It took six hours and ten minutes. My house was sort of on the market at 9:00 a.m. on Monday 24th February, though not officially listed or advertised anywhere. By 10:00 a.m. I had had a reasonable offer and by 3:10 p.m. I had haggled like a Marrakech fridge magnet salesman and agreed a more than satisfactory price with the family who were to become the fourth set of occupants in the turbulent history of la Casa De La Revolución Gloriosa in the fashionable Pewsham district of Chippenham. Little did they know about the Leeds United slogans daubed on the walls beneath the wallpaper in the bedrooms or the gruesome manifestations of the tormented non-dead that take place in the downstairs lavvy when the moon is fat.
So, another massive hurdle behind me in my world of hurdles of varying sizes. Once the gargantuan mission of tarting the place up that had taken over my life for the whole of the year so far had been accomplished I thought I would be able to relax a little and get my breath back for a few weeks, or even months, whilst yer man the estate agent traipsed a thousand splendid nosey parkers round in the hope that one would buy. Just over six hours was all that I got to resuscitate myself and really I was out on the road plying my trade during all of them. Consequently I am now still very breathless. Breathless on one count because of the effort required over the last couple of months to get my humble abode straight and on a second count, at the speed with which it was snapped up.
I now have a new agenda with three things on it:
1) To find somewhere else to live, but not just yet. My next dwelling place will be of a rented nature but there is no point starting the search until the sale of this house is almost cut and dry. I don’t want to be stuck with rent to pay as well as a mortgage in the event of the deal falling flat. This does present a hint of anxiety as in an effort to avoid having two places to live I may end up with none.
2) To pack my belongings. This shouldn’t be too difficult as I have already sifted through most of it and given the surplus to requirements bits to the poor and the needy and the man at the tip and neighbours who have paid a lot of money to have rubbish skips in their drives and people who genuinely believe that Lynyrd Skynyrd CDs will be worth something one day.
Things I mustn't forget to take with me when I move house.
3) To restart my life as Terry Mullan the party animal, mineral or vegetable. My social life for the last two months had comprised of little more than a walk round to Tesco’s for a Satsuma and a natter on the phone to a very friendly chap in New Delhi who had some double glazing he was trying to get rid of. So I’ve booked up to go to some gigs (in England, not New Delhi) and the travel plans are whirling around in my head a bit more rapidly than they had been before Monday afternoon’s momentous achievement.
The bottom line (which I will endeavour to write on the bottom line of this blog piece but I can’t promise) is that, barring a complete disaster, this house is sold and I’m on my way. I’m sorry if you wanted to buy it but missed out. I did warn you that you should log on to eBay as quickly as possible but even if you had done I think you’d have found that the transaction was completed on more of a ‘Buy Now’ basis than an auction.
Click on the link below to see what you could have won:
Desperately Seeking la Casa de la Revolución Gloriosa
This has hurt a bit. I’ve been off work for two weeks but I didn’t travel anywhere further than our local branch of B&Q. It must be about four years since I had anything more than a couple of days off away from the cut and thrust world of the Foot Health Practitioner without venturing abroad, so being stuck here in rain-drenched, flood-stricken, gale-ravaged, god-forsaken England, I have found, was a bit hard to swallow.
However, do not despair, for these two weeks have marked a significant stage in my Glorious Five Year Plan. Three years ago I decided that within five years I would sell my house and fill my life with sunshine on the back of the vast wealth that would become available to me from not having a mortgage anymore. To be truthful, I didn’t do much about it other than dream a bit and talk a bit until last November when my house tarting up exercise first kicked in, but now things are beginning to take shape.
I have spent every spare moment since the turn of the year sorting through the contents of my messed up loft, garage, cupboards and mind. This exercise in itself has deserved to be classified as a Glorious Five Year Plan. Eighteen years’ worth of crap and clutter are no more!
Much of the stuff I have excavated is precious to me, such as:
a) Three metric tons of paintings and drawings and stories that my wonderfully creative kids amassed during their school days and which I didn’t have the heart to throw away (while they were watching).
b) 78,423 pieces of Lego. There were more than this really but I used a few for my own pleasure and quickly knocked up a scale model of York Minster during one of my much deserved coffee breaks.
c) More old football programmes than there has been football matches to have taken place in my lifetime. Some are precious but the likes of Devizes Town vs Melksham Town in the Screwfix Direct Western League First Division were easy to part with, despite the fact that England World Cup winner, Roger Hunt, used to play for Devizes when he were a lad.
d) The previous occupant's collection of PVC fetish wear.
e) Lord Lucan.
f) A million old postcards, letters, tickets, posters, diaries and other heart-warming artefacts from my past.
Much more of the stuff I unearthed was of no value to me at all. You wouldn’t believe the trouble I had getting a JCB into my loft but I’m glad I did because the results have made the man at the local tip and the lady at the local charity shop very happy. If Barnardo’s manage to sell everything I have taken there they will have so much cash in their coffers there won’t be a homeless child left in the whole of Britain, except for my own children, because I’m selling the house with no real idea of where I’m going to go to live next.
So with the family home de-crapped, I was able to get on with some full-on decorating and repairing and cheering up of the place. It was hard work but I have enjoyed it and now my house is cleaner and tidier and more presentable than it has ever been while I have lived here. So much so that I think I would be happy living here now.
In the back of my mind there have been thoughts of the wrench I will undergo in leaving this place. I have lived here for almost eighteen years which is almost one third of my life. I have lived in Chippenham far longer than I lived in Leeds which I consider to be my home town. The previous longest I have lived in a house was the one I lived in from being born in Middlesbrough, and where I lived for a bit less than nine years. Also my kids have grown up here and although they’ve all moved on, the memories of them rattle around in every empty room when I am here on my own. Dismantling their bedrooms to decorate them made me feel like I was dismantling their childhoods.
But I must be realistic about the situation now and for the rest of my life. I have had hardly any leisure time in the last few years. I have been working eighty or more hours a week for a long time and the only way I have been able to escape the mountain of tasks that have been sniping at me from all angles has been to leave the country and go places where nobody could contact me and where I couldn’t see the kitchen cupboard doors that needed repairing or the garage that I wouldn’t even say looked like a bomb had hit it because no self-respecting bomb would have gone within a mile of it.
When I sell this house things will be different. When I Sell this House, I have decided, forms W.I.S.H. the perfect acronym to fit the situation I am in.
W.I.S.H. the pressure will be off for the rest of my life. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining because life has been getting better and better for me for years now and I enjoy almost everything I do, but there are so many things I don’t currently do that I know I would thoroughly enjoy.
During my two weeks off work I was paid a visit by a very enthusiastic estate agent. Despite my cautious approach to the property market he left me with an enormous feeling of optimism. This house goes up for sale tomorrow morning at nine o’clock so please do me a favour. Please log on to eBay and put in a bid for it. Every fifty pence that it goes up by will make my twilight years just that little bit more comfortable.
For sale ... Casa De La Revolución Gloriosa.
W.I.S.H. I will spend more time writing this blog and travelling and taking photographs for starters.
I’ve missed knocking out these late night ramblings. It’s good to be back.
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love sent to me . . .
My true love’s name is Jackie and she helps to make me thin. She can help you too if you’ve emerged from the festive period with a belly like Santa’s or you’ve just been a fat, lardy git all along. She comes from Bury and she lives in Calne but she’s alright really.
Go on, drop her a line. This is she:
Independent Cambridge Weight Plan Consultant
Although 2014 is well underway, today I lashed out with a new resolution to stay away from Sainsbury’s. I’m trying so hard to be thin and healthy for the New Year so when I walked into their Chippenham branch this evening I was frankly appalled to be confronted by the Common Market Hot Crossed Bun Mountain. Perhaps it was my imagination or my belly playing tricks on me but it seemed to have a little flag stuck in the top of it bearing the words ‘Come and eat me Terry Mullan’. Furthermore, they were flogging off the components of this magnificent structure at only 60p for a packet of four. To make matters even worse, they were just how I like them which is undercooked so that they’re not all light and fluffy but a bit heavy and stodgy causing them to feel like they’re sticking to your ribs on the way down. Any road, I mobilised my cast iron will, I stuck all ten fingers up at the vulgar consumerism that accompanies Easter these days and, as soon as I’d bought my bottle of high fibre calorie-free wine, I left the place never to return.
The wine was to be my last for a long, long time. Some friends came to my house this evening for a bit of a festive get together. Well today is the eleventh day of Christmas so I felt we should be celebrating. I celebrated further after they had gone, but not because they had gone because I really do quite like them. Instead I celebrated because there was no further need for me to eat, drink and be merry. I took the time to savour and enjoy my final glass of wine in the knowledge that there would be no more alcohol pickling my innards for quite some months to come. So really tonight I broke and restarted in earnest a resolution that I made on New Year’s Day and, for the time being, all celebratory drinks will be of a teapot nature.
Another reason to be jolly was the fact that my home was stripped bare of Christmas decorations today. I find that seeing the place void of glitter and clutter utterly uplifting and liberating. Though I did hang my head in shame as I contemplated my decoration-free status at a point in the year when there was still one day of Christmas to go.
Did you know that Easter Sunday is only 107 days away?
My Bosnian teapot adorned with all that remains of my Christmas decorations.
Today, being the tenth day of Chrimbo, was much the same as yesterday except that I wasted most of it keeping my eyes peeled for lords a-leaping instead of ladies dancing, which is no fun at all unless you’re an avid fan of the Hereditary Peers’ sports day on the lawn at Westminster. Thinking of which, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some ladies to be seen ‘dancing’ at such an event.
The other big difference was that the nasty winter storm was back with a vengeance and I had sweet potato and green lentil curry with bulgar wheat for tea, cooked by my lovely third born child.
We had bulgar wheat to celebrate the arrival of the millions of Bulgarians that have come to Britain to thieve and beg since European Union working restrictions were relaxed on 1st January. Tomorrow we’re having sausage, egg and chips which is apparently the national dish of Romania, the other country that is sending ninety-five percent of its population here on a big sunny benefits package holiday. I read all this in the papers you know, but I suspect the journalists have got some of their sums wrong because I walked all the way from my front door to my car this morning and didn’t bump into a single Bulgarian or Romanian ‘scrounger’ where I had expected to meet dozens. I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of the few that do come to the United Kingdom will come here to work hard and pay our taxes, as all the Polish people who I know have done, and consequently help to boost our economy. I welcome them and I’ll only be angry if any one of them buys a single copy of the Sun or the Daily Mail.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, as a New Year’s resolution, the owners, the staff and the readers of the Sun and the Daily Mail gave up nationalism, sensationalism, bigotry and racism?
Sweet potato and lentil curry with lashings of bulgar wheat. Sweet, but not in a sugary sort of way!
There was no sign today of nine ladies dancing, despite this being the ninth day of Christmas. I didn’t even see nine handbags in a pile on a floor so I suppose it was too much to expect to see the ladies dancing without them. To be honest, in this part of the world it’s not all that often that you even see a lady.
Had it not been for all the storm damaged decorations dangling from street lamps, house fronts and comatose party-goers, you wouldn’t have known it was Christmas at all. Having taken the festive season by the horns and shown determination to make the most of it, even though it’s not quite my cup of glühwein, frankly I have to say that I am distraught at the total absence of figgy pudding. I haven’t even heard it mentioned, except in the song which I despise anyway because, although a carol, the lyric that goes ‘We won’t go until we get some’ suggests that this may have been the precursor to the vulgar consumerism that accompanies the modern day celebration of the birth of Christ.
Not a soul has offered me a morsel of the stuff to warm me as I crossed their thresholds to escape the bleak midwinter chill, despite me bringing glad tidings to them and their king.
One of my lady customers asked me if I would like a cup of tea to which I replied, ‘No thanks, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of figgy pudding’ and she just slapped me and asked me to leave her house. Bah humbug, eh? I don’t suppose my parting comment of ‘I won’t go until I get some’ helped the situation all that much.
I am beginning to wonder if this traditional Yuletide scrumptiousness even exists, especially as I have discovered in the last five minutes that even the Microsoft Word spellchecker facility doesn’t recognise it.
With only three more days of Christmas to go, the whole sordid affair does, thankfully, seem to be drawing to a close. People are drifting back to work with their tails between their legs because they can’t remember how much they drank or what they were sick in or who they tried to grope at the office party, television adverts all fall into a New Year’s resolution theme of stuff like anti-smoking aids and debt counselling agencies, the ten feet high piles of mince pies on display in supermarkets have been replaced by hot crossed buns, and today I was only asked twice by nosey old gets, ‘Are you all ready for Christmas then?’
Even the weather has sussed that time is moving on as the storm that has lashed our country for over a week abated for a few hours this morning and the sun came out. Much of my work was out in the Wiltshire Wilderness so I had to change my route between customers’ houses a couple of times because the roads were either flooded or blocked by badgers that had been blown over in the gales, but it was wonderful to see the countryside bathed in sunshine. Nothing fills my frame of mind with sunshine more than sunshine does. Happy days are here again . . . almost!
My car waiting to exit the sunlit grounds of the home
of one of my rural customers.
Today may have been the eighth day of Christmas but it has also been the first day of the year 2014 and the first day of the year in which I will be off to sunny Africa for my biggest and best trip so far. So although I still have 253 sleeps to go until I land in Accra, my life is already filled with tropical sunshine and colourful music to a degree sufficient for me to cope with the bloody awful, miserable English weather we’ve had to endure here today. When I looked out of the window first thing this morning I was so depressed that I decided to throw myself into the river, but the river was so swollen with floodwater that I couldn’t find where the edge of it was to stand on to jump.
Then, after listening to a mere seven minutes and thirteen seconds of the music of Gnonnas Pedro & His Dadjes Band I felt like I was already in Benin. I wonder if Gnonnas Pedro & His Dadjes Band are as excited about me going there as I am. I wonder if they have all thought about getting a pair of Red River Hogs and a chameleon in their front room to make it feel like they are in West Africa like I have done. Actually, I’m lying about the Red River Hogs but I do have hundreds of chameleons scurrying about the place and making themselves look like DFS sofas or artificial Christmas trees so that they aren’t spotted by predators.
Nothing else happened here today but if you could take a photograph of what was going on in my head it would look like this:
Begin the Benin.
I reckon that in 2013 I must have cut round about 32,000 toenails, and 120 of them were today. This is, of course, only an approximation calculated by means of taking a rough average of the number of clients I see in a day, applying that figure to how many days I guessed I have probably worked in the year and multiplying by ten. This method can never be considered totally accurate as a small number of people that I treat have fewer than ten toes and, in some parts of Wiltshire, they have been known to have more than ten.
As the clock advanced towards midnight and I advanced towards my final snip at round about 5.30 p.m., I thought how nice it would be if church bells could chime and fireworks could fill the Calne sky as the final piece of elderly lady’s unwanted keratin plopped into my debris tray.
Sadly there was no such spectacle but at least I finished my working year at the house of one of my favourite punters and I wandered off home with a contented feeling brought about from the knowledge that the lady was satisfied with the work I had done and I had enjoyed the little bit of banter that often goes on as I chisel away at the pedal extremity related encrustations and growths. Such a feeling makes the job seem very rewarding on most days but, at the end of the last day of the year, even more so. I even suggested that she and I go for a pint but she declined on the grounds that she’s not allowed to drive her mobility scooter when she’s pissed.
The fireworks and bells did come along about six hours later. I had to watch it all going on/off in rain-lashed London on the telly and, although people travel there from places all over the world to witness the magnificence of the occasion, I’m never all that impressed with the glitziness that marks this special moment. I’m happy enough with the knowledge that we have moved into another year, so hearing Gary Barlow sing Auld Lang Syne or watching Eamon Holmes eat twice his body weight in haggis is surplus to my celebratory requirements. No matter where I am, no matter who I’m with and no matter what I’m doing, I’m always happy when the final midnight of the year arrives.
The stuff on the telly was complete and utter crap but, in my opinion, this is typical for not just every New Year’s Eve but for every eve of every year. They got rid of the White Heather Club decades ago because viewers complained that it was predictable and dull, but I’d swap Jimmy Shand and Andy Stewart for manic and shouty old Jools Holland any day of the week. We never did find out what happened to Donald’s troozers, did we?
I watched a DVD of Alan Partridge’s Alpha Papa film with various members of my family and had splash of strong drink and a right good laugh. After the bells we watched comedian John Bishop doing his stand-up routine and had another right good laugh and another splash. Unfortunately though, before we had even completed half an hour of the New Year I had broken all of my resolutions except the ones about the hamsters, the Dagenham Girl Pipers and the rubber tubing (three separate, unrelated resolutions, I hasten to add).
What also caused a state of frenzied joyousness in my world was the fact that today marked the start of the second half of the twelve days of Christmas. Please don’t let there be extra-time and penalties.
And finally . . . I took another photograph on my mobile phone today. I hope you like it.
The tropical paradise that lurks outside my front window.
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me a return to work just as my mind had eased itself into unwound mode, torrential rain of Biblical proportions, a large traffic jam, a ferocious dog and twelve old ladies with ten toenails a-needing cutting.
Those words could also be used to describe a bit of a return to normality as today my day was filled with the typical Monday delights of travelling the highways and byways of Wiltshire and Somerset to care for the feet of the needy and footsore, and my status in my house returned to ‘alone’ as third born went swanning off to Swansea to see her mates for a couple of days.
Second born will be home again tomorrow though for the celebrating of New Year’s Eve and my work pattern will return to ‘relaxed’ the following day as I have a day away from the cut and thrust world of the Foot Health Practitioner to celebrate New Year’s Day.
My new mobile is still working but I didn’t take any photographs today. So, rather than disappoint you, here’s one I prepared earlier.
From left to Right: Nick Nairn, meself and Martin Colley aboard
the m/v Cape Grenville somewhere in the South China Sea,
You may have noticed that Nick Nairn was the only one of
the three of us who went on to become a well known TV Chef.
On a scale of one to five, with one being thrilling and five being downright monotonous, I would have given today a ten.
I could have found things to do but I just couldn’t be bothered. Does that happen to you? Most days I’m ready to take on the whole world and others I feel too lethargic to even take on the two metres of the world that lie between my duvet and my bedroom door. I thought that if I lay there long enough this morning an earthquake would come along and I would be able to just slide out of bed and downstairs without having to put any effort in at all. I was a little ashamed of myself for being so lazy but then none of us are perfect. Even San Andreas has his faults.
Watching out carefully for the earth opening up and swallowing me in an almighty tectonic chasm, I walked into town and got a new mobile phone. It might have sounded more interesting had I said that I bought myself a new phone but I didn’t. I got it free. Having met my contractual obligation with Vodkafone I had become entitled to what they call an ‘upgrade’ which is gadget-speak for a new phone. I met my contractual obligation way back in June but I’m not a lover of gadgets and simply just couldn’t be bothered going into a shop full of people who could only speak gadget-speak and who would no doubt palm me off with a little plastic item that could carry out all sorts of amazing tasks for me were it not for the fact that the keys on the touch screen keyboard were only one tenth of the size of the ends of my fingers.
Any road, today I bit the bullet and braved putting my head round the shop door to be welcomed by an attractive young lady from whose mouth spewed vile and demonic utterances from the world of Apple. In my mind I likened her to Eve in the Garden of Eden except that Eve only had one string to her bow as although we all know about the Apple that brought her fame and notoriety, she hadn’t been familiar with Samsung or Nokia kit. I came away with a new phone which is really good because it’s beautifully black and shiny; and it came in a carrier bag which I really needed because I’d run out of bags to put my kitchen waste in. A good deal, I thought. Getting the thing fired up and working didn’t hurt a bit and now I can announce to the world much more quickly that I’m having something skinny in Costa, or I’m on the train to somewhere that nobody else in the world gives a toss about, or I’ve pissed my pants.
The lady in the shop seemed really excited because my new mobile has got a really good camera on it. When I got it home I fiddled around with the damned thing for hours but couldn’t find a really good camera anywhere. I could only find a crappy little one with a lens smaller in size than an aspirin so I decided to stick with my proper big camera that I’ve had since Adam was a lad and just use the phone for phoning people up.
However, just for curiosity’s sake, I took one photograph with the new contraption to see if it worked and, as today is the fifth day of Christmas, I snapped a snap of my Christmassy Christmas tree.
The first photograph ever taken using
my brand new portable telephone apparatus.
On a cold and frosty morning such as today’s it seemed like a good idea to get up early and go out for a walk to take a few photographs. I wandered into Chippenham snapping away at places I haven’t really taken much notice of in the past. There are some lovely old buildings here in a place which, unknown to many, is steeped in history.
For example, did you know that as well as me, famous people such as King Alfred the Great, railway engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, rock legend Gabrielle Aplin and jazz legend Jamie Cullum have all lived here? The car crash that eventually finished off the late great rock ‘n’ roll singer Eddie Cochran way back in April 1960 was only just over a mile from where my house is situated. Also, Dyson vacuum cleaners were first made on an industrial estate on the other side of the town from my dwelling place. For that reason, just ask anybody in Chippenham and they’ll tell you that Hoovers suck.
Our biggest claim to fame though is that back in 1834 William Henry Fox Talbot, who lived just up the road in the village of Lacock, began mucking about with his calotype process for producing images on paper, so some would argue that the first ever photograph in the world was taken near Chippenham.
The trouble with Chippenham is that, despite all of this, nowt much has really happened here since I arrived from Yorkshire about seventeen and a half years ago. So although we do have a few claims to fame, it’s taken us nearly twelve centuries to accumulate them.
Taking all of this into consideration, I would say it’s a rather sleepy rather than a rather boring little town and it’s a town where good photographs can be taken if you go looking for the material. I’m planning on taking loads more pictures as soon I expect to move away and I’ll need something to weep over when I have my soppy moments of nostalgia in the future and to show Mr Fox Talbot, if he’s looking down on me from above, that his efforts weren’t wasted.
Chippenham's Yelde Hall which, since it was built in 1776, has had many uses including military barracks, court house, town gaol, Burgess' office, tourist information centre and fire station.
This afternoon I took a car full of stuff to the household recycling site at Compton Bassett. This comprised of the bits of Christmas that we didn’t need anymore. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say our vast collection of empty bottles. I didn’t take my camera but wished I had for the site is neatly tucked away amidst a wooded area and it’s not as busy and hostile as the one on the northern side of Chippenham, so I might even dare to describe it as serene. But what sets it aside from all the other household recycling sites I have visited down the years is the magnificent view from atop the metal gantry that sits between the skips for unwanted cardboard and for cast off cast iron objects. I hadn’t noticed before that there was a nearby lake (or more likely a flooded quarry) which had become a home for hundreds of waterfowl. In fact, not far beyond the lake there is a large country house which has in recent years become a home for Robbie Williams but, rather strangely, the birds don’t seem to mind. I suppose I’d be able to cope better with him too if I was able to fly over his house and bombard him with the contents of my bowels.
So that was my fourth day of Christmas. Not all that Christmassy really but I enjoyed it in a lazy, leisurely way and I ate more leftover food and drank more leftover wine. I ate one or two sweets too. I’ve enjoyed all of the sweets we got in for Christmas this year bar the humbugs.
We’ve only completed two of the twelve days of Christmas but, honestly and truthfully, don’t you think that really it’s all over? Four out of the six people who slept at my house on Christmas Eve have already gone home even though we’re only a sixth of the way into it. Lightweights!
There are no special meals left to plan for or to look forward to and instead we’re reduced to eating the leftovers that lurk menacingly in the fridge as a legacy of the previous two days of debauchery. In fact I look upon this as a bit of a lowering of my standards as I don’t eat leftovers during the non-festive parts of the year so why should I eat them while we’re supposed to be feasting?
The shops are just as busy as they were this time last week but circumstances have changed. Suddenly they’re full of people who have already spent a small fortune on sprouts and sherry now trying to save a measly few quid in the sales on something else that they don’t really need, or who are complaining about things they’ve bought that they’re not happy with. Not the right colour or a button missing or not the right size even though the garment probably would have fitted them on the day it was bought but they’ve eaten so much plum pudding their bellies have become so hideously bloated that even the Parachute Regiment wouldn’t be able to find anything to fit them.
There are people everywhere whingeing and whining because they’ve had to go back to work. Christmas is over and they say they’re left with such an empty feeling, which is surprising really when you consider how much has gone down their greedy gullets since Tuesday. They must have had the mother of all Christmas poos on the way back to their places of work . . . something like Mr Hankey’s obese auntie, I reckon!
So now it’s my turn to say, ‘Bah humbug!’ There are still ten days of Christmas to go and I’m going to enjoy every single one of them as I watch the people who seem to live only for the festive feasting suffer. I suppose it must be like having post-holiday blues with a shovel of chronic indigestion thrown in at the same time. Ha ha!
What I can’t understand though is why we have to have a public holiday on 1st January. It would make so much sense to have it on 21st December which is the real New Year’s Day, speaking in terms of astronomy and time. It would make sense to have it on 27th December as it would be straight after the two other public holidays so we wouldn’t have to endure that state of limbo for almost a week in between and we could get the whole cracker-pulling kit and kaboodle out of the way in one fell swoop and get back to normal a bit sooner. It would make sense to have it on 5th January which is traditionally the twelfth day of Christmas. I think it must be the people who run the little stalls that sell calendars in shopping arcades during December that decide this for us. They have eleven months holiday a year so you’d think that in all that free time they would be able to sit down and plan the year a bit better than they do. If any of them are reading this, as well as sorting out the festive holiday organisational shambles, I’d like them to switch my birthday and St Patrick’s Day to the same nice sunny day in June please.
With those members of my family who had not, as soon as the final slice of Yule log had been guzzled, fled back to the place from whence they had come, I went to the cinema today to escape all this nonsense for a few hours. I watched a fillum called Philomena which was about an elderly Irish lady’s search to find her illegitimate son who had been taken away from her by Roman Catholic nuns when he was four years old because she had been so sinful. This was a desperately sad tale but not as sad as the people clutching their receipts in the queue at the Customer Services desk in Argos.
For our dinner this evening we had a sort of stir fried conglomerate of festive leftovers. It vaguely resembled a bubble and squeak based concoction tarted up a bit with cranberry sauce, turkey, pickled onions, After Eight mints, Pringles and shredded party hats. Did you know that there are over three hundred calories in a party popper?
Luckily I’ve still got a lot of this stuff left over too . . .
My lovely festive gifts bestowed upon me
by my lovely festive first and second born childer.
We don’t have Boxing Day in our family. We have Bare Knuckle Fighting Day. Me and my sister Beverley were both born in Middlesbrough, and grew up partly in trouble-torn Northern Ireland and partly in the fashionable Seacroft district of Leeds, so we have always looked upon boxing as being a bit namby pamby. Our almost annual bout can sometimes be a fairly amicable affair but today she drank some of my cider so the gloves were well and truly off.
I knew she had come here looking for trouble as she brought her family and my Ma with her as back up. They’re all well ‘ard but so are my kids so it turned out to be an evenly fought bun fight enjoyed by all, though at the end of the day the dishwasher and the recycling bin looked like they were having a bit of a near death experience at the end of the day at the end of the day.
We had a lovely time seeing them all and were very sad when they had gone. To cheer myself up a bit I sat down to write my Christmas shopping list for next year. I know my Mum would love a new gum shield and I reckon baseball bats all round for the kids will go down well.
Me and my sister discussing who should
have the last slice of Yule log.
On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me sixteen litres of very good quality cider, the majority of it being the stuff that’s brewed locally on farms here in the West Country. You can tell it’s good swag because it contains twigs, bird muck and tadpoles and the next morning’s by-product is clearer and brighter than the original brew. It’s been bloody hard work today but me and my kids and our Tim managed to shift the lot. Oh I’m so proud! We might be northern riff-raff but we can certainly show these southern jessies how to wassail, and we had a drop of wine too to wash it down, and a hint of whiskey, and just a small splash of coffee to line our stomachs. So, in a roundabout way, apples and grapes were two of our five a day for starters, which meant we easily met the Government’s recommended daily intake if you include the spoonful of cranberry sauce we had, a strawberry crème Quality Street and the Clementine that we each found swelling our stockings this morning along with a shiny penny and a bit of coal.
I came last in the traditional family quiz but I won the family bingo, introduced to our festive proceedings for the first time today by Hilary Mullan and her silver dream bingo machine. I think my level of success in each of these competitions along with my overwhelming success in filling the wheely bin with empty scrumpy cartons just about sums up not only my intellect but my approach to life so I can close my eyes tonight safe in the knowledge that today has been a memorable day for everyone who has joined in this merry Mullan merrymaking event.
It’s Christmas again tomorrow for us but for the fact that I don’t have to roast a slaughtered beast and I don’t have to run round the living room like an eejit at four o’clock in the morning shouting, “He’s been! He’s been!” Boxing Day just happens to be the only day of the year that I don’t do that.
Me looking pie-eyed.
Did you know that if you do it all traditional and proper, the first day of Christmas is really 25th December so that’s the day the celebrating should really start and that’s the day we should be putting up the decorations? Twelve days later is 5th January and that’s when the glittering glory should all be brought down again; a festive regulation that people seem happy to go along with anyway.
This may shock you but, having always been a bit of a maverick, I’ve run the risk of ruining Christmas as my decorations are up already even though there are still nearly two hours of Christmas Eve to go. In fact, all the preparations seem to be complete. Today, to put the finishing touches to it all, I went out and bought the Yuletide box of Anadin Extra and a party pack of toilet rolls so all I need to do now is lie back with a funnel in my mouth and let the deluge of food and drink be decanted into me.
Me waiting for Christmas to kick off. Not tonight though. This picture was taken more than fifty years ago.
I like this bit. I’m tucked up in my house with my lovely family and all the festive fury of the rest of the world is locked outside. There are no shopping days to Christmas, though I expect that somewhere in an office not far away, a group of regional sales directors are being reminded that there are only 365 shopping days to go to Christmas.
Any road, it’s Christmas Eve babe, in the drunk tank. My daughter said to me, “Do you want another one?” as she passed me a bottle of strong drink.
So if you’re reading this, whoever you are and wherever you are and whatever your beliefs are, I hope the next few days are merry and bright and filled with holly and ivy and pigs (or a Halal equivalent) in blankets and all that follows is equally as good. Our house is full of all this stuff, in fact more than we need, so I hope someday you’ll join us and the world can live as one.
For me, of all the days of celebration at this time of year, today is the day to really go cock a hoop and celebrate; and by celebrate I don’t just mean I’ll go out and get rat-arsed and spend more than a year’s wages on cocktail sausages, things with feathers on them that go ‘bleerrrrrrrrrrr’ and make old ladies wee themselves when you blow down them, and the entire contents of the Argos catalogue. I have been looking forward to this day since 21st June so I will sit and reflect upon its meaning and I will truly revel in the day and the anticipation of what is to come.
At 17:11 today (UTC, which is a sort of GMT but more astronomically accurate) I shall celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice for it is at this time that the Earth reaches its maximum declination of 23.5° away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. At this point nowhere north of the Arctic Circle sees daylight for an entire twenty four hours and we have reached the darkest point of our northern year.
So this is the darkest that our days are going to be and what have we done? Another year over and a new one just begun. It thrills me to think though that from now on, although very gradually at first, the sun will begin to warm our bit of the Earth, buds will be budding, spring will be springing and birds will be either feathering their nests or packing their bikinis for a trip to Magaluf. The end is nigh! My motto at this time of year is tomorrow may rain so I’ll follow the sun.
There have been, of course, darker days than this that I can think of down the years, such as the day in 2007 when Leeds United were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in history and simultaneously went into administration. It was a gloomy day for travellers, especially my dear friend Joan from Bath, who sadly passed away this year, when they introduced the one way traffic system in Darlington prompting her and her husband to pull in their horns and take all future holidays in Weston Super Mare. The day that I discovered that if you’re going to shove your cheeky bits into an item of office machinery at a work’s Christmas party it’s better to go for a photocopier than a shredder wasn’t exactly filled with sunshine. The day on which television presenter, Jeremy Clarkson was born was black rather than dark and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few words about the event in the Book of Revelation. And dark too was the day that they stopped putting the little cardboard sleeves in Bounty bars, especially dark chocolate Bounty bars which I happen to like best.
People think I’m just a miserable old twat at this time of year but they have no idea what goes on in my poor disturbed old head. I utterly detest the days when I have to wear socks and it’s too cold to leave the house wearing shorts and I set off for work in the morning before it gets light and I don’t get home again until after dark and pub beer gardens become such cold and lonely places.
‘All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey’, began the song by the Mamas and the Papas. Had I been a Mama or a Papa, the second line would have been ‘So I chucked myself into the canal’ and the song would have ended after fifteen seconds.
As soon as we reach the months that end with ‘ber’ a gloom gradually descends upon me, culminating in what is little short of abject misery once we get to mid-November. I try so very hard to disguise my feelings but it is an enormous struggle. I cling on desperately to summer by listening to African music, poring over my photographs and journals from bygone trips to warmer places, scouring websites to plan future adventures, downloading videos of lasses wearing next to nowt (presumably because they’re in a place where it’s very warm) and eating copious amounts of Bounty bars.
They came in search of paradise . . . and they found it . . . in Bounty.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world waltzes headlong into a winter wonderland of food and drink and extravagance way beyond its means. I detest Christmas too for different reasons but I suspect I might cope with it better if it wasn’t in December. No one really has a bloody clue when Christ was born (I would argue that he never was) so people who thought they were in the know a couple of millennia ago reckoned it would be a good plan to have his birthday bash at the same time as the Winter Solstice as folks would have already got the beer and party nibbles in anyway. I’m glad they got it wrong by four days as they would have really cocked up the happy little moments that I enjoy round about the 21st of this month each year.
Looking at it astronomically rather than gastronomically, today is also New Year’s day so I’m going to mark the event by making some changes to my life. With immediate effect I’m going to give up one or two things that I’m not all that proud of like Bounty bars, sobriety, celibacy, shovelling my faeces through George Osborne’s letterbox (so beware Nigel Farage, you're probably next) and my obsession with Etruscan pottery.
The best thing about the darkest point in our year is that the sun spends the vast majority of the day hiding below the yardarm so now, even though most people are not yet awake, I’m having a glass of something strong that will warm my mind and my body, just as the sun warms our planet.
So one day you’ll look to see me gone but in the meantime . . . athbhliain faoi mhaise dhuit.
In the days of the Apartheid regime I used to say that the only way you would ever get me to go to South Africa would be if I could drive a tank over the border from Angola as part of a massive military exercise to liberate the non-white people from the evil racial segregation that gripped their land.
Nelson Mandela was buried today. Of the ninety five years that he lived he spent many of them fighting for democracy in his country and freeing it from discrimination on the grounds of both race and gender, an ideal for which he said he was prepared to die. He spent twenty seven of his years in prison for plotting to overthrow the government with violence. But during his incarceration he became an international symbol of the struggle against Apartheid. Worldwide pressure on the South African government became so intense that in 1990 they released him and lifted the ban on his party, the African National Congress (ANC) which he soon became the leader of.
Speaking of his release he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” Without any need for violence he went on to become the country’s first democratically elected president, so me and my tank weren’t required.
To be truthful, I haven’t even got a tank, and neither do I have bitterness or hatred. If me and Nelson can do it, why can’t a few more people be like this? World leaders in particular!
Since his death ten days ago the entire world has been pouring out messages of admiration, respect and condolence for this great man.
Ordinary people from all corners of the planet at the very least appreciated the incredible things he achieved but few could talk about him without mentioning his warmth, his smile, his humour, his generosity, his dignity and his humility. As I listened on the radio to the almost blanket coverage of his life and death, every single person who had met him had a glowing tale to tell, making me wish so desperately that I had met him myself.
Many of the messages from politicians and statesmen were sincere but also the word ‘bandwagon’ sprang to mind as I have listened to the words of some who had little to do with him and even some who had denounced him as a terrorist in the past.
At his funeral service today the words of one man caught my attention. Ahmed Kathrada seemed to me to be the only speaker there who was genuinely moved by Madiba’s passing. Sentenced to life imprisonment at the same time in 1964 he had truly been an inspiration to him throughout his life and his struggle. He ended a speech filled with emotion saying, “Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader." I felt for this heartbroken man like I have felt for no other person in the last few days and I admired him more than any other too.
I don’t ask for much but when I die I hope that a few people might say, “He wasn’t a bad bloke that Terry” and if I can leave this world thinking that I have made even something approaching one billionth of the impact that Nelson Mandela made I will be a happy man.
Another one of my heroes is Lucas Radebe, the former captain of both Leeds United and the South African national football team. Surrounded by dignitaries at the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela pointed to Radebe and said, “This is my hero.”
What must it be like to have been described as being the hero of the greatest man to have lived during my lifetime? What must it be like to have been a hero at all?
The Chief & Madiba.
I knew that title would grab your attention!
I feel like I’ve been neglecting, of late, one of the things that I like doing best. Have you noticed that I’ve not scribbled a sentence on my blog pages for weeks? I feel really bad about being so negligent. I used to think that negligent was a word meaning a gent’s negligee. You know, a lass’s garment adjusted to fit a gentleman’s body, rather like a night time equivalent of the mankini. But I digress and I mustn’t because time is of the essence these days. I feel like I am letting my hordes of adoring readers down by not providing you with the regular updates of my travels that you have come to know and love. The trouble is I’ve been so busy. I just can’t cope. The pressure is too much for me and something has had to give and sadly that something has been the writing.
I’ve got a bit of a blog backlog at the moment. I haven’t finished writing about my trip to the Sicilian Volcanos back in September. I haven’t even started writing about an equally spectacular trip to dear old Leeds (incorporating Pontefract and Wetherby) in October to meet up with some wonderful old friends I hadn’t seen for decades and a couple of friends who I had never even met before. As well as all the emotional reunions, while I was there I took in football match in which Glory Glory Leeds United thrashed Birmingham City four nil. I also attended three live musical performances, they being a band called Tamikrest performing nomadic Saharan blues at the Opera North bit of the Grand Theatre, a band called The Strikes performing covers of ska and punk classics from the 1980s at the Duck & Drake pub, and a bloke called Simon Lindley doing a recital of classical music on his enormous organ in Leeds Town Hall. The situation is going to get even worse in the next few days as I’m off to Rome for one of my easyJet low budget special gallivantings and I expect you’ll be expecting to hear all about that little adventure too.
Oh and there’s loads of other stuff I haven’t done yet. There are so many travel journals and photographs to sort out that this is becoming a bit like work. In fact, if I was this far behind with work I’d probably get the sack. But if I got the sack then at least I’d have loads of spare time to sit at home doing bugger all except blogger it all.
Simon Lindley and his enormous organ . . . at Leeds Town Hall.
Speaking of my work, it has been extraordinarily demanding this year as there seems to be more and more callosity infested and fungally infected elderly people as each week passes. Doris, Gladys and Iris aren’t the sort of names that are given to new born members of the human race in these modern times but there seems to be more and more of them all the time. I reckon something’s afoot in this department as just about every day I find a new Doris, Gladys or Iris limping towards me with an expectant look on her face, even though she’s probably a bit too long in the fallopian tube to be expectant. Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all this work pays for all these trips and every toenail snipped gets me a mile further away from Chippenham. So forty minutes with Doris is enough to get me to Melksham. Doris, if you’re reading this I’d just like to say, “I love you Doris!”
I’m off work this week which sort of means that I’m working harder than ever. Decorating is the name of the game and in every game there’s a winner and a loser which is sort of appropriate as I feel such a loser locked away in that back bedroom with a tatty bit of sandpaper in one hand and a refreshing glass of brush cleaning fluid in the other. But it’s a means to an end because as soon as my house is all smart and tarty it’s going on the market and my financial and leisure situations will each improve a thousand fold and the travelling floodgates will well and truly open.
So please bear with me. My plans for broadcasting details of my trips around the world to the world are just as ambitious as my plans to travel and I promise that every second that I am not away travelling, or out toenail cutting, or incarcerated at home with a few cans (of Dulux) will be spent tapping away at Terry’s Terrific Travel Typewriter. It’s a PC really but that would spoil the alliteration.
“My name is Luca” were the first words that our Sicilian guide said to me when I met him by the arrivals area at Catania airport. “Do you live on the second floor?” were the first words I spoke to him but he didn’t respond so I immediately assumed that either he wasn’t familiar with Suzanne Vega’s 1987 hit record, or he didn’t have a sense of humour or he had already gathered that I was a bit of a prat and well worth ignoring. He pointed me in the direction of two more members of our group who were waiting nearby and told me to go and talk to them. So I did. They introduced themselves as Bev and Michael in a way that didn’t immediately bring to mind the opening line of a song, so the conversation flowed much more freely than it had with Luca. Bev and Michael were botanists from Oxford so I knew straight away that we were going to get on like a greenhouse on fire.
The soundtrack to the first three minutes of my trip
to Sicily and the Aeolian Islands.
Shortly afterwards I met the other group members but all in quick succession so I forgot their names in less time than it had taken them to tell me what they were. It’s always difficult to get to grips with so many new faces and names in one go at the start of these trips but they do eventually sink in and by the end of the trip I always feel like I have known them for a week or two.
All of the people who had just jetted in from Britain were present and correct but Jo, who had arrived in Sicily with me exactly twenty four hours earlier, was missing. She had dropped me off outside the airport terminal to struggle with my bag and hers for the ten metre walk into the building while she went off for a little tootle around on her own to top up the petrol in the car we had hired before returning it to the Hertz office via several kilometres of the motorway whilst enjoying the cooling effect of the afternoon thunderstorm and the torrential rain. Such selfishness! Luca was cross and said that we would miss the 4.00 p.m. hydrofoil from Milazzo to the island of Lipari and as punishment we would have to sit in a bar at the hydrofoil terminal and drink beer until 5.00 p.m. At this point it dawned on me that I might have been right about his lack of knowledge of the muse of Ms Vega and about me being a prat, but I was quite wrong about him not having a sense of humour.
Jo turned up eventually and, having not heard everyone’s names in the first place, she didn’t need to waste time forgetting them.
There then followed a two hour coach trip along the coast during which travel weary travellers fell asleep and snored and dribbled with their heads pressed against the snoring and dribbling heads of people whose names they had forgotten. I thought that the hour in the bar at the hydrofoil terminal would provide the ideal opportunity for us to be woken up by a beer fuelled getting to know you session. Unfortunately we weren’t late after all so we hopped on the 4.00 p.m. craft, sat down in seats very similar to those on the coach and promptly went back to sleep.
The holiday did eventually turn out to be a very exciting one though so, until I post the next instalment, please try not to fall asleep or snore or dribble. I know that most of you, my dear readers, will be able to stay awake but I fear that you might not manage to avoid dribbling. And don't go looking over your shoulder . . . you know who you are!
What we missed by not missing the hydrofoil to Lipari.
Domenica morning in Italy just had to mean a visit to a church, not just for me but the entire Christian world for that matter, and to mark the occasion of me being in the country where all the Roman Catholic shenanigans kicked off, I thought I’d give a cathedral a whirl.
The previous day I had considered a Saturday evening trip to confession like I used to do with my Dad in the good old days before my cynicism overtook my Catholicism. However, the words “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It is forty seven years since my last confession.” probably wouldn’t have gone down all that well with the priest and the penance he would have doled out to me would have put a bit of a dampener on my holiday. I was only going to be in Italy for eight more days and I’m not sure I could have recited sufficient Hail Marys in that time to have had my dark soul absolved of sin, and I don’t think my aging knees could have coped with all that kneeling to pray even if I had tried.
So with a body and mind still awash with evil, I set off on an early morning walk to take in Ortiga’s deserted narrow streets before the tourists got there to clutter them up, and to admire the splendid view across the harbour full of luxury yachts, sardine fishermen’s boats, basking dolphins, shopping trolleys, floating Coca Cola cans and used condoms.
By the time I reached Piazza del Doumo the sun was out in all its glory and the old cathedral looked incredible from the outside, and from the inside it was just as good except there were people with loud shirts and loud American accents and people looking for monetary donations. I gave a two Euro coin to a lady with a collecting box and made a wish but despite this the loud people didn’t go away. I still don’t know what the Italian word for ‘refund’ is.
Apart from Guinness and bare knuckle fighting, there is nothing in the world that I like more than the inside of a beautiful old church and this one had the lot. It was beautiful beyond words. Even the candles of hope that you light for the sick and the needy and Leeds United were state of the art jobs, powered up not by lighting a wick with a spill but by flicking an electric switch. Old traditions never completely die so it was still necessary to put a penny in the tin to finance this facility, so two more Euro were gone from my pocket but it was but worth every cent! And what made this even better was the fact that you could flick more than one switch without anybody noticing, so you could get a lot more hope for your Euro than you were really entitled to. Is that wicked?
Having eased myself into a church frame of mind I thought it would be a good plan to leave the cathedral and go to have a look round somewhere that was possibly a little less ornate and a bit more of a hard core working place of worship. The Church of Santa Lucia at the far end of the piazza seemed like the perfect place. Smaller and less adorned with the spoils of the Catholic Church’s power over its people, it too was immaculately beautiful inside with particularly lovely floor tiles and a painted ceiling. It seemed that the best way to view these two features in equal measure was to lie on the floor face down and then roll over and over and over again, taking the time to blink or rest the eyes during the phase of rotation when the walls were directly facing me. The centrepiece of this magnificent building, however, was an original painting by Caravaggio of Seppellimento di Santa Lucia (the Death of Saint Lucy). Unfortunately, photography was forbidden in the church but with time on my hands I took the opportunity to sketch it for you dear reader (see below).
Seppellimento di Santa Lucia - Caravaggio (1608).
Before leaving the church I bought a postcard of Caravaggio’s Death of Saint Lucy and a fridge magnet, also of Caravaggio’s Death of Saint Lucy. So with my first postcard and fridge magnet tucked away in my happy wanderer’s knapsack and the sun shining with all its Sicilian might, I felt that my holiday was well and truly underway.
The next stop on my walkabout was another old church just twenty metres away and one that was even less churchy than the Church of Saint Lucy. This place was no longer a place of worship at all and had been restored and converted into an art gallery known affectionately as Galleria Civica d'Arte Contemporanea Montevergini. Today it housed an exhibition of the work of Perrin a Siracusa. I stuck my head in and had a look round, not just because it was free but because some of the artist’s pieces looked like they could be used on the covers of Siouxsie and the Banshees albums, I had the place to myself and, despite its change of use, it was still a fabulous old ecclesiastical building.
Soon it was time for me to abandon the church aspect of my Sunday morning promenade. I had been surprised but not disappointed that Mass was not being said in any of them. I’ve got nothing against the saying of Mass for those who want it but had there been religious ceremony going on I wouldn’t have been allowed into these places, or if I had been allowed in I wouldn’t have felt comfortable there. Perhaps the absence of formal worship meant that after two thousand years of Papacy, Sicily was coming round to my way of thinking. I’m sorry if my way of thinking doesn’t correspond with yours, dear reader. It is only my way of thinking. I hope you can respect that, as I respect yours.
Other things that surprised me during my ramble round the island included the fact that all of the buskers used a cheap and tacky looking trophy for collecting donations from passers-by. They were all about fifty centimetres high (the trophies, not the buskers) and looked like the sort of thing you might be awarded with for winning a pool tournament in a pub in Wigan. This was enough to make me want to go home and learn to speak Italian so that I could return and investigate why they didn’t just use an old hat or a cup like buskers do in the rest of the world.
Wigan & District Pool & Accordion Playing Champion 1976.
Equally as surprising, but not as easy to stare at, was the man on the little wooden swimming platform by the sea who was wearing a pair of very tight Union Jack patterned Speedos as he narcissistically paraded up and down whilst talking on his mobile phone and adjusting his salami and two olives. I would show you the paparazzi-esque photograph that I took of him but I’m afraid I sold it to the Sunday Mirror to support their story about budgie smuggling being rife amongst members of the British National Party.
Influenced by my incredibly beautiful surroundings, for the whole of the day I had the song Santa Lucia rattling around in my head. Enrico Caruso sings it even better than I do myself.