How To Hang Your Skrötum

Some readers may find aspects this post offensive, therefore it may not be suitable for persons of a … Well you know what I mean

I think some of you may be aware of the love/hate (mostly hate) relationship I have with Swedish giant IEKA. But, as well as being a source of cheap furniture (if you believe the marketing) did you know IEKA can also be the source of cheap laughs? courtesy of the game ’Rude, Suggestive and Silly IEKA names’.

We paid a visit yesterday and as a result came away relatively unscathed and with some products for Spring and Summer 2015 which may not have found their way into the IEKA catalogue.

Try some of your own!

Dump

Who says the living room isn’t a suitable place for a dump?

Dump TV storage combination. Fully adjustable shelves. The ultimate media solution.

Fäg hag

A compact put-me up for those ‘unexpected’ guests.

Spew

Scented tea lights you won’t forget in a hurry.

Unhijeenik

A range of budget yet stylish bed linnen

Streptococcus

Designer cutlery. Only from Sweden!

Gøbshite

Life is just so much easier with a Gøbshite around. How else will you get those corks out of wine bottles?

Shäg

The only thing missing in this kitchen is a good shäg. Where? On the floor of course! The shäg non-slip floor mat is a must for busy kitchens like yours.

New for 2015/16

Recktum

Is space a problem? Try these attractive stacking storage boxes. You’ll wonder how you ever did without.

Nob

A carefully positioned Nob can do wonders for even the most featureless room. Try the Nob range of table lamps.

Wince

IEKA’s range of giftware. Second to none.

Tossä

You won’t be able to resist Anders Liefshite’s dynamic new tablewear.

Robust, hardwearing – you need a strong, sturdy

Skrötum

especially with the likes of these rascals climbing all over it all the time! Skrötum is a fully interchangeable system of shelving for walls, doors and … wherever you want!

Chuff

An elegant soap dispenser.

Pubik

Scatter cushions.

 

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Corporal B. Daly Reported Dead

SONY DSCOn this day one hundred years ago at about 4:00 pm my Great Grandfather Bernard Daly, serving with the 2nd Shropshire Light Infantry in the St. Eloi sector of Ypres, was killed by a German sniper.

A corporal, he was a career soldier, initially enlisting with the King’s Own before transferring to the Shropshires. He had completed 20 years service. He was a veteran of the Boer War, fought and was wounded at Spion Kop.

In the letter received by my Great Grandmother, his commanding officer explains.

‘ He was shot through the head and could have felt no pain. I am sincerely sorry about it as he was an extremely good and useful non-commissioned officer who always did his work well and cheerfully. He fell fighting like the brave man he was and I feel sure that he could not have wished for a better death than to die fighting for King and country He was highly thought of by all the officers.’

What he doesn’t say is that the St. Eloi sector had some of the worst trench conditions of the whole Western Front: water thigh deep in places, while frost bite and trench foot depleted the battallion’s strength.

The post which brought the letter, also by cruel irony included a letter to his youngest son on the occasion of his fourth birthday.

Within three months his kid brother would be killed less than a mile away.

Officers of the KSLI Feb 1915

Officers of the KSLI Feb 1915

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Follow The Beer

Warning. May not be suitable for those of a nervous disposition, dealing as it does with the destruction of large quantities of alcohol.

Now hands up if you like a drink.

I thought so.

How many of you would class Hofmeister lager as one of your favourite tipples?

Follow the Bear ... Out of the bar

Follow the Bear … Out of the bar

Aha! Trick question, as Hofmeister no longer exists. The low strength low flavour lager was axed by its manfacturer, brewing conglomerate Scottish and Newcastle in 2003. But it reminds me of the early eighties when I worked in a ream wine store situated at the top end of Bloomsbury, Central London.

If you head north through Tavistock Square, pass the British Medical Association, then turn right between The New Ambassadors and the County Hotels, you come upon Woburn Walk. As if you’ve stepped into a timewarp you are transported from the noise, grime and traffic on Upper Woburn Place to the most wonderful parade of Georgian shops, designed by Thomas Cubitt and built in 1822 as London’s first pedestrianised street. This is where the shop stood.

Barrels: Strictly speaking, Kegs. Barrels or Casks have no CO2 propellant

Barrels: Strictly speaking, Kegs. Barrels or Casks have no CO2 propellant

As the business established itself one of the things it did was to begin to take on the sourcing and delivery of barrels to naughty West End publicans who were ‘buying in’. It went like this. A landlord of a ‘tied house’ (Brewery owned/Fosters one of its beers/supplies all products) would ‘buy in’ say 20 x 11 gallon barrels of Fosters lager at from us at a knock down cash and carry price, we would buy the barrels from the wholesalers and deliver them at a convenient time. Usually in the dead of night just before a stock check. The barrels were hooked up to the pumps and sold at brewery/pub prices. The landlord then simply had to gauge how much extra beer he could make ‘disappear’ without arousing the suspicions of the brewery and of course make sure that everything tallied at stock check time… And pocket the difference.

Clearly something the brewery would take a very dim view of if they knew.

This is why we were often to be found at ridiculous hours of the morning or night in a transit van speeding through the sleeping city to a rendezvous in some dodgy boozer or other. Our modus operandi once we had arrived, was to use the shortest route possible from van to ‘away from prying eyes’, whether this was the cellar, bar or other storage area. We were no draymen, there was no finesse in our methods. But what we lacked in finesse we made up for in speed.

One such delivery took us at the crack of dawn to The Duke of Argyll on Brewer street, Soho (if memory serves correct) It was the first time we had been there, and the publican looked nervous. He soon started getting in the way ‘supervising’ his delivery of half a dozen 11gal. barrels of Carlsberg and one 18gal. Hofmeister. Now despite being skinny as a whippet I was quite strong in those days. I could lift a full 11gal keg, but the 18gal. was beyond me. The publican had the cellar trap door open in the street. We were carrying the barrels to the cellar edge and dropping them down onto a thick hemp mat.

Time came for the big Hofmeister, Two of us got it off the van, then the publican insited we tie in on a rope, like the brewery draymen and lower it into the cellar, reluctantly we did so and rolled it to the edge ready take its weight. In a scene reminicent of film ‘The Dambusters’ when Barnes Wallace’s spinning bomb is succefully launched, the steel cask slipped out of its rope sling and went turning in freefall down into the cellar … where it bounced and bounced again. Now, the cellar was so arranged that the barrels were all out of the way. Beneath the cellar door and its vicinity was where the bottled beers and mixers were stacked in great towers to about five feet in height. The bouncing Hofmeister headed straight into these stacks and with a deafening roar demolished the towers of crates containing bottled beers and mixers. There was beer and broken glass everywhere.

Steady... steady... steady... She's gone Skipper!

Steady… steady… steady… She’s gone Skipper!

The smell was incredible. We were up to our ankles in beer, but oddly mine host seemed quite unconcerned about the breakages, in fact he was quite cavalier about it. Once the financial transaction had taken place he grinned at us.

‘Well there’s no point in crying over spilt beer’

I can only assume that he was so relieved to get his barrels in that he wasn’t bothered about the bottles, which he could claim were down to breakage. Catastrophic breakage at that.

One other thought about the German-sounding Hofmeister, which had always been brewed in the UK. What did it say about drinking culture, advertising and marketing in 80’s Britain. By 2003 Hofmeister sales had plummeted to just 4,000 barrels a year. Sales of Foster’s (which you couldn’t give away in 1980) had soared 30% . For Hofmeister, Scottish and Newcastle went with Ad agency Boase Massimi Pollitt’s (‘For Mash Get Smash’ and It’s Frothy Man’) who  conjured up George the Bear. The ads featured the tagline “For great lager, follow the bear” Hmmm at 3.2% it was piss weak and up against the likes of Stella, Becks, Budwieser, other imports and a burgeoning Real Ale market.

Bad taste. In more ways than one.

© Andy Daly 2015

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The Last Hangover

You know that feeling. When it finally dawns on you that the jukebox you have been stuffing money into all evening is in fact a cigarette machine.

Trouble

Trouble

No? Let me explain. We have only gone and got ourselves a cozy little lock-in at the Clay Pigeon, a huge unlovely ‘Estate Pub’ near to the school we work at. It is an unheard of state of events, so we aim to make as much of it as possible.

But I am eager to warn my fellow revellers lest they fall foul of the same wicked ciggy machine trickery, but they seem a long way away, too far to hear me, they are enveloped in a thick fug (everyone is smoking … It may have something to do with all the packets I pay for while simply trying to get ‘The Tide Is High’ by Blondie on the ‘jukebox’).

Alarm bells should be ringing right now and indeed I do hear faintly what sounds like my Mickey Mouse clock tinkling away, but choose to ignore it and continue drinking and having a great criac.

We finally stumble out into the street at about 2:00 am

The Clay Pigeon. Now a restaurant.

The Clay Pigeon. Now a restaurant.

The following morning I have such a noggin on me, plus the sweats and the shakes, it is a blessing we only have to do a half day.

I swear when we get back into the pub that afternoon that I am going to cut down on the old falling down water and that I am getting too old for this.

And I do.

A few months later I realise why my tolerance to alcohol has become so weak, when it is confirmed that Mr. Parkinson, uninvited, has moved in to my top floor; which is a bit inconsiderate seeing as I am still living there.

It’s not that I am ‘not allowed’ to drink; it is just that it doesn’t do it for me any more which is perhaps just as well. Also, by the third scoop most alcohol starts to taste like aviation fuel anyway.

My Last hangover 15 years ago.

I don’t miss them.
© Andy Daly 2015

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Pull The Udder One – A Ghost Story

Now I don’t have much truck with ghosts and all that shite.

But I do know a good ghost story. And I know it because it happened to me. Let me take you back to the summer of 197thingumy jig in the Lake District, where I then lived.  It was that magical summer which seemed to stretch on forever, after which, we would all be going our separate ways to University, Poly, College, Israel to work on a Kibbutz or to learn Thatching. I had been offered two ‘E’s to do Fine Art by the Admissions Tutor at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (which just serves to underline how serious was the drugs problem in Higher Education at the time.) But I digress.

My Mate Miles who lived in  a house whose name, Peel Place, Noddle, Eskdale made it sound like a family of Hobbits ought to be living there, had a party. And it was at this party that I found myself starting a conversation with a girl called Helen, one which lasted the whole of that summer. I clearly remember Miles’ Mum playing the chaperone role. Keen to preserve decorum and protect Helen from any unwanted advances, she kept jumping onto the sofa, between us when she thought we were too close. She need not have worried, Helen was more than capable of looking after herself.

Helen had been in my English group and was very bright and good looking, and we talked long into the night and early morning. I’ve no recollection of how I got home. If indeed I did.

‘Home’ was Seascale. Former proposed ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the Furness Railway’s 1860’s expansion plans. It was to have been a town to rival Blackpool. Perhaps handing over planning (and this is true!) to someone whose previous experience was the design of a graveyard in Barrow was not such a good idea. In fact, it was simply that for the average Victorian traveller it was just that bit too far from everywhere, while in terms of topography and climate, just that little too wild. Since then with its seaside crescents of bleak and imposing former hotels and guesthouses which just peter out so suddenly it seems almost rude, Seascale has had trouble rivalling so much as a  Blackpool bus stop.

Then of course they built Calder Hall next to it, then Windscale/Sellafield, the AGR reactor and the Thermal Oxide Reproccessing plant. They might as well have dug a big deep hole and poured millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money down it .

Bower House Inn (As you can see)

Being with Helen meant the pubs in Eskdale, where she lived, The Bower House usually, but sometimes the George IV,The Bridge at Santon Bridge and the Gosforth pubs; Horse and Groom (or ‘Hearse and Gloom’ as it was known) Gosforth Hall, the ubiquitous Globe, and the Lion and Lamb (where I grew to love Nat King Cole but not Jim Reeves.)

I spent much of the last few weeks of that summer with Helen and as I didn’t yet drive plus an absence of all bar the most basic timetabled public Transport, being with her meant hitch-hiking there and back or, (and this was almost always the case for the return journey) ‘using Shanks’ Pony’ or in other words, walking; which from Eskdale was near enough 8 miles – so it wasn’t near at all.

It was all very innocent stuff. We would arrange to meet up at one of our venues – sometimes in the company of other friends, but more often than not on our own, chat and giggle. At the appointed hour Mum or Dad would come in the car to collect her; unless we were already in Eskdale, in which case I would walk her home. Then about turn, whereupon I would begin to gather momentum for the ascent of Irton Fell and the rest of the long, long, lonely road to Seascale.

Eskdale. Road to Seascale goes off left hand corner

Well, it was on one such night that my hideous tale unfolds …

It must have been pretty late – perhaps we’d been party to some ‘Late Tasting’ at the Bower, as there was absolutely no traffic on the road. In the dark, once out of Eskdale there was no illuminaton whatsoever. Of course, this meant you could see approaching cars from miles off. Nothing. The last of the drunken boy racers had parked up his escort and was tucked up safe in bed dreaming of the Dukes of Hazzard, while the last drunken Young Farmer had pranged his tractor along the side of the barn and gone to sleep with the pigs.

Now this wasn’t funny any more. I still had about another seven miles to walk. It was cold and the wind was getting up. As the first bit of the road up Irton to Santon Bridge from Eskdale runs below the line of the trees, it was black as pitch I kept walking into the dry stone wall that bounded the steep, winding road, grazing my knuckles in the process.

Finally, I exited the tree cover. As I did so, the cloud which had been covering the moon, and causing my knuckles so much trouble, suddenly dispersed. The road levels out a bit here, before it goes back into the trees again, and the double hairpin. The eerie call of an owl … The moonlight afforded me a view fom the road, taking in the animals’ feeding trough, across the field away to the first of the low rocky outcrops which form the foot of Irton Fell.

It was then that I saw him!

A man dressed immaculately in a black frock coat, white shirt with starched collar, deathly black bow tie, whiskers and a black top hat. He was so, so, so pale as he made towards me. I felt a cry stifle and dry up in my throat … a funereal silence… as he came towards me. He didn’t seem to be walking, but rather gliding over the undulating field with a weird swaying motion. No! This is so wrong! Making no steps. No sound. Squarely, he stared me in the eyes, without blinking.

I heard myself shout out as I found myself doing in two seconds what Lactulose Solution normally takes two days to do; I made to turn and run, at which point the figure, who was now too close for  comfort, let out a long, slow MOOOOO!

MOOOOO?

MOOOOO? Yes indeed, dear reader, for the best part of a gallon of Hartley’s bitter beer, tricksy moonlight and the pattern of markings on the face and neck of a Friesian cow had all conspired to conjure up the image of a deathly pale Victorian funeral director.

Slowly but surely my heartbeat returned to normal. What an idiot.

And I still have six and a half miles to walk!

For MB and HT

© Andy Daly  2015

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A Christmas Carol

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Yes, the influential Jamaican Reggae star had shuffled off this mortal coil in May 1981 so it couldn’t be him, and anyway, this bloke was white. Who was he?

It is the night before Christmas and I am in the ‘Bullring’ Birmingham’s famous shopping centre and snow is falling. I last saw the ‘Old’ Bullring in about 1979. It was, let’s face it not only an eyesore, but an earsore, armsore and legsore it was so bad. Not so today. It is very tidy (in fact bang tidy) neat and very busy.

I am still pondering this transformation in the gents toilets, whilst drying my hands. I am using one of these new-fangled blown air hand driers. Similar to the Dyson airblade, it looks like an open letterbox in the wall. It is pretty pathetic. A vision passed before my eyes of the facia of this thing being removed to reveal two wheezing old men blowing through it from behind. This nightmarish thought was soon banished by an awareness that someone was standing behind me…

I turned and looked. Who was he? Not Bob Marley as we’ve summised, (too white, too alive) Joe Cocker? (too young) Justin Bieber? (too old)

‘Alright’ he said in a gravelly West Midlands accent while he moved to use the hand dryer. Of course! It was only Noddy Holder! The owner of the best pair of lungs this side of the Mississippi Delta and singer of the best Christmas song ever. The band was Slade and the record, the evergreen ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ a hit for the band first time round Christmas 1973.

If you didn’t know, and although you probably really couldn’t give a shit, I’m going to tell you anyway; the story is that this seasonal ditty which has etched its way into our national consciousness, along with Turkey, Santa Claus and Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’ was in fact recorded over a blistering hot week in New York, late summer of that year. Apparently, Lennon (that’s John, Liverpool, musician not Aaron, Spurs, winger) was in the next studio recording ‘Mind Games’ at the time.

The song was a hotch-potch of snippets that Noddy and Jim Lee had lying around. They were given the final touch, it is reported when (I love this …) Noddy “After an evening out drinking, worked through the night at his mother’s house in Walsall to write the lyrics, which he completed in one draft.” You see? a genuine slice of British Popular Culture crafted in a Walsall two-up two- down after a night on the ale. Bowie, meantime, earnestly doing his Willliam Burroughs’ ‘cut-ups’ must have been wondering where he went wrong.

The problem is what to say? What about a ‘cool’ approach? Drop in a ‘blokey’ comment which might initiate a conversation.

That’s it! I figured.

Of all the things I could have said or asked him – such as

‘What was it really like to work with Dave Hill?’

‘Why the Mirror Hat, Nod? and how did you keep it on?’

Failing that, ‘Ere Noddy, you know when Don Powell lost his memory, were there ever things you told him that hadn’t happened, just for a laugh?’

No, of all the things … I quip.

‘These hand driers are about as much use as a chocolate teapot’

He looked at me and snorted a snort which said … said what? I’m still analysing it.….and made his way out.

Of course what I should have done was wish him a ‘Merry Christmas’, for he knows how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim and Dave Hill observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Have a Happy Christmas

With apologies to Charles Dickens. ‘A Christmas Carol’ a contrived piece of seasonal nonsense from ‘Sitting Comfortably?’

Here’s wishing all our readers a peaceful, happy, healthy 2015.

©Andy Daly

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Easy Come Easy Go: A Christmas Story

Well it comes along about 11 bells the night before Christmas Eve in nineteen eighty something or other. I am sitting warming my feet in the old Blue Posts pub on Berwick Street Soho. It is cozy and festive-looking with shiny decorations and real christmas tree, courtesy of Ronnies, the flower stall. Outside it is freezing, chucking down the white stuff all day, such that patrons entering have to defrost momentarily before they are able to dust off the snow they bring in with them.

My feet (especially the left) take a considerable time to thaw out, as to the fact that in an attempt to do just that (thaw them out) I leave them rest in their Dr. Martens boots a little over-long on the fire surround. Now if Dr. Martens boots have an Achilles heel (so to speak) it is the vulcanised rubber sole. Acid, Alkali, Oil, Fat and Petrol-resistant they may be, but not heat. So the net result of this little exercise is a hole in the sole of my left boot. Ordinarily, not much of a problem apart from the ‘pht, pht, pht …’ sound you make as you walk along. But in the snow; a major handicap as it enters through the hole and lodges there in the form of an icy lozenge, making sure my left foot is thoroughly chilled all day.

The Blue Posts

The Blue Posts

In there with me, enjoying a few scoops and hoping for a cozy little after hours lock-in are Mad Mick the cabbie, Ronnie Flowers and a tall guy with a stripy face, result of being shivved-up more than somewhat in a club over on Brewer Street. Dinner and Dance, as he is known to one and all – except the arresting officer, with who he is on such good terms that he answers only to his real name of Lance, does a brisk trade in everything, especially when it falls off the back of a lorry. In fact the last occasion he does time it is because he is in the back of a lorry trying to get 20G’s worth of jeans to fall off it.

Ronnie's Flower Stall

Ronnie’s Flower Stall

The door opens, bringing in a flurry of snow. Now with the mercury trying to bust its way out of the bottom of the thermometer, Ken wanders in with his regular casual attire of short sleeved shirt with button down collar, cashmere sweater, neatly pressed jeans and trainers. His only consession to the weather is a red Santa Claus hat with a flashing neon ball. In all the years I know Ken, I never hear him complain about being cold and he certainly never wears anything as tasteless as a coat or jacket.

Ken rubs his hands theatrically. It is fourteen hours since he cracks open his first drink of the day. Now It is time to let his hair down.

“A bottle of shampoo, and whatever these are having” At which he carelessly waves his hand in the direction of the rest of the punters.

It seems Ken has been in Topo Gigio’s eatery and has stopped in at the club for half a dozen ‘Winter Warmers” And not only that, but who is he with, but The Great White Chief who runs out of Gillespie Road, which back in the day is in the shadow of Highbury. Well known by all as a top geezer and all round good guy, even if he does have a taste for the old grog.

And who does the Great White chief have his meal interrupted by as the waiter brings the phone to the table at Topo Gigio’s?

Only Terrible Tom. Now Terrible Tom, everyone is in agreement, punches way above his weight. He likes to think that he runs with the Big Boys and is a top guy around town, when in fact he is nothing but a halfwit who takes too many chances, and does not run himself a tight ship. Like tonight. Terrible Tom has the Roebuck in Victoria, big and noisy. The kind of bar I will cross the street to avoid.

Now it seems Tom, aside from his pub management duties has been showing a growing interest in all manner of extra curricular activities such as fraud and embezelment to name but two. In fact he has been ‘buying in’ whereby he takes it on himself to go direct to a ‘wholesaler’ (The Great White Chief) who is willing to buy him large quantities of grog. And not only that, but deliver at night. As the Roebuck is a tied house, naturally the brewery, if they ever find out take a very dim view of this, especially as, like today it involves 24 x 11 gallon barrels. Which is a lot of spud in any language. So when the brewery call and inform him to be prepared for an 8:30am stock check on Christmas Eve, Terrible Tom starts to get terribly agitated. In fact as the day goes on he gets more and more panicky as he is unable to reach The Great White Chief such that by nine, when he finally tracks him down to Topo Gigio’s, he is naught but a quivering wreck.

Of course at such a time of the day the Great White Chief is having trouble remembering his own name, but despite this, he is able to remember what a pain in the bliff Terrible Tom is. But being a good sort the Great White Chief agrees to drop him his gear and goes about enlisting the help of his assistants. However, he plans to make terrible Tom sweat as much as poss.

Now getting hold of such a large amount of liquor at such short notice is no mean feat. In fact it means a trip in the transit to an old engine shed behind Kings Cross, owned by the Finnertys.

The Finnertys are a well known criminal family from Islington. Now don’t get me wrong, I am as much a believer in family values as the next man but in the Finnerty’s case the pursuit of same can get a bit out of hand.

I daresay the best-known example of this is their Finsbury Square shoot-out with rival gang the Adams family. It seems like both sides seriously underestimate each other’s resolve because after five minutes they have run out of slugs for their sawn-offs. Each repairs to cafes at opposite sides of the square for shelter and to re-arm with squeezy bottles of Tomato Ketchup.

The scene of carnage shocks even the hardest of the Gendarmes, when they finally arrive until it is realised that the dozens of bloody victims are suffering nothing more than a sizeable dry cleaning bill.

That said, there are any number of places I would rather be on a snowy night two days before Christmas than an old engine shed behind Kings Cross with Matty Finnerty, his map looking very creased indeed as, suited and booted, his black 1972 Mercedes Benz 280 SE 3.5 parked alongside, he supervises the operation.

The Finnerty's shed behind Kings Cross

The Finnerty’s shed behind Kings Cross

Van loaded, the financial transaction complete, The Great White Chief and the crew scuttle off down to Victoria and without incident (unless you include driving through Victoria Bus Station, and being stopped by The Bizzies on Waterloo Bridge – something to do with driving without lights on and tax, insurance, log book and suchlike, I believe. I don’t know as I never drive the transit I never take much notice of these things.) In fact Terrible Tom is so pleased that he still has a job and a livelihood that the whole gang are treated to a few warm somethings to stave off the wintry chill.

It is gone 2:00am when I am woken from my slumber at the bar in the Blue Posts. Reason being Ken makes such a song and dance about The Great White Chief’s successful mission as he lets him back into the now quiet bar. A quick look at my Tintin watch confirms there is no way I’m going to get to the flat tonight. In fact, I am due to open up with Ken in approx six and a half hours. It’s just as well I’ve my clothes with me in my bag, for tomorrow at noon I am to make the long Journey up to the frozen North to wish the Old Timers ‘Joyeux Noel’. As the brandies get passed around on account of the cold and snow and whatnot, there is another rap at the door.

We figure it must be one of The Great White Chief’s crew, so we open up. In a mini snow storm who should make an entrance with four of his gorillas but Matty Finnerty and moreover they are all tooled up with sawn-offs, and I’m willing to bet shivs as well, though I never get round to asking.

“Good Evening gentlemen” Says Matty all friendly like as he looks around the room at Ken, Dinner And Dance, The Great White Chief, Ronnie, mad Mick and me. “Don’t mind if I do” he says eyeing the brandy. Ken pours another glass.

Now I remember hearing somewhere that the Finnertys begin to take an interest in insurance particularly in the form of extortion, protection rackets and so forth; and it turns out Matty has been collecting insurance premiums all day.

“It seems” he says “You do some pretty good business with Terrible Tom after you leave us. I know this because we follow you all night …” He pauses and casts a withering look at The Great White Chief. “Which reminds me, I must have a word with you about your driving sometme. Now, as we all know Christmas is a time for giving … and you’re going to give me Terrible Tom’s one and a half Gs. In the bag if you please!”

With that, Matty indicates a plastic carrier bag. The Great White Chief, not being a man of violence, sees that the odds are stacked against him and does as he says, but with such a look of pain as I only ever see carved on models in church and suchlike.

“Good! Now with the business out of the way let’s enjoy a bit of Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas one and all!” Says Matty Finnerty.

Matty slams his sawn-off and bag onto the bar, right next to my head, causing me to leap about 3 feet off my stool. Someone puts ‘Fairytale of New York’ on the juke box and Matty Finnerty and his boys begin to wail. Outside, the snow comes down like five pound notes falling from the sky.

Well, at some point I doze off again and the next thing know I am chewing a bar towel, waking from a dream that I am eating the biggest Christmas dinner ever. I look around. Most of last night’s ghosts are gone. Only Dinner and Dance and Ronnie Flowers still snooze either side of a cold fire. I grab my bag and hot foot it out into the market to get some bacon and eggs and a couple of gallons of tea, before opening up with Ken. Who is philosophical about the night’s events.

“Easy come easy go” is the only comment he makes. I am not sure The Great White Chief sees it like that, but decide to let sleeping dogs carry on snoozing.

Well, before I know it, it is time to bid farewell, Happy Christmas, Feliz Año Nuevo and make my way through the snow to Euston Station for the phenomenon that is the Christmas Eve West Coast Line service all stations to Glasgow. This has to be seen to be believed. The carriages are awash with beer and wrapping paper, their occupants dancing and singing traditonal songs like ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ ‘I wish It Could be Christmas Every day’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Everyone is full of Christmas cheer.

Indeed, when I alight, I am so full of Christmas cheer, I can barely walk in a straight line.

Finally and wearily I make my way up the path home. It has stopped snowing now. The sky is clear and frosty with a bright moon that sets the drifts of snow a’ twinkling. Once inside, I quietly make a nightcap as my brothers, wives, nephews and neices are going up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire some time ago.

I leave my plastic bag of washing in the kitchen before going tp to join the rest in the Land Of Nod.

I am awoken by such a commotion; even for a Christmas morning. There seems to be more shouts and expressions of joy than I remember for a long time. Bleary-eyed, I make my way downstairs, stepping over various nephews and neices as required and enter the front room.

“Why if it isn’t the best son anyone ever has, you make our dreams come true, now we can retire to that lovely little cottage by the orchard! …”

Retire? Who? Cottage? Orchard? This is the first I hear of it.

Of course, I am thinking she already overdoes the Christmas sherry, and any more and she will be out for the count the rest of the day. Until I see her holding my plastic bag, which she empties onto the table. And what do you expect falls out? Not the shirts, socks and pants I leave last night to go in the wash, but bundles of carefully tied £50s and £20s. I am astonished. Then I remember the night before last in the Blue Posts, how Matty Finnerty drops his bag and gun on the bar, next to me. It seems he picks up the wrong bag. Matty gets my laundry while my Mum gets, at my quick estimation something like one hundred and thirty Gs. (Less The Great White Chief’s one and a half Gs which I intend to siphon off and return asap)

After that, I keep a low profile for a little while, and anyway, I am far too busy, what with arranging a move to the cottage by the orchard and one thing and another to visit the smoke.

Which is probably just as well.

Happy Christmas!

In memory of two larger than life characters Ken Whitehead and Arthur Mullan.

© Andy Daly 2012

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TALKIN’ TURKEY

Now I don’t know about you, but for me the Festive Season doesn’t get into full swing until I awake at somewhere like Barking, Dagenham, Upminster, Barnet Church, Brighton, Uxbridge, Rayners Lane, Hainault, Paris, Queen’s Park, etc after a night out with workmates and chucking back a bit more of the Yuletide grog than my liver is prepared for, eating (optional ) and generally having a good criac.

In fact, I am a dab hand at sleeping through stations on my way home from nights out on the town. Especially stations after the one I am supposed to be getting off at. Not a major problem in itself, under normal circumstances. You simply cross over the platform and get the next train back towards London and alight, none the worse for the experience, if a little later than planned. But my speciality is the last out-bound train of the night. There are no more trains back into London from where I habitually wake up.

cockfosters

And even if there are, I am not sure I trust myself, under the influence of the old falling down water, to not doze off again and have to repeat the whole process. For instance, I have unhappy memories of one Christmas staying with friends near Crawley. I go for Christmas drinks uptown. On the train back – unusually, it was a 24 hour service – after sleeping through Crawley and waking up in Brighton, I then spend the entire night going between Victoria and Brighton missing my stop each time, till at about 5:30am I give in and go back to work feeling rough as rats.

In short, you name it, I wake up there.

Tonight it is Cockfosters.

Right at the end of the Piccadily line, it nestles somewhere beween East Barnet and Mordor and is 6 stops after my ‘Target Station’ of Wood Green.

There is absolutely no- one around. The Taxi rank is deserted. I check my pockets: I wouldn’t be able to afford a cab anyway. And now it’s starting to snow heavily. I have no idea where I am (other than Cockfosters of course), or which direction I should take in order to make it ‘home’ to Wood Green.

‘Home’ being the floor of my Best Mate Aky’s bedroom in a ramshackle shared house. He has the downstairs back room (otherwise known probably in another life as the ‘Dining Room’) My temporary status due to the fact that I am only staying to work for the Christmas period.

I begin to walk. It is stupid o’ clock, I am freezing bloody cold and I’ve got to be back in work in six and a half hours. And I’ve no idea if I am going in the right direction. I come across a dual carriageway, the snow is really starting to stick now. Looking at the signs, I reason that going left should take me in the general direction of Wood Green. After an hour of trudging through increasingly deep snow, I take a chance and flag down the first cab I see, and offer all the cash I have to take me to Wood Green. I am a couple of quid short, but he takes me anyway: Relief!

The next problem: how to get in? Because I am only staying for the week, I haven’t a key. How the fuck am I going to get in without waking the whole house?

I stomp down the path to find in a stroke of luck that I am still at a loss to explain all these years later, the house door is wide open. I go in brushing the snow off my boots and coat. Every one is sound asleep.

Hmmmmm! I feel a bit peckish so I go into the kitchen. In the fridge are the remains of the turkey we had yesterday for our ‘Pre-Christmas Christmas Dinner’ So I take it out and after removing the tin foil put it on a plate on top of the microwave. A Turkey and Cranberry sandwich seems like a good idea. But before I can carve any of the meat, a voice asks:

‘So where do you wake up tonight then?’

I scan the room. I appear to be alone, but with all the glasses of Christmas cheer and one thing or another, I’ve downed, it’s kind of difficult to tell.

‘So come on, let’s hear it. Which god-forsaken deserted tube station do you wake up at tonight?

I know this sounds absurd, but the voice seems to be coming from the turkey. Sweat breaks out on my upper lip and I tell it:

‘Cockfosters’

‘Ah Cockfosters is it? If the Underground had piles that’s where they’d be. And how do you get back? On Shanks’ Pony or do you find a cabbie daffy enough to take you?’

‘Err .. Yes. I mean no .. I mean bit of both’

‘And do you have a good night? Is your little detour worth it?

I can’t believe I am being quizzed about my social life by what appears to be the ghost of a roast turkey.

‘And how do you let yourself in the house may I ask if you have no key?’

I have no idea why the ghost of a roast turkey should be party to such information, but explain about the front door being open.

‘Hmmm.. there are some strange goings-on tonight right enough’ Says the turkey; and I’m inclined to agree with him.

I find I am losing my appetite for a sandwich, probably a result of the onset of an attack of the ‘bedroom whirlies’ and so bid the turkey Goodnight and Happy Christmas and make my way to my Best Mate Aky’s room. I hit the floor and am comatose in seconds.

After a restless sleep in which I dream I am being pursued by lots of turkey carcasses, I am getting ready for work the next morning with such a noggin on me. I sit at the table letting the steam from my cup of tea unstick my eyelids and mulling over the events of last night, chiefly my encounter with the ghost of our ‘Pre-Christmas Christmas dinner’. My Best Mate Aky has already gone to work, and it is a couple of days till our paths cross again.

‘Recovered from the other night then?’ he asks.

‘Just about. Hey, you’ll never guess what happened after I got back, I was in the kitchen about to make a turkey sandwich, when it started talking to me’

‘What did?’

‘The turkey’.

‘What did it say?’

‘Well it was asking me about my night out and that I should get a key cut to be on the safe side’

‘You must have been cooking with gas’ says Aky. It is me who is talking to you, you crate-egg. I am in bed, but I open the old serving hatch. I guess you can’t see me because the microwave is in front of it …’

‘With the turkey on top! Of course’ I add. ‘ So it wasn’t the turkey ghost after all. Well I’m glad that’s sorted that out. I am never going to touch another drop if that’s the effect it has on me’

‘Perhaps a bit rash. Could have been something you ate’… ventures Aky.

‘That’s true’

‘Fancy a pint?’

‘Sounds like a plan’

‘Y’know that turkey told me about the band he was in?’ I say as we leave the house, heading for the pub.

‘Really I don’t remember ?’ Says Aky, nonplussed ‘How did it manage to get in a band?’

‘He had his own drumsticks’

© Andy Daly 2013

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Brain Salad Surgery

Well, if I ever needed an illustration of what my life would be like without my Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) set up, I had one yesterday.

And it wasn’t pretty.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Last week I got a call from The Functional Neurosurgery Department at The National Hospital For Neurology And Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London. They were calling to see if I’d be interested in helping them out with some tests. They are doing some research into the unwanted side effects of DBS, notably twitching or similar muscle movement in the lips, and the hand.

Of course I said yes.

It means a lot to help out, if only a small way, the team who have been so helpful to me.

A brief reminder about DBS. It involves implanting 2 electrodes deep into the brain, which are cabled to a battery and pulse generator implanted in the chest cavity. When properly set up, the pulse generator sends current to the electrodes  and the stimulation of the pathways in the Subthalamic Nucleus it causes are able in successful cases, to ease Parkinsonian symptoms.

Yesterday’s task, as I understand it was for the team to make some recordings of muscle activity with my DBS settings turned off and, then using one lead only (ie. one side of the brain) increase the amplitude in increments of one volt at a time. To capure this I had numerous electrodes stuck on my face my hands. Now, I’m no expert but it seemed these were connected to what looked like a 1970’s Moog synthesizer: a huge piece of equipment, favoured by Prog Rockers like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Which is not as daffy as it sounds if you think about it, the synthesizer’s job being to take white noise and shape it by altering its wave patterns and other parameters to create electrical impulses which can be converted to sound.

Robert Moog with Modular Synthesizer. It would fit on a credit card now.

Robert Moog with Modular Synthesizer. It would fit on a credit card now.

The equipment yesterday was doing pretty much the same thing, kind of in reverse picking up electrical impulses coming from my brain which have been shaped by the DBS settings and converting them to wave patterns (and presumably sound as well if required) which can be viewed on a computer, and recorded along with physiological changes in the patient, The brain, ably assisted by the implanted Impulse Generator under my collarbone, playing the role of synthesizer

We got going after a few teething problems which including getting the electrodes to give a clear read out. You’ll be pleased to hear that trying to solve this problem included turning the equipment off then turning it on again! Which was a strangely comforting thing to see.

Equipment for recording  brain activity. You see what I mean?

Equipment for recording brain activity. You see what I mean?

As the tests progressed, I fairly soon went into an ‘off’ state characterised by lack of movement, and ridgidity . It is so difficult to describe what this is like. I am unable to move – even to shuffle back into the seat so I am comfortable. I can’t hold a cup of water, it has to be ‘fed’ to me. I am as helpless as a newborn baby. It doesn’t hurt as such, but it is extremely uncomfortable. This is what I would be like without the DBS. I would need constant care, would lose any Independence I enjoy, plus I would be having to take ever larger amounts of anti-Parkinson’s drugs. Drugs which have some scary side effects, which include hallucinations, impulse control disorders and dyskenesias (uncontrollable movements)

After about an hour and a half, the team had got some successful recordings, with twitching coming in around 6 – 7 volts. My settings were restored and I slowly come back to life, able to talk and smile again. Such sessions always leave me exhausted, but a measure of how far I’ve come in the 3 years since the op. Is that I made way back home on the rush hour tube, rather than take the cab the hospital offered me.

It really is remarkable, the difference DBS has made , and it is a technique which is constantly evolving. It is being used in the treatment of Cerebral Palsy, Tourette’s Syndrome, Depression and Migrane nowfor instance. For my money it represents the way forward in treating Parkinson’s in a cost effective way.
Sadly it has no effect on the tendency to compose or listen to Prog Rock.

 

The great H R Giger's sleeve design for ELP's 'Brain Salad Surgery'

The great H R Giger’s sleeve design for ELP’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery’

© Andy Daly 2014

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Peter Hill – A Postscript

(or How a Nun held hands and changed my life )

It is a matter of great regret that I never said a proper ‘Thank You’ to Peter Hill.

It was he, bless his large, round camp glasses who was responsible for the singlemost brilliant piece of teaching of my whole school career.
A bit of background: This happened in Rochdale, Lancashire.

Ah! Rochdale.If you’ve never been there, it’s a bit like … how can I describe it? … Imagine the Cotswolds and an artist’s watercolour pallette, of green and all its subtleties, an embarrassment of hues and tones: fresh, fragrant and soothing. Alongside it, the artist’s page and a peaceful, landscape, lovingly depicted but which is steadily succumbing to the leaking black which is seeping into it, courtesy of the artist’s son. Who, fancying a crack at a bit of painting of his own is happily grinding the brush into the disintegrating picture. He then paints his own fingers, the lamp black mixing nicely with the remnants of a peanut butter sandwich, which then also becomes incorporated into the pastoral scene… That’s what Rochdale is like.

Or at least it was in the ‘70s when I lived there and when Peter Hill, teacher and actor, cut a dash (as still does I am lead to believe) impeccably dressed as always, through the cobblestoned streets of nearby Whitworth.

I knew a bit about Peter Hill before I went to St. Wilfred’s Catholic Middle School where he taught. There were tales that went around about this mad English teacher who wildly over-pronounced certain vowels and consonants and had a ready willingness to threaten and use corporal punishment. My Dad (also a teacher, but not at the same school) had a few stories about him too, but advised me to tread with caution. He thought Mr. Hill an experienced and wily campaigner who could be a hard taskmaster and yet inspired great loyalty.

‘Trilly’ as he was affectionately known (Mr. Hill – Mister Hill – Mister ‘ill – Mistrill – Trilly: See?) was a regular cast member of the Whitworth Amateur and Musical Dramatic Society and a brilliant comic actor (something which he brought into his teaching incidentally) I still have very clear memories of him singing “I am the very model of a modern major general” and, it may have been the same production, an occasion when his false moustache and beard began to slip. With a series of matchless ad-libs he used it to great comic effect.

I adored him though, of course I didn’t tell a soul in school, particularly once I had reached St. Wilfred’s myself, and where, during my first year, for no apparent reason (I think I just got off on the ‘wrong foot’ with the place) I was a complete arse. He taught me Latin that year, but I just messed about. I didn’t give him a chance. I came bottom in the exam.

The following year, he taught me English. I was in one of his lessons, doodling away, as I often did, on the inside cover of my exercise book at a cartoon figure. I didn’t realise as I struggled with the hands of this wretched creature I was drawing that he was standing right behind me: ‘So THIS is what we do in our English lessons is it?’ He made me come out to the front. I was mortified. Ashen – faced, which you couldn’t see because I was blushing so much, I watched, eyes prickling with the hot tears welling up, but which I wouldn’t allow to fall, as he tore a page from my book, wrote something on it, folded it in half, and told me to go with it to the Library. I assumed I’d be met there by one of the senior staff to be given a serious punishment…I mean…getting sent out of a lesson.

‘Can I help you?’ The Librarian was a nun with a profile like an eagle. I dithered and looked around

‘Yes?…’ She was impatient. I thrust the piece of paper at her. She read it then told me to sit down.

After a few minutes, she returned with a book, set it on the table before me, opened it and laid the note alongside. This is what I saw…

Albrecht Durer ‘Praying Hands’ 1508

Underneath his written instruction to the Librarian it said:

“If you are going to draw hands in my lesson, you might at least get them right. Stay here and draw these until you know them back to front. Don’t move till I come to collect you.”

I never did get them right. But I’ve had a blast trying. So Peter, please accept my belated apologies.

…… Oh, and Thank You.

© Andy Daly 2010

Postscript

Some four years after this was written I got a message (You can read it below) which said that a relative of Mr Hill had stumbled across ‘Sitting Comfortably’ and had shown him this piece.

He was very keen to contact me and so I passed on my phone number. Sure enough about a week later I got a call one saturday morning. It was Peter Hill. We had a lovely conversation in which we remembered old times.

So I did get to thank him after all.

Peter Hill:  Actor and Teacher

Peter Hill: Actor and Teacher

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