I had never heard of Black Friday until earlier this week so I typed the words into the Google search engine and this is what it came up with:
The very first Black Friday, on 24th September 1869, was caused by the efforts of two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. The scheme was thwarted by President Ulysses S. Grant's release of government gold for sale, making gold prices plummet and creating a panic in the stock market. It became one of several scandals that rocked his presidency.
This little explanation made the whole thing quite clear to me and I could immediately understand why Asda in Guildford had found it necessary to knock 20% of the price off a tin of Whiskas with sardine and aardvark flavour cat food.
Then I read on to discover that, in the modern consumer age, Black Friday is the first day after American Thanksgiving Day, marking the day when all Americans can stop doing their Thanksgiving Day shopping and set about the task of doing their Christmas shopping.
So what has this got to do with Britain? Why has the whole advertising world gone mad this week telling us about a special day that doesn’t seem to have even existed here before today? Why does the retail sector of our economy find it necessary to tempt us into their shops with promises of price reductions at a time of year when we are already spending more money than we have actually got? What sort of world are we living in when a fight breaks out in Morrison’s over a packet of custard powder that has been reduced by fourpence? Why does it matter?
The answer is that we are living in a world of greed and gluttony. The big shops are greedy for our money and we are greedy for whatever we can get; and all in the name of the birth of the Infant Jesus, who I am fairly sure would have be extremely unhappy about all this had he been here now. But the economic world of greed and gluttony, like the real planet Earth, has two poles and at the other end of this world from our affluent pole are places where Waitrose or Tesco aren’t open all the hours that their god sends. They certainly won’t have been having a Black Friday in Malawi or Bangladesh or Bolivia today and if they were fighting over food there it will have more likely been because they were desperate to find enough of it to feed themselves and their families than because they were planning a dinner party.
Christmas and the vulgar consumerism that goes with it in Britain is bad enough at the best of times but to introduce another ‘special’ day to encourage us to wander like brainwashed moronic sheep-based zombies into shopping centres to spend yet more money that we can’t afford on yet more goods that we don’t really need is, in my opinion, utterly immoral and disgusting and I feel quite ashamed of myself to be a citizen of a country that embraces it so freely. Things are going from bad to worse. We didn’t need the Americans to give us a day to fill the shops with over indulgent crap and mark the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season. We’ve already got one. It’s called Easter Monday.
But fair’s fair, and I must admit that all the hype around Black Friday saved me a fortune because it made me stay away from the shops altogether and at the same time I found a better use for my hard earned dough.
So if you have saved any cash today, could you please bear in mind this recent disaster?
During the days from 22nd to 24th November, Central Morocco was ravaged by storms the likes of which have not been seen there for decades. This has left the remote villages of the Tijhza valley in the Atlas Mountains devastated. Buildings made mainly of mud have been washed away, agriculture has been destroyed and livestock killed. The immediate needs of the villagers are plastic sheeting to weather-proof their homes, blankets and non-perishable food i.e. the basic requirements to keep human beings alive.
The Tijhza Emergency Relief Fund is working with my good friends at Exodus Travels to raise awareness of this disaster. In the medium term the villagers will need to rebuild homes, infrastructure and income generating schemes. They would greatly appreciate any donations to this urgent appeal and will keep you updated as their work takes effect.
If you have any money at all to spare, please remember that the plight of the poor homeless people of Tijhza is a much more worthwhile cause than a packet of Marks & Spencer mince pies.
Please click here to donate to the Tijhza Emergency Relief Fund.
Storm ravaged Southern Morocco.
My two favourite things are travelling, music and ruthless efficiency. So I’m sure you can understand the buzz I get when one of my great loves leads me by surprise into an element of the other.
For example, had it not been for seeing my childhood heart throb, songstress Nana Mouskouri, on Saturday night prime time telly in the 1960s I doubt if I would ever have bothered going to visit the sun-kissed Mediterranean island of Crete where she was born and where she first went to Specsavers. Similarly, without having travelled extensively through Japan, I might never have discovered David Sylvian (the only member of the Sylvanian Families to have made it big on the rock stage).
Wherever I go in the world I make a point of investigating the local music, both traditional and modern, the results of which have inspired me to carry on investigating World Music incessantly, even while I am at home in Britain. As a consequence of this, it was at the WOMAD Festival of World Music (my own personal Nirvana) in July this year that I discovered a cracking little six-piece band that I had never heard of before, called 9Bach.
Their material is a mixture of updated versions of traditional Welsh folk songs and new tracks wonderfully crafted by Lisa Jên, the group’s singer-songwriter. They perform all of their material on modern instruments, giving it a laid back Indie atmosphere, but the inclusion of a Celtic harp together with the fact that all the lyrics are sung in Welsh give it a mystical, worldy feel too. This combination of contemporary music and an old language works exceptionally well to produce hauntingly beautiful results that make the hairs stand up on the back of my Celtic neck.
Front lady Lisa grew up in the village of Bethesda in North Wales, a place long dominated by its massive slate quarry which was once the world’s largest and which remains the site of Britain’s longest running industrial dispute, the Great Strike of Penrhyn, which began on 22 November 1900 and continued for three years. The quarry, the strike and the people of Bethesda have influenced the words of most of their songs which are consequently performed with a great deal of passion. This might make you think of them as an old fashioned ‘finger in the ear’ type folk band but they certainly are not. 9Bach are definitely a band of the twenty first century and their unique style makes them well worth going to see.
9Bach on stage at the Lantern in Bristol.
In fact, I went to see them again tonight but this time at the Lantern (the smaller hall within Bristol’s Colston Hall complex) which was quite a contrast to the festival field full of festival people on a balmy summer’s eve in rural Wiltshire. A different setting but still incredibly good as their material, delivered with the seriousness that the subject matter demands, was broken up with interludes of friendly, chatty, jokey bits which I always enjoy as they give a little insight into the performers’ character and demonstrate their appreciation of the people who have turned up to see them.
I find it really refreshing to know that good quality new music is still being made within our islands. 9Bach can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the acts I have seen or heard since I immersed myself into the world of World Music but, relatively speaking, you could say that they are a local band and because of this I was able to go to see them playing live just down the road from where I live. Much as I love the fervent and febrile beat of the Abatimbo Burundi Drummers, they’re never going to turn out on a cold and wet November night in England’s West Country.
9Bach’s latest album is called Tincian (a Welsh word, in this case meaning the clanking industrial background noise you constantly get from living near a vast quarry) and you can buy it on the World Wide Web thing and they do lots of touring and festivals and they’re well worth a listen. So … go and give them a listen!
As a footnote I would like to express the immense feeling of joy I experienced when, whilst doing a tiny bit of research for this piece, I came across the Welsh phrase ‘Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod’ which of course means ‘My hovercraft is full of eels’.
Today it dawned on me that my glorious five year plan, which I drew up on Sunday 15th November 2009 while I was waiting for the population of Africa to reach one billion (it turned out that I had to wait until Wednesday 18th November), was at last bearing fruit.
I won’t bore you with the details but many moons ago I resolved to sell up and move abode to somewhere smaller and cheaper and, to cut a long story into a medium sized one, have more time on my hands to do the things that make me happy.
So today, apart from the usual Saturday morning tasks that we all have to do like draining the pus from the carbuncle on the hamster’s arse, sorting the week’s empty whiskey bottles into alphabetical order, oiling the moving parts on the medieval torture rack in my bedroom and telling all my Facebook friends what I spread on my toast at breakfast time (which was more time consuming than you might imagine because I chose to write to them all individually on lavender scented notepaper), I had very little to do.
So I went out.
I hadn’t planned to go out as I hadn’t really expected to have so much free time so it took me an hour to decide where to go and what to do.
I drove to Salisbury which is about twenty five miles over the heath from where I now live. It’s a lovely old city with big pointy churches and old winding streets filled with pokey little interesting shops and lots of nice little gardens where you can sit on a bench all day drinking Carlsberg Special Brew and shouting at the space bats that flutter about so annoyingly behind you when you’re not looking.
Even when I got to Salisbury I didn’t have a plan, so I just wandered. It’s a very photogenic city (though you need a periscopic telephoto lens to capture images of the space bats) but it was too grey a day to take any decent pictures and they would have been cluttered up with premature Christmas shoppers pushing and shoving each other about so I didn’t even bother taking my proper camera like I normally would on a day away from the Mullan maelstrom.
I went into a café for a cup of a coffee but they’d sold out so I found myself buying myself a pot of tea for the first time in my life. The idea of a hot cup of infused leaves served up in the finest china in a twee little tea shop sounds very nice but it tasted like the urine of Beelezebub so as soon as I was finished I whizzed round the corner for a jar o’ stout to take away the taste and eliminate the risk of regurgitation. Guinness, I find, is the ideal cure for any digestive malady and, in Salisbury, it’s cheaper than a pot of tea for two too. However, I would advise that if you’re going to go dipping your ginger nuts in anything wet, tea could well be a better option than Guinness.
Feeling liberated at last from the stressful burdens that accompany the status of home owner and self-employed businessman that had rendered me in the past far too busy to even find the time to fart, I decided that I might like to spend the evening in Salisbury too. Having driven there and having had one pint already, a skin full of strong drink was completely out of the question so I enquired at the Tourist Information Office about what other entertainment might be on offer. The options available were a Freddie & the Dreamers tribute band, a stage production of Dracula performed entirely in the medium of dance or a lecture on the local custom of seeking carnal knowledge of root vegetables.
So I went home and read my book, because I now have plenty of time to read books … even thick ones with small writing and no pictures.
One of the few space bat free zones in the lovely city of Salisbury.
In June and July the English weather lulled me into a false sense of security. I got used to hot sunny days and balmy evenings. I got used to not needing to wear a coat or socks and not having to smear goose fat all over my body to keep me warm and dry every time I left the house. I even considered that I might have to admit for the first time since the long hot summer of 1976 that living in England with its pleasant climate might be acceptable.
Today was August Bank Holiday Monday. A day for trips to the seaside. A day for barbeques and paddling pools and ice cream vans and running around in just your knickers. Well it would have been if the weather hadn’t got all nasty and spiteful. Pardon my meteorological terminology but today the weather was shit with a capital effing. Today it rained cats and dogs and the entire population of Noah’s ark. Noah definitely had the right idea, you know. When the rains came he built a big boat and sailed off to somewhere warm and sunny but, if I have understood my bible readings correctly, he got a bit of warning and plenty of time to prepare for his alternative lifestyle. It would appear, therefore, that chapters six to nine in the book of Genesis are a more reliable source of information than the Radio Five Live weather updates on the BBC.
The good thing about our twenty four hour, non-stop, biblical style deluge today was that it reminded me that I am living in the wrong country and that I need to do something about it. I have, in fact, taken immediate remedial action by turning up the central heating to the max, pouring myself a large glass of Ambre Solaire with a plastic umbrella and a cherry on top, and employing my entire vocal range to belt out Wham’s Club Tropicana rock anthem. Although my kitchen now resembles a tropical paradise I feel I need to do a bit more and the bit more has kicked off with a bit more deep thinking and soul searching about where I really want to finally lay my hat. I’ve only been thinking deeply for just over an hour and already I’ve managed to cross Syria, Las Vegas and England off the list of possibilities, though only in the latter of those three do you need to put your wellies on to go to the front door to pay the milkman.
I went to see a Peruvian band today. They were called the Cumbian All Stars and they were performing live in Devizes Market Place as part of the town’s annual international street festival. I’ve known their music for quite some time now so I wouldn’t have missed them even if it had been snowing. They were exceptionally good but sadly, because it was precipitating it down, there were nearly as many people on the stage as there were in the crowd. These fine musicians have been entertaining people all over the world for more than forty years but I bet their piss wet Bank Holiday afternoon in Wiltshire is one gig that they’ll never forget.
Just as illegal immigrants hang on to the undersides of big lorries to get into Britain, I considered strapping myself to the underside of the Cumbia All Stars’ tour bus to escape to somewhere where the weather suits my clothes, but then I discovered that tomorrow they’re playing in Guildford.
The Cumbian All Stars performing in Devizes Market Place ...
wishing they'd brought their brollies.
On Saturday 20th September 2014, round about mid-morning, just before Soccer AM starts, I will have trekked to the summit of Peak Boby, the second highest point in Madagascar. The highest point, I have reason to believe, is Peak Jackie, which is about three inches taller and is rock solid.
Peak Boby rises to a height of 2,658 metres above sea level and I’ve got to walk up there without my Mum. It’s nothing really when you consider that two years ago I got to the top of the Inca Chiriasqa Pass in Peru, which was about a Rizla’s thickness short of 5,000 metres but then that was two years ago and I did spend four months training for it beforehand and my body back then was a temple. This time round I’ve got less than a month to train and my body, although still a temple, is more of a ruined Inca temple than a Shwedagon Pagoda.
So, just as I did in 2012, today I started my altitude training on Cherhill Down, out in the wild and windy Wiltshire wilderness, which rises to a lofty 250 metres. This, you may think, bears little resemblance to the rugged heights of the Andes or even Madagascar’s Andringitra Massif but I have found that I have been able to simulate the toughest of conditions by ascending the chalk upland with my backpack filled with bottles of Guinness, the laces of my walking boots tied together and wine bottle corks shoved up my nostrils. The later stages of my preparation for the hardship and pain endured on a trekking expedition see the addition of a nun thrashing my bare buttocks with birch branches. Actually that’s not strictly accurate and it’s the sort of thing that might happen for thirty quid, a Cinzano and lemonade and a bag of pork scratchings on any Saturday night in the nearby town of Calne, even when I’m not training for the mountains. However, no pain no gain, as they say.
Joking aside, and rather reassuringly, I managed to walk more than eleven miles (or eighteen kilogrammes) in under four hours without a blister or an aching muscle, so I was pretty well pleased with myself considering it was my first attempt in a long time to walk any distance.
So, filled with confidence, it is my aim next weekend to walk a few miles further and I’m going to go to Swindon, another nearby town, to acclimatize myself to the poor sanitary conditions and crime that I might expect to be confronted by in a country as poor and undeveloped as Madagascar.
Joking aside again, I really can’t wait to get on that plane to the far away city of Antananarivo with its lemurs and its baobab trees and its orchids and its locally produced rum and its Third Worldliness that I just adore.
Cherhill Down and the Lansdowne Monument
from not far from my house in Devizes.
On Saturday 1st June 2013 at 10:15 in the morning, I booked up to go on my trip of a lifetime so far. I’ve booked up on a few trips of a lifetime but this one was going to be the big one … the hyena’s bollocks! I was going for the best part of a month on a Dragoman truck drive through the remote bits of Ghana, Togo and Benin … the land of the Ashanti people with their Voodoo customs, their wonderful music and their horrific history which saw them stuck in the thick of the European colonials’ slave trade. This was going to be full on, no nonsense, off the beaten track stuff with no sign of hotels, electricity, bathroom facilities, people wearing English Premier League football shirts, fridge magnets, all you can eat buffet breakfasts and possibly even beer. This was going to be living with the native people in native accommodation and I couldn’t wait for the fifteen and a half months to pass to the date of my departure this September.
With less than two months to go, disaster struck. It’s nobody’s fault but I’m not going. The trip has been cancelled, my dream has been shattered, my heart has been broken, my travel bag has been unpacked, my Lonely Planet guide book has been fed to the gerbil and my metaphoric parrot is nowhere near as sick as I have been. The reason for this desperate news is the recent spread of the Ebola virus which has so far killed well over a thousand people in West Africa. I won’t complain as many people have suffered far worse than a cancelled holiday but I will mutter under my breath in a disgruntled sort of way.
Three weeks after my coconut mat was pulled from underneath me I have now got over the disappointment, written off all the countless hours of wasted effort I had put into the planning and I’ve put behind me the fact that I had wasted ten times as much time just daydreaming about how good it was going to be. One day I will go there. I will not be beaten. Just you wait and see. So, West Africa, I hope you get well soon and Mr and Mrs Ashanti, please save me a seat.
I couldn’t find another four week long trip to fit into the time I had arranged to be off work and it was a struggle to find another trip where I wouldn’t have to start from scratch with the long drawn out process of applying for visas. Also, with my heart still set on Africa, it was difficult to find another trip that wasn’t all about standing about all day and every day looking for big animals or climbing Kilimanjaro, neither of which appeal to me … apart from climbing Kilimanjaro, that is, but not just yet. I love rooting around on the internet in search of exotic and exciting holidays but it wasn’t anywhere near as much fun doing this with time constraints in place and with what would have been the perfect adventure still gnawing at my brain like a deadly virus.
Madagascar turned out to be the answer. The lovely people at Exodus Travels (Zanahary bless them) came to my rescue with a trekking trip that involves not just trekking but also just about every aspect of a paradise island’s culture. There’s scenery, seafood, spices, sunshine, music, rare flora and fauna, sandy beaches and, probably best of all, it’s famous for its rum. Although an island in the Indian Ocean, technically it’s Africa, and although it’s Africa, technically I won’t need a visa.
It sounds perfect to me but for the fact that I’ll only be going for two weeks instead of four and I might end up with a cameo role in a Disney cartoon but, under the circumstances, I’m happy to make do with Madagascar.
The sort of thing I'm going to have to put up with
on my trip to Madagascar.
If you’ve never spent a Sunday afternoon in Devizes Town Hall then you should. I was there for an hour and a half today and I can think of no better way to pass the time between Lidl shutting its doors to the public and Evensong’s evening kick off.
What made today’s post meridian fun even more splendid was the presence of comedienne, actress, author and love of my life, Arabella Weir who read some passages from her first two books, gave witty and spontaneous answers to questions and made me really, really laugh. She’s probably best known for the character that she played in The Fast Show that coined the phrase ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ but there’s such a lot more to her than that. She is one of those people who are just naturally funny and able to entertain a crowd without a comedy script. I really admire people like that.
The trouble is that her books and her talk this afternoon were about how her battle with an obsession for food and a desire to be ‘slim and gorgeous’ have caused emotional scarring down the years from her being a child. I loved the fact that she could talk in such an amusing way about something that has so obviously been extremely difficult to deal with. People always laugh at me when I’m describing incidents that have caused me distress, even when I don’t expect them to. I wonder if Ms Weir and I are related.
Her life’s tale is retold with women in mind, the vast majority of who go through their lives worrying about their size and shape. She apologised to the large male presence amongst the audience on the assumption that we wouldn’t understand what she was on about but what she said sparked in my mind too. Bits of my life have been very similar to hers. She described at length the constant need to be eating and how she struggled with her Scottish Presbyterian parents’ theory that food was only there to keep you alive and not to be enjoyed, but she never mentioned a twenty four hour a day desire for a pint of Guinness such as the one that blights my life and pushes the tensile strength of the elastic in my skiddies to its limits.
She said something that I have always thought but have never dared to say for appearing to challenge the adoring masses. She said “Delia is brain dead” referring to the way Delia Smith knocks out recipe after recipe after recipe on the telly without displaying even a glimmer of humour or charisma, and she said “All that stuff Nigella says is bollocks. Cooking on a day to day basis to feed and nourish your family isn’t fun, it’s just drudgery”.
But Arabella talked about other aspects of her life and career too which were interesting as well as comical. She said that the funniest people that she had ever met were Simon Day (Dave Angel Eco-Warrior being one of the characters he played in The Fast Show) and Bob Mortimer, and that it was my all-time hero, Alexei Sayle, who had told her twenty five years ago that she herself was funny enough to be writing comedy material for a living.
Arabella is exactly one month younger than I am. After the gig we had a little chat for a minute while she signed a copy of her latest book for me and my heart fluttered. And her bum isn’t all that big really you know!
Be still my fluttering heart!
In the post today I received from my trusty solicitor lady a copy of my new Last Will and Testament. We’ll just call it the New Testament to keep it short, shall we? Now I’m not feeling ill or miserable but there have been a few changes in my life since I last made a will and I hope that there will be a few more before it needs to be read so adjustments to my requirements needed to be made.
I don’t own a house anymore but I do own a business. Some people have gone out of my life and new people have come into it. The last time the final division and distribution or my estate was considered, Pokémon cards hadn’t been invented. When I wrote my previous will I had a pile of financial documents bearing details of vast sums of money but now my credit card bills have all been paid off. I’m pretty sure that I’ve finished having children, amongst whom I shall divide my possessions, but you never know what might happen on a balmy Wiltshire summer’s evening such as this so I’ve left a tenner and a crate of Guinness in the cupboard under the stairs so that any future additions to my team of offspring don’t feel left out.
I’ve also recently renewed my annual ‘no matter what shit happens’ travel insurance largely because I find that since I have moved house I often find myself journeying through the darker and scarier outposts of Melksham on my way home from work. Also I have a number of intrepid travel adventures looming and the one in Ghana, Togo and Benin might just be a little more challenging than my previous jollies have been. I’m sure the pilot of our aeroplane will have an adequate A to Z of Africa but if he doesn’t we may have to deal with the likes of big mountains, dense forests, fierce beasts, warring factions, tropical diseases, spiders and snakes, and Ant and Dec. Where I am going, apparently, is less than a thousand miles from places where cannibalism is said to be still on the menu and as I’ve been marinating my body in red wine for the last forty years I feel a comprehensive policy against such risks will be worth every Togolese franc that I have parted with. I love all foreign food except myself.
Hopefully I won’t need to make a claim on the travel insurance. Hopefully, if I do need to make a claim, it will mean that such measures are taken to render the reading of my will unnecessary. However, if all else fails and my assets and chattels need to be shared between those who love me I would like to take this opportunity to add a few features that the solicitor guffawed at when I suggested including them in the document of death.
In this connection my additional legacies and legatees are as follows. My vast and ever expanding collection of high quality music CDs is to be sold and the proceeds of the sale are to be used either to finance Leeds United’s meteoric rise to world supremacy or to buy all my friends a pint and a pasty, whichever is the more viable venture. My collection of virulent bacteria samples is to be left to the Right Honourable Mr David Cameron MP, preferably on his pillow as he sleeps. My collection of empty bottles is to be left out for the bin men on Tuesday. My Subbuteo Dukla Prague away kit is to be left to my good friend Malcolm. My Subbuteo The Ramones are to be left to my good friend Rigger. My Subbuteo Andy Murray is to be left to my good friend Ian. All my green possessions are to be left to my Dutch good friend Paulien who loves green things. As soon as the Coroner has finished doing what he needs to do with them I’m sure she would soon develop a fondness for mushy peas and Crème de Menthe, though probably not in the same glass.
Now I’m not feeling ill or miserable but death has been on my mind quite a bit this week. A canister of slug pellets has caused utter carnage in and around the garden pot in which my dahlias are fighting for their lives. I thought slug pellets only worked if you fired them from a slug gun but apparently not.
Being serious for a moment, though he never was himself, I was deeply saddened by the passing of comic actor Rick Mayall earlier this week. The fact that he was the same age as me, that his character, The Young Ones’ Rick, considered himself the ‘people’s poet’, just as I do, and that I too have a massive spot on my chin scared me as much as his death saddened me.
What made me even sadder was the demise of three of my very good customers. Before you start thinking the worst I would point out that they had all been suffering poor health and they were all quite elderly and that their journeys to a better place were definitely not as a result of something that I had done to their feet in my working capacity, or any other capacity for that matter.
On Thursday one of my clients cancelled their appointment with me at short notice so I thought I would put the vacant slot to good use. I went into the greetings card shop in the fashionable Phelps Parade shopping mall in Calne and bought three bereavement cards to send to the grieving partners of my former customers. The lady in the card shop looked a bit worried by my bulk purchase until I explained to her that I wasn’t an axe-wielding maniac and that I wouldn’t need a bag because I was going to write in them straight away. Sadly my sad tale gets even sadder here as, while I was sitting in a sad café (my, oh my) having a brew and composing messages of sympathy, my mobile phone buzzed into life with a call from another client to tell me that her husband had recently died. This made me sit for a few minutes in a sombre silence as I reflected upon life and how I should have bought four bereavement cards.
Now I’m not feeling ill or miserable but I did feel the need to tell the world how my life has been touched by death during the last few days. It’s probably also worth mentioning that in the last few days, most notably Sunday morning, although I wasn’t feeling ill or miserable I was feeling a bit fragile. So I’ll leave my collection of Anadin Extra tablets to anyone who wants them … if there are any left.
Now I'm not feeling ill or miserable but ...
My life during the first five months of this year has been in a state of complete and utter turmoil. In that time I have completed what was probably the hardest journey of my life. In terms of distance it was only eleven miles but in terms of stress, anxiety, fatigue, cardboard boxes, fighting on the phone with admin imbeciles at a variety of utility companies, de-cluttering a lifetime’s accumulation of clutter, emotion and cheap red wine I feel like I have been twice round the world in just my flip-flops.
But now I am in my new home and I am happy. I’d be a lot happier if it was in Bolivia instead of Devizes but I’ve accepted that I’ve got to make these big changes to my life gradually and although I’m not in Bolivia it has at least appeared on the horizon. My new house is much nicer than the old one, my new town is much nicer than dreary old Chippenham and my new life is beginning to take shape and should eventually be much nicer than it has been too.
All of my children (well at least the ones I know about) have visited the new abode and each has given it their seal of approval. Our Rose’s exact words were, “This place shits on Wicks Drive (i.e. the old house)” so no ambiguity there. It’s old and full of character on the outside and modern and full of character on the inside (just like me I suppose) and it’s the sort of house I’ve always yearned for.
Devizes is a charming little traditional market town, nowhere near as tarted up and run down at the same time as most small Wiltshire towns tend to be. It oozes history, culture and good taste but without being pretentious or twee. And it’s got several thousand very good and relatively unspoilt pubs which make it better than heaven, a place where I suspect there are no pubs at all.
My life is still awash with far more work than the most hopelessly addicted workaholic could cope with but I am taking steps to correct my habit. It’s very hard for self-employed people to give up any part of a successful business as in the backs of our minds the words ‘failure, food bank and driven to a life of prostitution’ are always lurking about, but this week I have made great leaps forward in my plan to reduce my workload and increase the time I have available to do something more interesting than hacking lumps off old girls’ feet while they tell me about their hospital appointments, their medication, their blood test results and the lumps that need hacking off other parts of their bodies.
So now my life is almost back on track. I haven’t been out of Britain since November last year and my withdrawal symptoms are intense. I go into spasms every time I look at the life size framed photograph of the intrepid explorer, Judith Chalmers, on the wall above my bed. This time last year I was just embarking on my third overseas sortie of the year so for months I have been looking back and pining for the rest of the world. The heartache is coming to an end though as I now find myself in the thick of preparations for three upcoming and very exciting trips.
My website currently looks more bare and neglected than Bognor Regis seafront as the time and facilities for blogging have just not been available during my period of flux. However, in the new base camp from which a thousand adventures will be embarked upon, I also have a new desk by a window which opens wide to fill my lungs with fresh country air, my ears with the song of the tit, the chough and the turdus, and my eyes with the sight of the nearby Kennet & Avon Canal and the distant Salisbury Plain. Here I have everything I need to inspire me to crack on with my travels and my travel tales.
So I will!
It’s nice to be back, I’ve missed you and I will try to go back and fill in some of the gaps with some of the significant events of the past few months for anyone who’s been wondering what I’ve been up to.
Mission Control, Devizes.
I bet you would never have expected to see John Betjeman and me in the same film now would you? No, me neither but it has happened.
We are Seacroft, a short documentary made by raw young talent and local boy Ian Roden, looks at the lives of residents in the fashionable Seacroft district of Leeds and the demise of the 1960s built shopping centre that once stood there.
Betjeman’s words to describe the place are, I feel, rather harsh. Especially when you consider that he came from North East London which isn’t a part of the world that I would boast about living in. However, the film set in the land of my roots features Dorothy from the Seacroft Gate block of flats speaking very warmly about her life there, some very moving music by Andrew Edge and a bit of a poetry recital and a few photographs by me.
Dorothy (in the middle) and some of the residents of Seacroft Gate.
This is a lovely film which has left me with a feeling of pride each time I have watched it. This is partly because during the years that I lived in Seacroft the area and its people made an everlasting mark on me in a very good way, despite its reputation and problems, and partly because I got to read one of my poems in it whereas former Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, didn’t. That’ll teach him to go slagging us off!
Please give it a whirl. I'm sure you'll enjoy it even if you're not one of the chosen few that comes from Seacroft.
We are Seacroft from Manook5productions on Vimeo.
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.