Tuesday, 30 October 2012
As it is the Halloween, the time of year when people hollow out vegetables to look scary and kids walk the streets dressed as Spiderman begging for sweets, I have decided to share this spooky but true story with you.
Back when I was 16 years old I had a friend who lived on the other side of the valley to myself. To get to his house involved a three mile walk dropping down into the valley floor then climbing the steep hill on the other side. It was worth the effort because he had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and his dad had a full sized snooker table.
The bottom of the valley was a landfill site, a rubbish dump that had been buried and a football pitch placed on top. As the rotting, buried rubbish broke down it released gas and steam which would drift spectrally from any holes it could find in the valley side.
One evening my friends and I were leaving his house and walking down the cobbled path that led under a disused railway viaduct and down the wooded side of the valley. I had drunk a couple of cups of tea while there and suddenly had the urge to pee. It was dark and the only street light was on the other side of the viaduct so I was in the gloom. I announced my intention to pee to my friends and stood to the side of the path and started urinating into the thick ferns that lined the side of the hill.
As I was spraying away the ferns in front of me suddenly started thrashing and then parted and a dark, stunted figure came out of them. It made a weird grunting noise and I could hear what sounded like two feet thumping on the ground.
In the orange glow of the distant sodium street light all I could make out was a black, stocky figure with a broad, flattened, hairless head that my urine was bouncing off.
Needless to say I shrieked like a big girl and legged it down the path towards my friends, still spraying urine everywhere as I ran. One of my friends saw something small and stunted going back into the ferns so we pretty much ran the rest of the way to our houses.
I had no idea what this was and my friends and I would occasionally mention it but I wouldn't usually tell anybody else. I tend not to believe in ghosts and otherworldly crap, it's all mumbo jumbo to me but I couldn't explain what I saw that night.
Years later and I'm sitting at work at three in the morning. It's a quiet night and a bunch of us are drinking tea and someone asks if anyone has ever seen a ghost. So I decide to tell them this tale.
After I finish the room is silent and all eyes are on me. No-one speaks for a few seconds until the boss says:
"It was probably some dirty old bloke hanging about in the ferns trying to get a look at your 16 year old cock".
Maybe it was, I know it was dark but the shape of it didn't look like any person I've met before.
Monday, 22 October 2012
OK, I haven't actually met Tom Waits but I'm hoping the title grabs your attention so you read the rest of this.
I was first introduced to Tom Waits's music in what must have been the perfect scenario. A friend and I were visiting the US for the first time and we were in Boston but wanted to make our way across country to Huntington Beach, California were my friend had a relative he wanted to visit.
We enquired about a drive-away car, wherein a car that needs delivering to a customer is driven by someone with adequate credentials and in need of a car on a short term basis.
We were given 10 days to deliver our vehicle to Los Angeles docks where we would leave it to continue it's journey to it's new owner in Hawaii.
I was hoping for some enormous muscle car but instead we got a little Suzuki Samurai 4x4, not exactly the American Dream car but at least we got good fuel mileage.
My friend had a compilation tape of blues music (it was 1990, we still used tapes back then) which we listened to as we drove across the country. there were two tracks that really got my attention, Singapore and Big Black Mariah by a guy called Tom Waits who I had never heard of before.
It sounded like some sort of mutant blues/country/jazz music and his voice was like he was gargling with gravel down the bottom of a well.
The lyrics were seedy but poetic and I would give my right arm to be able to write words as evocative and colourful as he can.
We listened to that tape as we drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains, through torrential rainstorms on the Kansas plains and past weird, moonlit rock formations in Arizona that made it look like we were on another planet.
It was perfect road trip music and for a couple of Brit lads on their big American adventure it was like an introduction to the side of America that doesn't get advertised.
But I never met him. Sorry.
Friday, 12 October 2012
'They lived life to the fullest' is a cliche that gets used far too often when referring to the deceased at funerals. However in the case of my half cousin Angela Lee this was a stone cold fact.
Born in the small but beautiful village of Burley-in-Wharfedale she grew up alongside her cousin Pauline, my mother.
Fearless and mischievous, tales from her childhood included removing the sherbert from lemon bon-bons in her grandfathers shop and replacing it with salt and a visit to a chimp's tea party at the zoo ended with her climbing into the enclosure, pulling up a chair and joining the chimps for tea.
As she grew up she enrolled in secretarial college and worked for the local health authority where she met her lifelong friend Anne. They both shared a taste for adventure and started travelling to foreign countries. This was in the days when most people in the UK spent their holidays at the nearest seaside resort and foreign travel was for James Bond only.
They visited Benidorm when it was still a fishing village and not the mega resort full of pissed-up English that it is today. During her lifetime she has been all over the world, Thailand, Brazil China, Turkey to name but a few of the places she has seen.
She married Bob Lee in 1971 and they had two beautiful daughters, Cherie and Collette who shared their mothers love for life and their fathers easy going charm and are raising their own wonderful families.
When she was 50 she enrolled in a degree course in Tourism Management which took her to Massachusetts and Carolina in the US. She was the oldest person on the course but her energy and ability to drink most people under the table earned her the positions of both mother figure and party animal.
Tragically Bob was struck with dementia in his fifties and his health deteriorated over the years but Angela cared for him until the very end. Then, in her sixties and only three years before her own death she packed up her rucksack and headed off on her own to Vietnam and Cambodia, just for the hell of it.
She used to take her grandson Jack to concerts including Dizzee Rascal and
Tinchy Stryder and at one point even managed to accidentally get involved in a Gay Pride Parade. She once took him to New York where they fought through a blizzard so Jack could see the New York Mets play. Most people would do this sort of thing to try and look young or cool but Angela didn't think like that.
She was a strong willed, independent woman without all the feminist posturing, she was brilliantly funny, she never boasted about her achievements. She just got on and did things that most of us never pluck up the courage to do and she did it all with an effortless cool and an open, laid back personality that put everyone who met her at ease.
I am proud that she was my Godmother and even though I am not religious I still have the Bible she bought me for my first birthday. I feel privileged for knowing her as she made the most of life and never took herself too seriously. She was truly remarkable and would have clouted me around the head for calling her that.
Goodbye Angela, we all love you.
Monday, 1 October 2012
Most of the time I don't think about my throat. It gets on with it's business with little or no concious interference from myself and I am happy with this arrangement.
However for the past two weeks I have had a chest infection that has giving me a hacking, booming cough that makes me sound like a Sea Lion barking for a bucket of fish. This has made my throat very sore.
Now instead of ignoring my throat I am thinking about it all the time. I never realised how often I swallow saliva but now I dread it, it seems to be every ten seconds I am swallowing the stuff. Why am I generating this much? It feels as though I am forcing a splintery wooden chair down my windpipe.
Being at work doesn't help as I am talking all the time while there, in between coughing my lungs inside out. I don't get ill often but when I do I turn into a quiet, shambling sorry-for-himself wreck who eats far too much comfort food thus adding worries about weight gain into the mix.
My body doesn't feel right and I yearn for the glorious, sun-filled days when I will feel normal again and can run around without wheezing and coughing until green phlegm detaches itself from my lungs and lands on my tongue like a nasty green oyster.
Yeah yeah, I know I am whining soft bastard and some of you reading this are facing truly frightening illness with a courage and fortitude that is admirable, while I have a minor infection that a course of antibiotics is already fixing.
Feel free to pour your scorn upon me, I can take it. Even though I'm poorly. Cough.