.

There’s about eight of us here, and we all say our names, to ease the tension. It so happens that the two women either side of me are called Sharon. I can’t help myself.

“I’m in a Sharon sandwich!” I blurt out, leaning forward conspiratorially. Both Sharons stiffen in their seats.

Oh no.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, one of the women running the group forces out a chuckle and says,

“Ho Ho, well done!”

The Sharons start to relax again.

"Don't get fruity, Sharon."

“Don’t get fruity, Sharon.”

Thursday

I can’t stop thinking about a practical joke involving a rubber glove, with one finger smeared with Nutella. It would fall out of your victim’s bag at a crucial point, like an interview or first date.

They might lick it to prove it wasn’t poo, but that would be even worse.

"I always carry the essentials"

“I always carry the essentials”

Friday

Why do really camp men always look like their faces are in a wind tunnel?

Saturday

Summer is here. We’ve had 1.5 hours of sun and already the air is choked with BBQs, and a boy has cycled past me in a zebra onesie with a zebra face mask. He looked right at me, the face of something symbolic. No idea what.

"Look into my eyes. No around the eyes, into the eyes."

“Look into my eyes. No around the eyes, into the eyes.”

There’s a man in the pub. He’s so average. I wish I was average. He’s small, and cutely proportioned and he has a normal length neck. He is so healthy & taut that even the skin of his inner ear shines.

Monday

I’m off to interview funny Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams for Flux Magazine. His gallery are paying for me to go by train to his studio in Caernarvon. I’ve spent all week trying to come up with questions. I’m bricking it. I’ve tried to think of some really serious questions. And I’ve got my usual childish, inane ones that right now I am embarrassed of.

I have 20 minutes to get from one station to another in Warrington and I can’t resist going in a charity shop. Madonna is playing on the radio. I find a pair of big 70s sunglasses and try them on. About time for an Acid jazz revival, I tell myself. I get myself a red silk shirt too. When I get home later, I’ll realise that I was slightly delirious.

"Why ever not?"

“Why ever not?”

Bedwyr picks me up from Bangor station. Within seconds, I know the silly questions will work. He really reminds me of someone I used to know, but I can’t think who. Maybe this boy that we called Sexual Sam who played Thirteenth Floor Elevators on vinyl and I was sick in his garden after a bong.

Every so often as he’s driving, he turns to me with an impish Malcolm McDowell grin. We seem to get on pretty well. But then he tells me he’s already had people from The Times, Observer and Guardian to see him, with their witty anecdotes about famous people. All I have is a silly hat which I bought from Oxfam and now think was a bad idea. All the best material happens when we’re chatting on the way there and back- as soon as I turn on my Dictaphone, things go a bit stiff and formal.

But time flies and he drives me back to the station with only seconds to spare. “I’ll wait in case you miss the train,” he says, which means he gets to see my silly run where I have to pull my skinny jeans up every 3 steps of the way because my belt won’t work. Mine is the generation who can’t run anywhere.

Finally, on the train, I devour the pasta salad that I didn’t eat on the way in the hope that Bedwyr would feed me something interesting. I start reading the book of performance scripts that he gave me, and it makes me manically grin and choke on laughter, so I have to put it away. Still flush with the overfamiliarity of interview, I text him about laughing at his book, like he’s a drinking buddy.

He doesn’t reply.

Wednesday
The thought police have declared an armistice.

“Give up your most dangerous ideas,” they say, “and you’ll come to no harm.”

I can’t think of anything worth handing in.

Thursday
There’s a pair of gay ducks in the stream on my way to work. Sometimes a moorhen hangs out with them like a fag-hag.

I submitted a short story about Taylor Swift for discussion in my writing class tonight. It leads to the immortal line;

“You know the bit in your story that starts ‘She pushed me against the big tit…’?”

I may never beat this moment.

Friday
I’m so sick of walking Goldie in the park and hearing hundreds of birds who somehow manage to totter round the other side of branches when I look up. But I have a plan. If I can weaponize some rohypnol, I can fire a canister into the trees and take my time catching them in a net and ruffling their tummy feathers, before setting them back in their roosts.

I sit down on the grass for the first time this year, enjoying the sun
while Goldie eats grass like a sheep. I feel nostalgic, and remember when Russia used to be called CCCP. That was weird.

"Nyet! Not TCP, CCCP!"

“Nyet! Not TCP, CCCP!”

Identity Crisis #3,044


Sunday 27th

It’s the Great British Bird Count this weekend. Look out your window for an hour and write down all the species that you see.
I ring my grandad and tell him about it because he’s got so much wildlife it makes me weep.

“There’s only about 4 goldfinches that come now”, he tells me, “not the usual 10. And the long tailed tits are away at the moment.”

That only leaves the great tits, bluetits, greenfinches, jays, blackbirds and dunnocks then.

I sit at my study window for an hour. A crow flies over the house. Two pigeons flop into next door’s tree.

That’s it.

I’ve had it with birds.

Monday 28th

Lisa accidentally put her foot through the floorboard in her living room. She lowered a steel ruler into the gap, gasping as the inches mounted up. All in all, there’s a three foot cavity under there.

“Just the right size for a monster,” she shudders.
‘Especially a gnashing, slithering legless torso,’ I want to add, but she’d be back living in our dog bed if I did.

When I get there, her and Esther are using it as a wishing well, clamping their eyes shut as they toss pennies into the void.

Tuesday 29th

I’ve booked a Man-date with George in the Manhattan Coffee House on Ecclesall Road. Last week, I got a bit confused and poured milk in my peach tea and it curdled but I drank it anyway out of sheer embarrassment. I’m playing it safe this time and having a hot chocolate.

“Let’s go and watch a film soon,” George says, “The Showroom do a deal where you have a meal and a glass of wine for 2 and see a film for £20.” “Yes, lets,” I say, as we sit on out little table sharing a slice of cake and looking for all the world like we’re on a date.

"I'm man enough to say it. I love you, man"

“I’m man enough to say it. I love you, man”

About once a year, I have a funny turn and shave all my facial hair off. Without fail, every time I do, I go into mild shock.
Today, after my man-date, it’s time to do it again. Loads of men are clean shaven, I tell myself, why not me?
For 2 seconds after I’ve done it, I seem to look ok. But then the realization dawns, that it is very far from ok and I have to go on a mirror tour of the house to confirm it. Dear God, I am a freak.

Wednesday 30th

I’m going through the stages of grief about my beard. Unfortunately, there’s no denying it, so I crack on with anger and resentment and self pity.

I start a manifesto about The Tyranny of Beards.

“For too long it has been them wearing us,” I write, “Once established, like parasites they erase all memory of the naked face. They demand absolute obedience and are only banished on pain of losing your very self.”

Thursday 31st

I’ve realized that the only way to make my mouth look normal is to keep it moving. I’m chain-chewing gum and licking my lips a lot.

I bump into an exam invigilator at work. He tells me the latest craze among students is to write answers on the food they’re allowed to take into the exam and then eat the evidence before they get caught. As we chat, I over-exaggerate my mouth movements a bit to much when I speak, so he makes his excuses and leaves.

Alrighty then.

Friday 1st Feb

It’s my day off. I’m having a lovely lie in, but there’s a knock at the door, so I leap out of bed and pull my trousers on. For some reason I have taken to wearing a dingy white vest that my mum bought me when I was a teenager. It’s not a good look.
It’s the gas inspector man, who no-one told us was coming. The house is a tip. There’s half eaten food on the table, and as he walks in, I notice my glittery 80s bellboy outfit (seemed like a good buy at the time), lying next to the washing machine waiting to be washed.
I figure the best thing to do is leave him to do his thing, so I go upstairs in houseshame (the opp of housepride). As I get back in bed, I tell Esther about the mess.

‘At least the living room is clean and normal,’ I say.
We both sit bolt upright;
“Oh Christ, the Christmas tree!”

It’s Feb the 1st and there’s a ginormous tree in there still.
I start to laugh hysterically while Esther hisses at me to be quiet.
The gas man shouts up to me so I go downstairs.

“I’m working from home today,” I tell him, trying to explain why I’m here and that I’m not a lazy student.

Then I notice the photos of me on the wall from my feminist performance artist phase. There’s a naked one of me as Marilyn Monroe’s centrefold, and lots of me in wigs and makeup. Working from home takes on a different hue.

I decide to change tack. Suddenly, an idea comes to me, how to make the weirdness into a positive experience.
“I don’t spose you get rid of Christmas tress do you?”

He looks blankly at me. It’s a bad idea.
“Funny you should say that,” he adds, “my mate does. Leave it outside and I’ll get him to take it.”
Result! I manhandle it through the door, but it gets hooked on the kitchen doorframe and he has to help me, “to me,” “to you,” we go until finally it’s out.

I’m normal goddammit!

IMG_5806

IMG_5803

IMG_5805

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad…what was I saying?


"Baybee, let's make love conceptuallee"

“Baybee, let’s make love conceptuallee…”

Dream:
It’s Christmas Day and a black and white TOTP from 1964 is on TV. Jack Duckworth from Corrie is singing “Baby, Baby” and almost crying. Everyone laughs at how shit it is, but I want to cry because behind him on the studio wall there’s a banner that says “Feminist Deconstruction” and I realize with a jolt that he means what he’s crooning.

Wed 8th

It’s important before you do something exciting and important not to make yourself nervous by acting out of the blue. So, just before I get on the train I get Esther to cut all my hair off.

I’m coming down for my ex-housemate’s first solo art show- BLUE PLAGUE (named after the Tory lurgey we’ve all been infected with).  WestLane South gallery is a renovated shop, replete with artists, poets and jolly artisans. Like the only child I am, I expect Lisa to entertain me and pamper me. When she dares to socialise with other people, I stand in the corner, trying not to look anyone in the eye lest they think I have a problem with social interaction.

Godiva, my sister from a different blister, is out tonight. We hug and gabble about stuff and follow the art crowd to the local pub (there’s a curfew on the gallery as there’s an old lady living upstairs). There’s some kind of war of wills going on between the eccentrics- one is staring and batting his eyelashes aggressively at another who’s saying “fuck off, stop it,” which just makes him flirt viciously at him even more.

"You WILL fancy me!"

“You WILL fancy me!”

On our way home, I run into a shopping centre in Stratford in search of a toilet- what I find is an ecosystem of incongruous subcultures, living peacefully side by side. There are gorgeous graceful black kids rollerskating backwards past benches overflowing with alcoholics, and odd conceptual artpieces lurking between them- whole tribes of office chairs lashed together.

In the middle of the night, I steal into Godiva’s kitchen for a glass of water, and terrify her boyf, Joe. He’s sat in his boxers, holding a a glass full of ice cubes and closing his eyes. As he opens his eyes, he sees my nighttime face looming over him and spasms in terror, his ice cubes leaping into the air.

Thurs 9th
I’ve been drinking too much tea because every time I buy a pint I try and blow it to cool it down.
I’m definitely in London. I know this because of the scary man on the next table who’s angry with me for sitting down.

“Fackin’ cahnt! Why can’t he fackin’ cahnt sit over there?”

My neck has gone rigid with fear. At least that means I can’t accidentally turn and catch his eye. Thankfully, his topic of conversation moves on to more abstract victims.

“Fackin’ Claire Balding. What a fackin’ ugly cahnt. Must be a fackin’ dyke, no cahnt that ugly can get a man!”

Fri 10th

Lisa: “Something weird has been happening. Whenever I look at the digibox, the light changes colour. Even if I wake up in the middle of the night, it flashes from green to red. It knows that I’m going mad.”

Sat 11th
I’m reading The Comforters by Muriel Spark. There’s a woman in it who can hear the narrator speaking her thoughts. It’s a man’s voice.
If I could choose, who would I have as the voice in my head?
I wouldn’t go for the obvious ones like David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman. They are too authoritative. I need a ditherer.

I think I’ll choose David Bellamy, the sadly neglected plant pariah.

Mon 14th
Esther is out for drinks with Lisa. This means there is no one to slap my hand and change channels when I put Paranormal Witness on. Within a minute, the flesh on my scalp is starting to crawl with terror. Please god, someone turn over! But no one’s there.
It’s about a family who move into a house where there’s a strange set of doors halfway up the cellar wall. Behind them there’s an unlit room filled with earth.
I want my mummy.
At night, something comes from there and pushes the mother down into her mattress so she can’t scream. I’m petrified.

“PLEASE STOP ME WATCHING PARANORMAL WITNESS” I text Esther.

“DON’T BE SUCH A BIG BABY” she replies.

Finally the adverts come on, and I am released. I ring my mummy and put Golden Globes on in the background. It’s good to hear her voice. Before long though I become fatally distracted by Jodie Foster’s rambling speech. It’s so confusing and sounds so momentous I switch off from my mum’s voice and try and follow it, but I can’t.
I love Jodie Foster, she’s more of a man than I’ll ever be.
I want to cry, even though I don’t get what she’s going on about.
I always want to cry.

I try to go to sleep, but there’s a draught that feels like an icy finger pointing at the peak of my forehead. Every way I turn, it’s still there.

When Esther gets back, I tell her about the ghost that lives in the dark earthy room.
“You mean one like that half room full of rubble in our cellar!?” Esther says.
Christ, I forget that we have one too!

Suddenly there’s phonecall. It’s Lisa.

“I’m really scared because I can smell nail polish really strong,” she says.
“It’s probably just some glue Dom was using to make guitars,” reassures Esther.
“No, it’s overpowering, I can’t stay here!”
“In the olden days, having a really strong smell of nail polish was a sign of madness,” says Esther.
What? Oh God no!” Lisa is panicking. “Please can I come and sleep in the dog bed in your room?”

Within ten minutes, the room is full of me, Esther, and Linda on the bed, and Goldie and Devo flanking Lisa on the dog bed.

It’s an hour till I have to get up for work.

smelly smell

Tues 15th
Through the window at work I keep seeing a van marked “SHEFFIELD MOBILE CCTV UNIT” passing by in hot pursuit of something. Isn’t that just like someone running along with a big camcorder?

Wed 16th
There’s been a helicopter crash in London, but all I notice is the reporter saying;

“Many people dispersed to nearby coffee shops. They were in shock.”

I imagine them all sitting along the window tables, mochas trembling in their hands.

Every 3rd person I see on the street these days is carrying a hot bevvy. Someone should design gloves with a coffee cup already sewn in…

Thurs 17th
First day of snow. The world is a tabula rasa, and yet the only things someone has been brave enough to write are:

“CAR”

and underneath it, as if getting ever more daring;

“YOLO”

on a car windscreen.
Is this the start of the great ideas drought of 2013?

Fri 18th
Lisa has started saying ‘the’ whenever she gets a bad thought. She’s chosen this word as it has no emotional content.
‘the’ she says, while we have a cup of tea, ‘the. the, the.’

Dream:
I’m in a retirement home where all Carry On fans get sent. All the Carry On stars end up here as well, but for them it’s a living hell because every time there’s a birthday they have to act out a scene from their movies.

"Carry On Carrying On...FOR EVER!"

“Carry On Carrying On…FOR EVER!”

Funny Business


Social Experiment #1: Brainwash Esther

Is it social if it’s just one person? Anyway, something my dad says has always stuck with me. Whenever he turns a light on or opens the curtains at home, he says

“Let’s get some light on the subject,”

as if he’s a coroner bending over a cadaver or the Queen blinding one of her citizens with interrogative torchlight.

Hypothesis: If I say this phrase over and over again, Esther will start saying it.

Method: For about a year, everytime I open our attic Velux blinds, I say with a flourish, “let’s get some light on the subject.” Since we have two blinds, I usually wake her up by pinging back the first one, and then as she’s reeling from the shock, I intone the motto to drive home the message.

Finally, one glorious day came about two months ago when not only did she do the blind opening ceremony herself, but she uttered the immortal words unprompted. Then I grinned too long, and she realised she had been tricked into it and stomped off downstairs to get breakfast (another small victory).

Now I have her so well trained that I only have to start it off, and she’ll complete the sentence, before cursing loudly.

“let’s get some light on the world”

Social Experiment #2: Me v Compere 

My ex-art school buddy Dave Green is now a stand-up comedian. We are the class of 07: a few of us have gone on to have glittering art careers, while most have ended up serving coffee or beer to people with glittering art careers.

Dave has done his time as one of the latter group, passing posh beverages to the likes of Stewart Lee & Tjinder Singh from Cornershop (I’m pretty starstruck at that one). Dave has a special talent for channelling social awkwardness into excruciating art or video that makes you cringe and laugh at the same time. He always was a funny guy and for the past 18 months he’s been trying to make a career out of it.

I went to see Dave on Thursday for my first ever comedy gig. By the time I got there, the compere had already singled out our group as feckless bourgeois types, nicknaming us the Art Movement and accusing friend Dane of being stoned. So, I was ripe for ribbing when I arrived a little late with my neoliberal arabian scarf & ironic bovver boy boots.

Compere “Are you an artist too?”

Me “Yes” (thinking, ‘I’m a writer but I’ll just go with it’), before adding “A piss artist.”

Compere “I make the fucking jokes, alright? What do you think of the Turner Prize?”

Now he’s got me. I have no idea who’s in it this year.

Me “I haven’t been nominated, so I don’t care”.

Compere “You’re a right lot of Yoko Onos aren’t you?”.

Crowd guffaws.

Compere “What kind of art do you do? Do you paint?”

I feel a compulsion to correct my earlier statement about being an artist not a writer, so I say-

Me “I lie-“.

But instead of the crucial next bit “-d about being an artist,” I leave it at that.

Confused but hearty laughter, as if a roomful of assumptions were being confirmed.

Compere “Bloody hell, you’re not making this easy are you? Let me introduce the next act…”

Had I won? Or had I merely accepted the part he offered me? Who knows. Whatever the case, it was awkward.

“Or do I?”

When Dave finally came on, he did us arty farties proud, combining pyschoanalysis and religion and sex jokes with a surreal deadpan.

“I’ve got tinnitus. The ringing in my ears isn’t so bad but the voices in my head keep harmonising with it”

Afterwards, over a pint in the Broadfield, Dave tells me about his phobia of sitting facing people on trains. On the way up from London he’d chosen a table seat and then been too scared to move when it filled up around him. His main problem is what to do once you’ve accidentally caught someone’s eye: how can you go back to not looking at them again…

He’s made a film about it:

The following day he left for his train home and I got this text:

“I’m sitting opposite someone”

A neurotic and a socialphobe go on holiday…Boom Boom!


A neurotic and a socialphobe go on holiday. Sounds like a joke doesn’t it? Well, that’s my life. Last week we went on a boating holiday to the Norfolk Broads. Seven days in Merlin, a boat six paces long and three wide.

My fear of boredom has led me to pack 2 novels, a puzzle book and a trashy magazine. In the first book I’m reading, the neurotic young protagonist has a mantra that he repeats every night before he goes to sleep:

Who are you? I am Jean-Baptiste Baratte
Where are you from? From Belleme in Normandy.
What are you? An engineer, trained at the Ecole des Ponts.

These simple questions seem to define our holiday. But as we chug along in our old boat I find that every time I ask the first question, the answer keeps changing.

Who are you? I am not a parent.

We are both at that age where we’re no longer young and not yet middle aged. Things haven’t happened the way they do for other people. If I was my dad, I’d have a 4 year old child by now.

As we sit eating our pub meal at some godforsaken hamlet, we muse about our barren lives.

Esther: I can’t stop thinking that everyone who passes us on the river says to themselves “why haven’t they got kids?”
We watch a group of children running around the beer garden.
Esther: They look innocent, but I can see some bullying already.
A little longhaired boy has had his little longhaired doll confiscated by a bigger girl. She runs past shrieking like a banshee. When she sees that I am watching, she gives me a knowing grin and shrieks even louder.
It’s as if she is acting the role of child…

“The child is father to the man”

Who are you? I am a big kid.

While waiting for the boatman on our first day, I balance a pinecone on the mooring post.

“Stop it!” hisses Esther, “He’ll know you’ve been messing around!”
Just then, the old chap comes round the corner. He drones on about the rules & regs and then leans forward to unhitch us.
Esther looks round at me with wide eyes and a twitching mouth.
The pinecone topples to the floor and I have to force down a guffaw.
He looks round, catches my Cheshire grin and says,
“You thought I’d knock that off didn’t you!” with the gleaming eyes of a teacher deciding whether to bollock you.

Busted! And like a little boy I go on grinning as he asks Esther if she’s sailed boats before.
“Yeah, lots of times,” she lies, glancing conspiratorially in my direction.
“Ok then, take us out!” he says.
Her taut face tells me all I need to know. Miraculously, she squeezes us out into the river and chugs along nicely.
“Very good,” says the man, “we’ve had some terrible sailors before. One guy went pale as a sheet and froze, driving it headlong into the bank…”
He gets her to turn around and head back to the jetty.

“Now do a stern mooring”
Her face says ‘eh?’ and her mouth says “Erm…Is stern the back or the front?”
“The back”
“Oh”, she says, recovering composure, “I’ve always moored at the front before”.

Like the novice before her, her knuckles show up white against the quaint wooden wheel.

“I know how to do a vertical mooring”

Who are you? Mentally unstable?

Dispensing with the usual boardgames, Esther & I decide to play Mental Illness Oneupmanship. It’ll end in tears.

Me: Maybe you should stop catastrophizing?
Her: Only if you stop negatively reviewing
Checkmate.

Her (coming back into the cabin): Where are my sunglasses? I’ve had to wear yours.
Me: On your head.
Her: (Lowers her voice) What? You mean I’ve just been outside with two pairs of sunglasses on? Oh no! (In a sudden loud voice) Don’t be silly, I don’t need yours as well!

A little later:
Her: Argh! (as boat zigzags wildy across the river)
Me: What’s the matter?!
Her: H-h-heron! (points with a shaky finger at a big bird on the bank).

Esther’s catchphrase of the holiday: ‘Is that a police boat behind us?’

Me: You’re the only female captain I’ve seen all week. I think you’re a feminist icon for all the teenage girls we see with their families.

Her: No, they just think ‘I’m glad I don’t look like an old woman in a crappy old boat’.

Teenage Girl: “Is she saying summat about Jodie Marsh?”

Top 5 Boat names:

  1. Special Lady II (when one special lady just isn’t enough).
  2. Sailbad the Sinner (Best pun on the Broads)
  3. Swan Raider (Esther ‘I just don’t understand it’)
  4. Strip Too (Really?)
  5. Alibi IV 2 (The Krays’ old boat)

Who are you? I am a man

Like the world over, the men at the Norfolk bar we have moored at for the night are deep in conversation about birds.

Man 1: I hear you’ve had some problems down your end.
Man 2: Eh?
Man 1: Them pink-footed geese have been at it again?
Man 2: Nah, you’ve got it wrong, it’s the greylags that do it…

We take Goldie for a walk to Somerleyton Hall. After a 30 minute trek, we find out they have a strict no dog policy. As we walk away, I have a benny.

Me (stomping my feet): I want to be part of the landed gentry!
Esther walks on.
Me (loudly): When I’m rich, I’m going to buy this fucking–
Esther interjects: Oh no, don’t start!
Me (reassuring): Don’t worry I’m not testosteroned up, I’m only joking…
A few seconds later
Me (loudly): I’ll find out where you live and I’ll—
Esther: Err, NO!
A few seconds later.
Me: When I’m an international bestseller I’ll buy this place and use it as…as…as a potty!!
Esther: Please be quiet! What’s wrong with you?
Me (calming down and quoting Michael Palin): Oh no, my problem! I must have fruit!

Who are you? I am a dreamer

Reality is never enough no. 1:
Every person on every boat we pass insists on waving. It’s most disarming. Then a big guy with grizzled beard and tied back hair goes past, staring at us and not waving.

Psycho, Esther says.
He’s not waving because he’s got hooks for hands, I say.

Esther visibly shudders and tells me off.

Reality is never enough no. 2:
I stare out of the window at the other boats going past.

Me: What if you saw a face in the window of a boat that was so strange you just had to discount it had ever existed?
Esther: Please don’t, I don’t want to.

Reality is never enough no. 3:

Me: OMG is that building a weird shrine? Look at all those big pictures of people’s heads.
Esther: It’s a hairdressers (*facepalm*)

This was actually a real shrine we found, seemingly for abandoned toys. They were strung up like infidels. We didn’t stop here.

Who are you? A boatman

It hasn’t taken us long to fall into a routine. Each time we reach a jetty, Esther will bark orders like:

Front rope first!
Stop me from hitting that boat!
Quick, we’re floating away!

Usually we’ll clunk the side of some pleasureboat, so Esther will lock herself in the cabin and push me out to apologize…Luckily for me, boatmen are calm folk so after an obligatory chat about the river I was allowed to return and coax Esther onto dry land.

So, to recap, a neurotic and a social phobe went on holiday…and all they got was this lousy blog.

‘If I have one complaint,’ I say as we hand the boat back at the end of the week, ‘I’d say it’s not tall enough.’
‘That’s coz I built it in 1974,’ he says, standing up to full height, all 4 feet 10 of it.

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.”