For Whom The Bell Trolls

Trolls: ugly, bad-tempered critters

Trolls: ugly, bad-tempered critters

One of the stories that has passed into family legend over the years concerns my Dad and an angry Troll.

And it goes like this.

Back in the early ’60s my Dad was bit of a pioneer in taking school kids and Scouts on on adventure trips in the UK and abroad; skiing, walking and climbing and the like. Of course, it was very different to today’s experience. There were no piste-side hotels with all mod-cons. Instead they would trek in the snowy wastes of Norway or climb the Cullins on Skye living on reindeer steaks or freshly caught crab. It was an era when a ‘make the most of everything’ spirit and self-sufficiency prevailed. An involvement in Scouting was indicative of someone who wanted to better themselves and improve the lot of others. This was before celebrity paedophiles and calculating clergymen crawled out from under their cold, dark, damp stones and began to poison a generation.

In 1963 my Dad was in Norway with a group of Scouts from the School in the Kirklees area of  Huddersfield where he worked. One particular day they were trekking through an ice fall, sliced with yawning deep crevasses alongside sheer walls of ice and the constant threat of avalanche.

All of a sudden there is an almighty crash as a block of ice ‘the size of a mini’ as my Dad has always described it, crashes down among the party before disappearing, down a huge crevass. My Dad receives a glacing blow on the forehead as it passes. He is knocked unconscious briefly, but remembers coming to with ringing in his ears and confusion as to why the snow is all red.

He had sustained a nasty gash to the head, which really needed to be stitched. They bound the wound as best they could, and the party retreated off the mountain. They made for a farmer’s cottage they had noticed on the way out. At the sight of my Dad’s head, the farmer’s wife went into the kitchen and brought back a jar of starch (used to stiffen fabrics). She cleaned up the cut then applied the starch to both sides, held them together for a few minutes until the wound  closed up. They politely refused a reindeer steak and went on their way.

The farmer’s wife did such a good job, that my Dad didn’t bother to go to the Hospital and was left with only a minor scar above his eyebrow.

So what caused this sudden and catastrophic fall of ice? Well, we grew up (that is, me and my brothers)  with the bedtime story in which the ice was hurled by a particularly grumpy Troll.

I should stress that this was not an ‘Internet Troll’, someone who spreads hate and does other horrible things anonymously on the World Wide Web; but a Troll of Norse folklore, an ugly cave-dwelling, bridge-guarding monster who it seems took umbrage at My Dad’s party tramping through his patch. My Dad caught a glimpse of him, before he lost consciousness.

Or so he says.

© Andy Daly 2015

 

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WATERLOO SUSPECTS

I swore I would never reveal the full story of what happened on Waterloo Bridge one balmy night in June 1984.

Here it is.

The Great White Chief pulled back the curtain a few inches and looked down into the street below. Phew! The van was there. Admittedly, looking like it had been parked by a monkey; half on, half off the pavement, but there it was. To his immense relief.

It all started the day before.

Is this your vehicle, Sir?

Is this your vehicle, Sir?

Me and my best mate Aky had opened the wine store (of which the Great White Chief was the Great White Chief) for another day’s business. We were going through the usual routine of buying bagels from the café next door and complaining about how expensive they were, while listening to an obscure pirate radio station, Lazer 558 (anything to avoid bloody Capitol bloody Radio ) Maybe having a game of newspaper baseball, doing a bit of light bottling up – nothing too strenuous. Of The Great White Chief there was no sign.

When the phone rang.

We both looked at it. The phone ringing was not in itself an unusual event, but calls tended to come later in the day, when our customers and suppliers had had time to settle into the day.

My best mate Aky answered. He listened for a while and started to jot down an order. It was a big one by the looks of it. It was the landlord of a large noisy pub in Victoria, Marty. One of our publican customers.  He was plainly in a bit of a panic. It seemed he had been given notice of a stock check the following morning and needed a lot of beer fast.

Aky made an executive decision, took the order and told Marty not to worry. It was a big one, 25 barrels of Carlsberg and 4 Fosters. We rang around the Great White Chief’s great white haunts (remember this was before the mobile phone era) but no luck, until we rang Ken’s off licence in Berwick Street, Soho. Ken, the Great White Chief’s mentor and partner in crime was AWOL too: a very very bad sign.

I ought to point out at this stage that in addition to being Great White Chief, he was the only one among us who possessed a Driver’s Licence (Not that he’d ever been within half a mile of a DVLA test centre, but that’s beside the point) and without him we could neither collect the order nor deliver it.

We rang our main suppliers, Olympus Wines and Spirits to make a start on getting the stuff. Because it was at such short notice they didn’t have it all so we had to order the rest from The Finnertys who were a bit more pricey (and who, if they knew, would feel very put out about playing a supporting role to Olympus. Luckily both agreed to deliver, after some negotiation.

Still no sign of The Great White Chief or Ken. We tried the Club (the Hogarth Club: a seedy drinking den in Soho owned by of all, people Jeremy Beadle) The Blue Posts and Topo Gigio’s.

Perhaps they had gone to Brighton for the day? or Ascot? Marty was getting more and more jumpy, ringing every half an hour, wondering when he would get his stuff.

As the afternoon wore on Olympus delivered their part of the order, which we had to hide so when the Finnery’s arrived they didn’t see it. Easier said than done in the tiny shop unit like ours.

About 4:00pm Lo and behold the Great White Chief called in.

‘Sweet’ he said when told about the pub order ‘So what’s the problem? We got the gear in from Olympus and Finnertys are on their way, we drop it round when the pubs shut. I’ll have another couple of drinks with Ken then I’ll come over.’

When put like that it was indeed difficult to draw a conclusion as to what the problem was. Everything was so simple in the Chief’s own little world.

But the moment the phone was put down, the raft of difficulties resurfaced: Marty rang demanding to know ‘What the fuck, and didn’t we know we were going to ruin him? ‘ And worse, the Great White Chief was clearly pissed out of his brains: ‘another couple of drinks with Ken’?? That probably meant two bottles of Shampoo on top of a day’s drinking.

Anyway it was too late to worry, Finnertys were here. We got them to drop their barrels at the corner of Duke St. Ostensibly to make life easier for them while we shifted them after they had gone. It was of course a cunning ploy to avoid them clocking the stuff from Olympus.

‘When the pubs shut’ meant 11 bells and then at least another hour to let Marty’s pub quiet down.

We kept the shop open all the time.

At about 11:00, guess who’s here? The Great White Chief in the red transit van. He is ‘tired and emotional’ but otherwise on top form. We load the van and set off for Victoria. When we get there, we don’t bother with the cellar we just sling the barrels in through the bar.

Phew! We made it. Marty is so happy he re-opens the bar.

‘What are we all having?’

The Great White Chief gently sways and smiles beautifically ‘ I’ll just have lager, I’m driving’

Well, we get out of Marty’s at about 02:00am. We hop into the van. The Great White Chief is going to take us home.

The first thing I notice is that the Chief takes an uneccesary short cut through Victoria Bus Station.

Bit risky. Especially if you don’t want to draw attention to oneself.

The next thing that grabs my attention is the fact that we are driving over the river.

‘Where we going?’ I ask. ‘I’m taking you home’ says the Chief.

Now I don’t wish to brag, but I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction, even after late tasting till 2 in the morning.

‘But we live in Muswell Hill ….

The Chief looks at us blankly.

‘Right!’ and he swerves left in order to cross Waterloo Bridge. We are now going North where we should be. We are half way across when we hear an awful sound …

Ner ner ner ner

Ner ner ner ner

… A police car siren. With blue lights flashing, the Rover SD1 3500 V8 jam sandwich pulled in front of us and we came to a halt…

One of the officers climbed out, put on his peaked cap and slowly walked towards us. He tapped on the window –the Chief had forgotten it was still up. An impressive start.

‘Good evening, Sir’

The officer had the look of a harrassed school teacher.

‘Could you turn off the engine please.’ he said looking down the road and then back to the Chief.

He hesitated ‘Do you realise you are driving without any lights?’

Ooooooh noooo! There followed a toe-curlingly long wait as the Chief slapped every instrument, knob and dial on the dashboard until completely by chance he hit the right one for the lights. The Chief gave the Police Officer a look such as a happy puppy might give his owner on returning a stick.

The officer took a leisurely walk around the van. We could hear him fiddling with light fittings, casting a look into the back – which contained three empty barrels and an open case of Tennants lager. Kicking the nearside front tyre. In the cab we looked at one another our faces lit up by the supernatural glow of the flashing blue light.

‘Is this your vehicle Sir?’

‘Yeah, well I use it for work’

‘And what might that be Sir?’

‘I own an Off Licence’

‘And have been drinking this evening Sir?’

‘Oh no, here we go’ I thought. ‘It’s blow in the bag time. What kind of reading is it going to show? It’s going to melt’

‘No’, Said the Chief.

‘No? How could he have the brass neck?’

He corrected himself.

‘Well yeah, we’ve just had a quick drink, we’ve been doing a job over in Victoria.’

‘I am thinking choice of words!? Doing a job! And why tell him we’ve crossed the river twice?’ I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I think I’m about to feel what a night in the cells is like.

The officer looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, looked down the road again, took off his cap and scratched his head.

‘I know you have been drinking I can smell it from here’ and turning back to the Chief ‘It smells fucking disgusting. I don’t ever want to see you again’. And with that he turned and walked back to the squad car. They turned off the blue lights and roared away!

We sat for a minute astonished. ‘Did that really just happen?’

The Great White Chief started the van and turned to us with his winning gap-toothed smile and said

‘Yeah, stick with me lads you’ll be alright’

He pulled away from the kerb.

‘Chief’, said Aky ‘You might want to take the handbrake off …’

‘Whoops, there we go…’

'As long I gaze at Waterloo sunset I am in paradise' Kinks' Ray Davies. Easily pleased

‘As long I gaze at Waterloo sunset I am in paradise’ Kinks’ Ray Davies. Easily pleased

Now I have analysed what happened this evening countless times over the years and the only explanation for the events as they took place on Waterloo Bridge I can come up with is that the Police officers that night were about to finish their shift. Driving without due care and attention. Driving under the influence of alcohol, no MOT, no tax, no insurance and driving on a false licence … I think they just thought of the mountain of paperwork that arresting the Chief would create, and so didn’t bother.

Besides, they would have had to spend half the night trying to find a book big enough to throw at him.

AFTERWORD

Please note that is not the author’s intention to glorify drink/driving/car crime, simply to relay facts as they happened. You can draw your own conclusions. As far as Ken and the Great White Chief are concerned, their demons followed them right until the end: in Ken’s case the crumbling chalk edge of Beachy Head and the Chief, one of the nicest blokes I have ever met … Well it doesn’t bear thinking about.

© Andy Daly 2015

 

 

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Double Diamonds Are Forever

For Sadie and all those at Coral Bay

Well, by my calculations, as I write this the Royal Party at Clarence House should be just starting the last chorus of ‘Hi-ho Silver Lining’. For some unfathomable reason, this dreary, non-descript, infernal embodiment of crap as vinyl, courtesy of Jeff Beck, has come to signal ‘time’ for the revellers in discos, clubs and bars all over the Western world.

‘Hi-ho Silver Lining’ means, there’s one more song – the ‘slowie’ before lights up. So if you’re not already draped over some one of the opposite sex, or for that matter someone of the same sex, and vaguely interested – and you don’t want to leave alone, then you had better get a move on.

Through the spinning laser lights and the palls of dry ice which still hang in the air from The ViIlage People’s ‘YMCA’ I can just make out Prince Harry lining up for a final approach on Kate Middleton’s sister, Pippa, presumably building on the not inconspicuous ‘groundwork’ he had started on the balcony at Buckingham Palace –or possibly even before. He is a brave man if this is so, for his girlfriend Chelsy Davy is well known for her fierce temper. Never mind, if it goes belly-up I have it on good authority that he has arranged for a ‘first-light fried breakfast pick-me–up’ for all those of the Royal Party still on their feet. He sounds like good company over a few beers.

As far as the run-up to this ‘spectacle of Pomp, Pageantry’ was concerned, I am afraid to say The Royal Wedding barely registered a reading on my ‘Interest-ometer’. Throughout the preceeding two weeks it fluctuated between indifference and mild irritation. However, little by little as the morning has progressed, I have found myself getting ineluctably drawn into the watching of the television coverage of the event; and it isn’t long before I get to reminicing … reminicsing … reminiscing (which is a lot easier to do than it is to spell) about

‘Psssst! Fancy a drink later?’ another Royal Wedding many, years ago; and where I watched it from. In fact, it was Harry’s mum’s wedding. Lady Diana Spencer.

I had been indifferent to that too, The hullabaloo and media conjecture over this, that and the other largely going right over my head. Although, it did register with me – a little uncomfortably it has to be said – that we were soon to have a Royal that people actually fancied: a strange new concept.

We, (that is me and My Best Mate Aky) had resolutely decided to have nothing to do with it. We would gratefully accept the Bank Holiday thankyouverymuch (not so much of a treat in those days, because everything shut and there was bugger-all to do) but there would be no queuing at dawn on our part, no unseemly rush to grab a vantage point on the Mall, no straining of necks to get a better view of ‘The Dress’. No Sir!

I was too hungover on the morning of July 29 1981, for the irony of the situation to fully hit home as we (that is me and My Best Mate Aky) arose at 3:20am and soon after were out of our hovel in Stoke Newington to walk the one and a half miles to Finsbury Park tube station to catch a tube to Green Park in order to hopefully beat the queues at dawn and grab a vantage point on the Mall.

The plan was hatched in the Weatsheaf the previous evening. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. We were travelling light, if you ignore the 12 rusty cans of Double Diamond beer we each carried. In the Weatsheaf, the possession of such lethal weapons was hailed as the ‘masterstroke’ of the whole expedition. Perhaps I should explain. Aky and I both worked in Off-Licences. As a gesture of goodwill to mark the auspicious occasion of the Royal nuptials, we had been allowed to clear the fridges of all the ‘out of date’ and/or rusty cans and use them to complete our celebrations. Of course, this was back in the day when tin cans were tin and goodness me, they did rust. Not, however a cause for concern for two intrepid thrill-seekers such as me and My Best Mate Aky. Indeed it wasn’t long (in the Weatsheaf) before we realised we actually had an ingenious ‘dual-purpose’ gadget in our possession which could have been tailor-made for the very conditions we were soon to experience: contents served to quench thirst/provide hair of dog. Then the can, when empty, something to stand on, which if stacked double height, afforded valuable extra inches as one strained one’s neck to get a better view of ‘The Dress’.

And so it came to pass that instead of being tucked up, fast asleep in bed, like most normal people; 5:00 am on the morning of the Royal Wedding found me and My Best Mate Aky, emerging bleary-eyed from Green Park tube station to make our way down to the Mall. Our objective was Clarence House. Why? Because it was there that Diana would spend the night before her wedding, and from there the following day that she would depart for the journey by horse and carriage to St. Pauls. These were the only definite arrangements, aside from the ceremony of course we knew about with any certainty on this special day. So, we reasoned, if we were to see Diana, and take the last opportunity to shout to her that she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life and that ‘Here I was’ (Or ‘here he was’ in Aky’s case) then Clarence House had to be the venue.

It has just occurred to me writing this years later that although both of us firm in our belief that we could each give Diana a better life than she could ever hope for with old ‘Big Ears’, we had no contingency plan, nor had we discussed what we would do in the event that she called a halt to her carriage, and holding onto her veil, jumped down onto the kerbside and ran into one or other of our outstretched and open arms. No, I think in hindsight it is just as well she stayed in her carriage. I can feel my toes, even now, curling up with virtual retrospective embarrassment, as I imagine myself face to face with Diana, standing on the Mall, somewhere in the region of a million people in the centre of London and a television audience of billions all listen and look on in hushed silence as I mumble to her something about not really being fully prepared, not having thought it through properly and that she might actually be better off with Prince Charles, in the long run after all.

See the guy in black? Standing on tins of Double Diamond

Now I don’t know whether you know this but in the City of London, if you are caught short, and find there are no public conveniencies, ‘bathrooms’ or pub toilets handy; if you shout ‘In pain’ three times, you are, under ancient by-law able to relieve yourself where you stand and the Old Bill – or to use their quaint nickname, The Metropolitan Police can do nothing about it. However, on the Mall, I did feel a little self conscious about doing so, given the numbers of people around. I was in pain, alright. After drinking twelve cans of Double Diamond and standing around doing nothing for five hours, I was in pain x 3. There were rumours of some temporary toilets in Green Park. Aware that to give up one’s hard-fought vantage point – if only for a short while – so close to the start of proceedings could spell disaster. (Worst case scenario being that after everything you have endured you hear the cheers of the crowds as the Royal family and its guests make their way down the Mall, but you are stuck in a queue for the toilets, too far away to see anything.) I had to make a move. So I did.

1981The Charles and Di periscope: No match for cans of Double Diamond

On my return, as I neared our ‘spot’ (on the north side of the Mall/Admiralty Arch side of Stable Yard Road if memory serves correct) I noticed signs of Police activity. This was bad news. They were cutting off Stable Yard Road in preparation for the exit of Diana’s carriage. Bollocks! I was right in the meleé here. I’d lost my good viewing point. And my cans! Bugger it! All that Double Diamond. And for what? Actually, the truth was that the cans weren’t such an innovation after all. As more and more of them were guzzled, standing on the empties, they became increasingly unstable. As did I. In fact I was begining to get quite unpopular with my fellow man, as on at least three occasions, my ‘tower of cans’ collapsed, to go tumbling all over the feet of those nearby. Closely followed by myself. With that dogged determination characteristic of those who have consumed too much alcohol, each time, I picked myself up and opened one of the remaining full ones, took a good slug before collecting the rest and re-building my tower. Finally a gentleman, possibly an ex-PE teacher or Police Officer who, getting more and more irritated by my shenanigans picked me up – a little more firmly than the situation warranted I felt, and simply said ‘I think that’s enough now’.

And just how did they get up there? Tins of Double Diamond

It is at this point that my memory starts to get a little hazy and my account of the next couple of hours begins to differ more than somewhat from Aky’s. In my version, I get stuck on the Palace side of the Mall. In Aky’s, he manages to get the Police to let me cross again before the coach leaves. In mine, all I get to see of Diana are a few white flashes from her dress, the rest of her, as she is seated on the far side of the carriage is obliterated by the sizeable frame and head (looking for all the world like it was made from plasticine by a child) of her father, Earl Spencer, Viscount Althorpe. In fact what I saw, very spookily is almost exactly this:

What did he have in the inside pockets of his suit? Tins of Double Diamond

Aky, on the other hand recalls that he too didn’t see much of Diana, because in his case, the Queen Mother was hogging window space.

Well, that’s Double Diamond for you.

What is for sure, is the three of them couldn’t have squeezed into the carriage – even if they had put the Queen Mum into one of the overhead luggage racks. Anyway, who cares? The point was we had gone to all that trouble and still not seen the star of the show. I have to admit, I felt slightly cheated. We’d had enough. We weren’t prepared to wait for the return of the procession from St. Paul’s. From that point, apart from bumping into my mate Keith, with who I shared a house with in Newcastle (see ‘Coat Tails #2′) and who, throughout the whole of the morning had been standing unbeknown, a matter of feet away; the day began to take on a fairly dismal typical ‘Bank Holiday’ air about it.

In an attempt to prolong the excitement, we decided to make full use the cheap London Underground travel cards that were available on the day.

‘Where shall we go?’

‘How about somewhere that has an interesting name – somewhere we’ve never been before?’

‘Gospel Oak?’ ‘Parsons Green?’ ‘Dollis Hill?’ ‘Kilburn High Road?’

Then as if from nowhere, an image from long, long ago appeared in my mind’s eye. A family: the parents and their three boys sit round a tiny blue formica-topped table, eating tea and listening to a spoof radio quiz show.

‘I know!’ I said ‘ …. Mornington Crescent!’

And so it was.

And the moral of this little tale? Well nothing really, except things aren’t always what you expect them to be. Charles and Diana’s wedding and my small walk-on part in it has always seemed an anti-climax. As for Mornington Crescent, fittingly the ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ team had the last laugh because there’s absolutely nothing to get excited about there at all.

Except Mornington Crescent.

© Andy Daly 2011

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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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