Spain: Gay clones, rubbish graffiti, and a ‘private’ pool

Day 1

We touchdown in thick drizzly clouds. My iPhone told us it would be a sunny 24°C here. My iPhone lied.
The stag party in front rises in pitch.

“Whose idea was Barcelona?” one stag crows. “Fucking chump!”

Spain smells of sickly sweet granny talcum powder mixed with strawberries & cream boiled sweets.

There’s lots of cute lost in translation graffiti saying things like “SPERM” and “mixed media.” The clouds start to clear, and there are parakeets. And palm trees. And youths with mullets. The food shops are called SUPERMEERCAT (well, almost) and the announcements on the Metro sample Electricity by OMD. I’m starting to like this place.

We’re renting a private villa with a swimming pool, so Esther can hide from the world in style and minimal clothes.
We’ve been contacting our villa’s owner via email.

“Check in is from 6-7pm. Ring my son Sergio from airport if you want,” he’d written, “he speaks good English.”

Me: “Shall I ring Sergio?”
Esther: “No, he’ll be there at the villa at 6, he’s expecting us.”
Me: “Are you sure we shouldn’t ring him?”
Esther: “Yes.”

We get a train to Sitges, the nearest town to the villa. The entire population is made up of gay clones with big beards and shaved heads.

Coincidentally, I have exactly the same hairstyle.

“Where are all the fem gays?” I think aloud. I’m getting dizzy from all the testosterone in the air. It’s all bears. And no goldilocks.

There’s a man wearing a t-shirt that says “Bear Construction” on it.
Another man has a picture of one on his.

We have a coke on the strand and watch the waxed abs of the sea and the endless hairy abs of the bromancing bears in the briefest briefs I’ve ever seen.

“It must feel nice for you here,” says Esther, “being fancied.”
“Maybe. Is it a relief for you,” I say, “not being stared at.”
“I guess so. It’s like I’m invisible. I imagine if we were here for a while I’d start to feel really ugly.”
Truth be told, I feel like a minibar in a room full of fridge-freezers.

"You there!"

“You there!”

We watch a younger Spanish man with an umbrella. He starts chatting to a big hairy man who could eat him up. The big man laughs and pats his shoulder, squeezing lingeringly. It’s like watching a lion toying with a hyena. They walk on a bit before the big man heads off in a different direction.
The umbrella man walks back and loiters against the sea wall.
Two older, chunkier men stop near him and he starts chatting to them.

“I think he’s a rent boy,” Esther says.
“How much for a threesome?” I voiceover.
Another couple joins the convo.
“How much for a fivesome?”
They laugh and then move on.
“Too much.”

“I wonder if the umbrella is gay code for ‘For Sale’?” muses Esther, “Oh look, this guy has got an umbrella and a jumper over his shoulders. I wonder what that means.”
“He wears a condom?” I say.

About 5.30pm, we get a cab to the villa which takes us up and up through the hills, past desert scrubland and coniferous sprawls and mini chateaus and crumbling postcard farmhouses in 80s Ralph Lauren colours.
It costs €27.

We’re getting a bus back.

As we’re early, we sit with our food shopping and rucksacks at the end of the road and wait.

“Do we look normal?” Esther says.
“I don’t know.” I say. “I never know.”
Bang on 6pm, we go and ring the bell.
No one comes.
We wait.

The beer I had in town is making me dance.
“I have to wee,” I say.
“Hold it in,” hisses Esther, looking at the villas around us, “please.”
“I can’t. I’m going to go up that hill.”
“Well, be quick.”
I walk until I think I’m out of sight. But I can still hear Esther’s stern voice.
“Hurry. I don’t want you pissing against a tree to be the first thing they see!”
My wee seems to go on forever, but finally, I run back down.
We wait.

Neither of our phones work here.
It starts to dawn on me what’s happening.
I’m going to have to go knocking on villa doors.

“Go and knock on all the doors,” orders Esther.
She watches me disappear up the road.

Dogs are going mental in every garden.
I choose a house where kids are running around outside.
When I ring, three tiny children open the gate with their huge guard dog.
They talk fast Spanish at me.

“Habla Inglais?” I ask.
They look at each other.
“Where are your parents?” I ask.
They babble at me cutely.
“Father and mother,” I say, raising my palms, “mama and papa?”
“Mami et papi?” says the boy.
“Yes, mami et papi,” I say, “can you get them?”
I point at the house and then at me.
The little girl twirls her fingers in the guard dog’s hair and stares blankly. The dog starts to lick my fingers.
“I’m sorry,” I say, walking away, “I don’t know how to say goodbye.”

They chatter to each other, staring after me down the road.
“I think there’s a phone up the road,” Esther says, “I saw it on Google StreetView.”
She’s been virtually up and down these roads for weeks in preparation for the holiday.
So we walk in single file up the tiny hard shoulder because there are no pavements anywhere.
There isn’t a phone, just lots of unfinished concrete and breezeblocks and signs with the Olympic symbol on.
There are acres of vineyards and white pine forests, and the few villas are all new-build holiday homes with interiors that look like kitsch pre-industrial cottages.

I read later that the Olympics were in Barcelona in 1993. I guess everything around here was built in a hurry for that, and the builders left in a hurry when the money and tourists sloped off.

Eventually, I ring the children’s doorbell again, planning to mime a phone and say “mami et papi” until they go and get them.
A woman’s voice comes over the intercom. I think it’s a video one, and as I try to talk into it, I imagine my shaved head and wispy beard looming on the monitor.

“Hola?” she says warily.
“Hola…habla Inglais?”
“Non,” she says definitively.
“Erm, telefono por favor?”
Silence. “…Una momenta.”
There’s a heated discussion behind the gate, then a chavvy man answers in a vest.
“Hola,” I say, trying to smile innocently, doing the phones4U sign, “telefono por favor?”
I show him the email from the man, pointing at the No Signal sign on my stupid phone.
“Una momenta,” he says, closing the door and restarting the heated debate in loud whispers.
Thankfully, he reappears and keys the number into his phone.

5 minutes later, Sergio is here.
10 minute later, we’re alone in our new house.
It’s massive, with 7 bedrooms, all of which are locked apart from ours.
There’s a pool out the back, and a chicken coop, and a spiral staircase, and a vegetable patch full of massive green tomatoes.

On the first night, we get massacred by tiny mosquitoes with stripy legs.
Esther spends the first of many nights scratching meatily at her calves and moaning.

Day 2

After running around the place like fools, discovering the pool is freezing cold, looking in cupboards and drawers (especially the ones with a big sign on that says “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THIS”), we have a 2 hour-long brunch on the wicker chairs overlooking our olive tree grove, before going for an afternoon nap. A siesta.

“Have you realised how my daily routine is perfect for this country,” says Esther.

I’m snoring away when I hear something heavy hit the pillow.
My eyes flicker open to see that something scuttling past my head.
Before I know it, I’m out of bed and across the room, back against the wall.
I appear to be moaning.
“It’s only my hand, silly!” says Esther giggling, “I was just trying to pull the duvet up over you. Sorry.”
I look around the room suspiciously.
“Are you sure it’s not a tarantula?”
“No, it was my hand.”
I come back to the bed and check under the pillows.
“It was my hand!”
I still don’t trust her, so I get up and go for a walk.

There are no pavements anywhere. I walk up a bank and into a field of lush crops. Massive butterflies lurch up from baked mud in every direction. I give up trying to chase and photograph them, and cut through the woods.
The only things that grow here are sinister succulents with evil leaves as high as horses and as tough as fascist epaulettes. Soon I’m surrounded by scratchy, vicious plants. I’m in my shorts.
I want to be back at the villa, not tearing my shins through bush bullies.

I make it back to the road and try to find a short cut.
The only people I see are a woman in her 50s wearing a shocking pink trackie top under a Hoxton facelift, talking to a small chubby boy. It sounds like she’s either interrogating or propositioning him.
They stop and stare, slack-jawed.
I prepare to say “Hola,” in a friendly, probably camp way.
They turn their backs on me, so I keep walking.

"Offensive pastry"

“Offensive pastry”

Back at the villa, I play with the massive TV.
There are over 2000 TV channels.
The only English one shows back-to-back Friends.
The rest are German.
There’s one with German girls singing folk songs to boys on horses.
There’s one with a dirty old man in a flat cap shouting at the camera as topless girls primp and pose behind him.
I watch Twilight in German for a while. What an unsexy language it is. If only Bieber and One Direction were German, they never would have made it over the border.

Later, I rescue a big grasshopper out of the pool and in return she lets me photograph her. She knows how to work it.

Esther spends half an hour lowering herself into the water.

“Oops, I’ve done a wee,” she says halfway through. She hasn’t even got her bottom fully under yet.
This is why I hate sharing her bath water. She usually only tells she had an accident in it afterwards, with a cute grin and a little “Oops, I forgot.”

When she’s fully in the pool, she screams.
“What are those?!”
There are 2 water boatmen swimming around in there. I don’t know how the hell they got in there, seeing as they can’t fly.
“They’re coming for me!” she yelps.
“Don’t be silly, they just want to be your friends.”
“No! Get them away from me!”
I watch and laugh.

Day 3

Sitges again.

We go on the beach, where there are no less than 4 topless women and the rest have string bikinis. This isn’t even the nudist beach. All the men are topless too; tanned, and hairy.
I suddenly realise how Celtish we are. Pink, with belly tyres and no muscle definition.
After a few minutes, Esther gets grumpy.
“I’m going over there!” she says, stomping off towards the road. “I want to go back to the villa, I hate people.”

Back at the villa, Esther watches my attempts to swim.
“Is it imperative that you spit while you do it?”
“Yes, if I don’t want to drown. Why don’t you teach me how to do the breast stroke?”
She shows me. It’s not what I meant.

“Oh I get it,” she says after several more attempts, “swimming requires co-ordination. That’s why you can’t do it.”

As I doggy-paddle up and down, I realize that men spend their adult lives finding someone with the right voice for their conscience.
So now, as I go about my daily business, Esther’s voice keeps up a helpful and authoritative narrative that stops me from feeling too lonely or too carefree.
‘No!” it says, “think what’s likely.”
[It’s only recently that I realized there is philosophical precedent to Esther’s catchphrase: Occam’s Razor holds that the most probably explanation is usually the correct one. I’m not going to tell her, it’ll only go to her head.]

Later, I find a dead water boatman in the chlorine filter.
“There were 2 in the pool,” I say, wringing my hands, “Where’s the other one? Have I killed its partner?”
“Don’t be so silly,” says Esther. “Name me one insect that mates for life.”
I can’t.

I think of spiders, though they’re not insects, then I remember that the females eat the males after sex.

It’s always the case that the things you hate the most are most like you.

After ten minutes of searching, I realise there are actually 4 water boatmen in the pool. Thank fuck for that- the other one was just a gooseberry.

There are 4 eggs in the chicken coop. The chickens are staring at me, so for something to say, I show them what’s in my hands and say “thank you.” But then I think I was rubbing it in their faces that I stole their babies.
“Well, they shouldn’t have let them go cold,” I think to myself. I don’t feel any better.

Day 4

It’s hot and Esther is snoozing, so I decide to have a naked swim. I look all around, checking for telephoto lenses or giggling children, then whip off my jean shorts and boxers.

As soon as I hit the water, my penis and balls shrivel, like a timelapse shot of how a grape becomes a raisin.
Oh well, no-one’s looking.

I do a few lengths before I hear a loud noise, and look up to see all the shutters shoot up on the one villa that overlooks us, the villa which is only half built.

"Don't look, it's pointing at us!"

“Don’t look, it’s pointing at us!”

It must be the estate agents showing people round.

Shit shit shit.

I tread water in the deep end, trying to pretend I haven’t noticed.
Then a woman comes out into the garden talking on her phone.
I start to get annoyed.

It’s a private pool – I can swim naked if I want.

I look down at my child’s penis.

I do my version of the breaststroke for a few lengths, making sure that I turn with my bits concealed, belly down.
After 4 or 5 lengths, I’m knackered and starting to get hungry.

Dammit, I want to get out.
There’s only one thing for it.
I manhandle my bits until it’s an acceptable size, but then it keeps on growing, so I have to flounder around in the cold water till it goes down again. It’s so cold that it starts to shrivel instantly.

I heave myself up the ladder and into the sunlight, imagining that I’m Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
I walk leisurely over to the decking area and slowly put on my shorts as if they’re an afterthought.

Ridgmont High

Day 5

I go for another walk while Esther lazes in her airless mosquito-proofed room (towel rolled up as draught excluder; windows shut tight). I pass a gang of local teenagers in a beer garden. All the boys have shaved temples and a longer Mohawky bit on top, with a curly rat’s tail at the back. Proper trailer trash.
They make funny noises when I walk past, so I grit my teeth, that thing handsome men do in films that makes their jaw muscles stick out, but in my face only produces a kind of sunken slump.

Unlike the nice, innocent graff of Sitges and Barcelona, I’m starting to see anarchist As and swastikas around here, on the semi-rural unfinished surfaces.

"Death Fucking Master!"

“Does it say ‘I love tourists?'”

According to Google, this one says either:
“Death fucking master”
“Fucking loved to death”
”To death male prostitute loved”

I’m going for the second one, it sounds quite sweet.

Everywhere is so dry, all the riverbeds are barren and it’s making me thirsty. I can’t stop thinking about getting a cold coke from the trailer trash bar. I wonder if the mullets are anarchists or Nazis, and which one is least scary.
I give in and walk back to the bar.

As I’m walking away guzzling the ice cold brown poison, I realise with acute embarrassment that I’m wearing a vintage “Enjoy Coca Cola” t shirt.
I must look like a rubbish walking advert.

"Enjoy Coca-Cola"

“Enjoy Coca-Cola”

After afternoon tea of white chocolate-dipped Orios, we watch The Purge. It gets my dander right up.

“Torture ‘em,” I scream, “feed them their own ears and such!”

Esther remains impassive. She knows not to indulge my adrenaline fantasies. And she saw me cry when I accidentally killed a mosquito last night.
Adrenaline and testosterone are such afflictions. It takes ages to calm down after seeing men hit men on TV.
I keep getting the desire to watch Jason Statham movies end to end. It always goes away when I start watching one.

Day 6

While we wait for the rickety minibus to Sitges again, two police cars screech up next to us. A man and a woman get out of the closest one. He ignores us, but the woman says “bon dia.”
She has blonde hair plaited at the back and is very imposing.
“She’s impressive,” Esther says, “blonde and handsome.”

They stand at the junction and stop every black car that drives past, with a harsh whistle and authoritative hand gesture.
Esther & I cower by the wall, feeling like we’re in the middle of some sting operation and a mistimed smile could get us arrested.

Finally, the ‘Plana’ minibus arrives.
“Quesilla dos billete a Sitges” I say in a rubbish accent. I’ve been rehearsing that the whole time we were waiting. The busdriver grunts and I just say “Sitges” until he agrees.

We look a right pair. Esther has to hold her period-swollen boobs while I cushion my cake-filled moobs as we lurch over endless speed bumps and up and down hills.

Luckily, it seems that only old women and young girls use public transport in Spain.

I read in my Lonely Planet guide that most Spanish housewives are on the dole. And that Spain has the lowest fertility rate of any country in the world. There’s something weird going on here.

Sitges is snided with chunky clones again. Some are so tanned they’re nearly black.

We see a gay guy on his own, wearing a t-shirt with moths on. The kind I would wear.
“An MIT gay,” Esther says, “poor thing.”
We watch his lonely trawl along the strand for while and wander off. There’s one vintage shop in Sitges, and we spend about an hour in there trawling through stuff.
We end up spending about €40 in there. As we leave, I try to sound more Spanish by lisping.
“Grathee,” I lisp, “muthas grathee”. It feels very weird to deliberately do what I’m scared of doing accidentally.

Today’s matinee is Lars and the Real Girl. I take great pleasure in seeing The Gos looking frumpy.



“He’s always smirking,” says Esther, “it’s really annoying.”
I also realize that Talking Heads are the best band that has ever lived. What a noughties think to think.

When Esther opens the door to the outside toilet, a gecko scuttles from behind a plantpot and hides under the hose pipe holder. I spend half an hour trying to shove my phone up there to take flash photos (nothing shows up on them), and banging it with the pool skimmer to make it run out. Nothing works. I end up believing it was never there in the first place.

“Wildlife is just too wild,” I moan, “I’m fed up of trying to see birds who don’t want to be looked at, and trying to catch butterflies that don’t want to be touched. I’ve had it with nature. The mofos can come to me from now on.”

Our evening film is Branded.
The actor’s face makes my jaw ache. I’ve only ever had this before with Rooney Mara. So attractive it hurts.
His deep black rock pools for eyes. His ability to grow a thick beard overnight.
I can’t bear the idea of Esther drinking him up with her eyes, those bumps and caverns in his bone structure where desire lurks like lizards.

“He makes my face ache,” I admit to her, “he’s too good looking.”
“Yuck,” says Esther, “he looks like a skeleton.”
“B-but his cheeks…”
“Sunken like a skull. Disgusting.”
Well alrighty then.

"Meet my brother, he's older and fatter"

“Meet my brother, he’s older and fatter”

While Esther goes out for a fag, I turn the overhead fan on full, trying to recreate that scene in Apocalypse Now.
I find that if I flick my eyes quickly from right to left, I can momentarily pick out an individual blade from the blur as it passes by. Of course as soon as I realize this, it becomes almost impossible.
I try whipping my whole head round to see if that’s better but it only makes me sick, so I try imagining I am a paraplegic and can only move my eyes. They roll around like marbles in a plughole and start to ache.
My whole body has gone rigid with effort. This isn’t making me relaxed and ready for bed at all.
At this point, I notice a spider, which was once over Esther’s side of the bed, now over mine.

“Keep to your own side, fucker,” I snarl, hiding my terror. It doesn’t.
Esther comes back and sees me staring up.
“If you don’t stop looking at it, I’ll turn the light out and then you won’t know when it’s coming for you.”
“But I read that they climb down in the night and drink from the dribble at the side of your mouth,” I say in rising pitch.
“In that case it will already have done that every night this week, so get used to it.”
I lie in the dark, waiting.

Day 7. Last day.

Esther: “I dreamt I took the police exam and failed, and then I cried and said, “I’m mentally ill, you have to let me take it again.” And then I failed again.”

Then she says those three little words. The ones that fill me with terror.
“Let’s make lists.”

“Come on,” she adds, “it’s what helps ill brains.”
My brain isn’t ill, it’s normal. Mental illness is a normal response to the world.
“I keep thinking how if I fast forward a week,” I tell her, “it will be me sat somewhere else; then another week, me sat another place, and so on, forever.”
“Healthy brains don’t think like that, “ she says, “they just get on with it.”
“I wish I could infect healthy people with my worry,” I say, “see how they like it.”

We get presents for the folks. I get a wind up donkey that hops with its back legs. It’s for my parents.
When we get back to the villa, we wind it up. When I look up, Esther has a funny expression. Oh no, I recognize it.
“I really want it,” she says in her baby voice, “please, we can get your parents something else…”
There’s no point arguing.
“You bugger,” I say, “What the hell am I going to get them now?”
“We’ll find something,” she says, winding it up again, that look passing over her face like a butterfly of innocence. “I’m going to call it lavabo.”

It’s Catalan for washbasin.


On the plane back, there are two girls behind us are saying Jimmy Carr things but without any irony, like:

“I’d love to sleep in a shack.” And

“I love monsoon floods, they’re so refreshing.”


The Duty Free trolley is selling a perfume called Urban Decay.
What’s going on?
This ranks along with The Health & Postcode Lotteries as something life-sapping and depressing made into something money-sapping and depressing.
Someone is having a cosmic joke. Well, I want in.

Here’s what my perfume is going to be called: Slum Smells for Infidels.

"Still Live with Horse"

“Still Live with Horse”

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!




That Joke Just Isn’t Funny Anymore

Mon 21st

Lisa is embarrassed because she got a bit angry with time and screamed:


Then she remembered she had neighbours.

I keep cringing because when I tried to interview one of the artists for my BANK article, I pulled out my toothbrush instead of my pen. And it was covered in fluff from my bag.

The cringes get so bad sometimes that I have to wriggle in my seat to make them go away.


Tues 22nd

Couldn’t sleep last night, kept thinking about buttered toast. Finally got up about 2am and made Tesco Butter Me Upped toast. It was rubbish.

I feel like a meerkat on high alert today. Interestingly, meercats didn’t exist before 1994. David Attenborough made them out of fluff he found in his pocket.

Bullsh” is my newly coined swearword. It’s more expressive than the American “bull!” and allows you more of a frisson with the naughty word on the end.

Wed 23rd

Had a sex dream (a ‘seam’? A ‘drex’?) about my ex girlf. Now I can’t stop thinking about how to express it algebraically.

I’ve got it:


Esther is still asleep as I get ready for work.

“Why does your mouth sound funny?” she slurs as I eat breakfast.
“Alpen,” I say.

Idea: There should be a rap band called The P’d O’s, with members dressed like Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter and Justin Bieber.

Thurs 24th

I’m at the busstop. There’s a girl with studs on her Ugg boots (ugh), and studs on her hoody, and studs all over the shoulder of her jacket. It’s like she stood too long under a tree full of metal birds.

Dreamt that all the hipsters were buying East 17 gatefold LPs and I was well jel because now I would be forced to not like them anymore in the face of much cooler people soaking up all their likeability.

Fell asleep flossing while watching Cabaret.

"Dog food totin' SEX cap boastin' proto-hipster-chav"

“Dog food totin’ SEX cap boastin’ proto-hipster-chav”

Fri 25th

Just watched the first episode of Girls. Esther was not impressed: “It’s not a thriller, it’s not funny, and it’s trying hard to be cool.”

Rare Person Sighting: A man walking along with his hands clasped behind his back. Bless.

Sat 26th

Esther: “I was dreaming that the future belonged to Andrex, and they were knocking down all the houses and killing all the people that weren’t pretty enough.”

Esther is very resourceful. At least once a week, I find her buffing her teeth with a filter tip. She also uses it to correct her mascara.
She’s like an urban Ray Mears.

"The future is soft, strong and very long"

“The future is soft, strong and very long”

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…”

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.


“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:


and underneath it, as if getting ever more daring;


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.’

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!”

“Du bist a fungi”

A young professional couple have just moved in next to Lisa. The noises that emanate through the rustic walls sound very functional, she says, even when she holds a glass to it. The same can’t be said for us. Today we were having a pot of tea, all civilised like, and we got to throwing pidgin-German insults at each other.

“Ich liebe dich!” I crow, and snigger like a red-faced urchin.

“Du hat eine kleine, kleine penis!” shouts Esther, “Du hast kleine boobies!”

(Putting on her best thesp bawl) “Du hast eine grosse VAG!”

“SHHHH!!!” hisses Lisa, her face pinkening like an ominous October sunset.

“Du bist…Macauley Culkin!” I join in, immune to Lisa’s cringing, “Wo bist meine Bjork elpee?”

“Das ist nicht…(then in RP English) going to happen!”

Esther titters.

“Ich…tick tick tick, the bomb ticking down,” I have my hand aloft like I’m Hamlet, enunciating every syllable, drunk on my own genius.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” screams Lisa, slapping my cheek so it matches hers.

“You silly bally fool boy,” adds Esther, using the abuse my Grandad used to have hurled at him from a Scottish secondary school teacher.

We go back to sipping tea.

Presently, it’s time to walk the hounds. When we get to the park, I realise we’ve missed the annual Mushroom and Toadstool Guided Walk and I’m overcome with regret. I used to have a mushroom city, down a valley at the end of my primary school playing ground. I had it, that is, until I told a ‘friend’ about it and returned one tragic day to find each one stomped into smithereens by zealous feet.

Anyway, now I keep my shroom love to myself. I can see signs of the Walk; there’s a tree with white stickers on it saying things like “honey shoelace fungus,” and “unidentified”. My favourite kinds are everywhere: white headed Ink Caps. They look like Terry Nutkins (RIP) rising from the peat.

I bend down and poke one with a stalk of grass. It wiggles its head appreciatively like an Indian dancer.

Everything is alright with the world.

“Front view”

“Back view”

A little while later, we walk past a freshly dug mound of peaty Earth.

“God, I’d love to roll on that,” I say dreamily, “wouldn’t you?”

“No!” says Esther.

I look at Lisa.

“Erm…maybe…” she says uncertainly.


“My Great Great Great Grandad, Lindow Man”

Could my life be any more glamorous?


A good writer always carries a notebook. Other writer like me are forced to improvise. I use the Notes app on my iPhone. However, the big round button that does everything on my iPhone only works one in every twenty presses, so I have to stick my ideas wherever I can when I get them. Recently, I have been writing them in the place that I use the most: Text Message boxes under random people’s names. And then I forget about them.

And what do you think happens next?

Here’s one I sent to my Doctor’s surgery:

“The rapid prototyping of identity is often arrested in early stages.”

To a female friend,

“My pendulous sweetmeats.”

And to our landlord:

“The awfulness of someone else’s suffering.”

So far, no-one has texted back.


Esther’s cousin Britney came to stay last week. Esther has been turning her phone off to avoid having to talk to her grandmother, who’s just got the internet (she described receiving an email as “she put her computer inside my computer”).  As a result, Esther didn’t know Britney was coming and spent the morning pulverising every spot on her face.

“It was the worst I’d ever seen it,” described Britney when I saw her after work, “like she’d poured acid over her head. When I came upstairs and found her sat in bed she said;

“Look what I’ve done to my face! And there’s a poo rolled up in a blanket downstairs…””

This was a dog poo I’d discovered just before I left for work, having already trodden it up the stairs in my socks. As always, I was running late so Esther promised to take care of it. Britney arrived about 3 hours later, by which time Esther had got as far as wrapping it up in the blanket it was on and forgetting about it.


We’ve just finished watching both series of Game of Thrones and half of the new True Blood on our laptop. Esther saves time by fast forwarding through the opening credits. All day I’ve had the speeded up theme tunes running through my head, like the incidental music to head injuries in cartoons.


One of my students missed his appointment today. I have worked with him for over a year, but when he finally turned up 2 hours later he knocked on my door looking like he’s never seen me before, and said,

“Hello, I’m looking for someone called Vienna.”

Me: (applying logic) “Do you mean me?”

Student: (his expression softening) “Yes, that’s right.”

And then he hops into the seat next to me as if he always knew who I was.


Last time long haired brunette Lisa was left alone all evening, she decided to copy the hairstyle of a small boy she’d seen earlier that day on her road. He had a blonde mullet.

“Wot yew fokkin luken at?”

Today, she started to draw on her face to see what black hair would look like. She kept one half of her face as it was, and on the other side gave herself a fringe, and dark eyebrows and eye makeup. Then, she thought she may as well see if she suited being black skinned too and coloured in the rest of her face.

At this point, Alfie knocked at the door and she had to turn the lights & TV off till he went away again. I imagine she looked like a negative Phantom of the Opera skulking in the shadows.

“Listen, I’ve told you I’m not going to turn around”

“Well at least I know I don’t suit being black,” she says.


Last night we had a mini house party. When I retrieved my laptop from the living room this morning, I find the following two Google searches open:

cricket man walks in waz


hotels in kazakhstan

I have some strange friends.

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”

Love is…

In the three weeks since I last posted, I have mainly been whoring myself out on Twitter and writing gig reviews. I did a Grimes one which I hoped she would see and cry herself to sleep about not agreeing to give me an interview, and I’ve just written one for the amazing L’Amour Des Reves, which will be published somewhere sometime soon.

What I’m trying to say is “I’m not workshy,” as my BFF Jaime used to bleat when he worked on a building site and the rugged menfolk tittered at his art school physique.

“I’m no weed, my work can lift the spirit of mankind”

I’ve just been on the daily dog walk. I seem to have lost about a stone in the past 3 months with our Thirds Diet, a lack of belly which made itself known suddenly and traumatically when my trousers started to plummet to the ground. Just as I made it to the main road, my belt gave way and whereas usually my baggy 90s jeans would be lodged on the muffin top they embrace, they now went into freefall. Picture me, each hand being tugged akimbo by a straining dog, hands desperately fumbling to get my buckle safely in its hole as families walk towards me, their faces turning from concern to fear to disgust.

Finally, I managed to get off the street and down to the park where I could manhandle myself unseen. As Gary Numan knew, down in the park you’re just another weirdo.


The dog walk is always a fraught affair. Yesterday, it was taking its usual mundane course until:

Lisa: Oh God, what’s wrong with everyone? Why are they all pretending?

Me: Who?

Lisa: Everyone. They’re all in on it!

Me: On what?

Lisa: They’re all dressed up as humans, but everyone knows they’re not. I want to scream.

Luckily we get to the end of the park and manage to bundle Lisa home where she could rock in the corner of her room while the light faded.

Behind closed doors, we can all be each other’s weirdos. It’s a sign of affection I think to sit next to each other muttering in our own private funnyfarms. Love is…a low security asylum. 

The longer a couple is together, the less veiled the insults and threats become. It’s quite sweet really. Love is…a killer diss.

“Mummy, are we in the matrix?”

Esther: Aww, look at those cows. The baby’s saying “get up mummy, I want to go for a walk.”

Me: Or that’s its fat lazy girlfriend…?

Esther blinks: Or the girlfriend is the little one and she’s broken the fat boyfriend’s legs.

Me (scared, so changing the subject): Which boy in American Pie would you rather be?

Her: The homophobic surfer dude

Me: Me too

So, to sum up, love is…agreeing where it matters.

Life’s a game of three thirds…


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.”


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.
“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.




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.


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.”


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.


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.


“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.”

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.
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.