Saturday, October 25, 2014


Returning from England earlier this week, my wife’s trolley case set alarm bells ringing at the security check in Heathrow. The officer politely explained that they had detected “traces of explosives” in her case and, Would she mind detonating opening it, please? Closer inspection of one jersey, two pairs of tights and three packets of Marks and Spencer chunky white chocolate cookies failed to reveal the source of the problem. While my wife fumed silently – Did these people have any idea how long it had taken her to pack the blasted case? –, I bit my lip and resisted the urge to make any wisecracks along the lines of, “Come on, darling, tell us where you hid it”.

The officer was very apologetic and asked us to bear with him while he went over to consult with his superior. ‘Run!’ I shouted to my wife. But it was too late, and so the interrogation continued. Our new friend informed us that his colleague was “swabbing the case”, and that we would be able to continue our expedition once he had filled in the form that he was holding in his hand. I guess that’s the usual place to hold forms …

‘What was the nature of your visit, Madam?’

I explained to my wife that they were not asking whether she was into mountains and country walks, but simply wanted to know why we had gone to England. In retrospect, this was probably a bad move on my part as we spent the next three minutes arguing in Spanish before finally opting for, “To visit my husband’s family”. This answer seemed to go down well, and so we moved on to Section Two (“Length of stay”), breezed through Section Three (“Suspect’s profession”) and, just as we were entering into the spirit of the thing, we were both terribly disappointed to discover that it would not be necessary to do Sections Four, Five and Six.

Just as well they didn’t ask me to open my case, come to think of it, as I might have been hard pressed to explain why I had packed a girl’s blouse and matching skirt. Oh, and in case you're wondering, it’s none of your business!
‘May I have your attention, please. Gittish Airways flight three two one to Zurich is now ready for boarding. Please proceed to gate fifty.’

‘Hurry up, Amanda! We’ll miss our flight if we don’t get a move on.’
‘Relax, Colin. We’ve got plenty of time.’
‘So how come they’re telling us to get on the plane?’
‘They always do that. Don’t worry. Do you like these earrings? One word, no hyphen.’
‘They’re alright, I suppose. Yes, I know.’
‘OK, what about these?’

‘They’re alright.’ Idiot! It was a classic blunder which Colin put down to his lack of shopping expertise with the opposite sex. Before dropping them off at the airport, Jack had handed Colin a piece of paper on which he had scribbled some heartfelt advice …

Jack’s Top Ten Tips for Surviving Shopping Expeditions

1.     Never say, ‘It’s alright’, ‘They’re OK’, etc. This is only asking for trouble.
2.     Always say, ‘It looks great on you’, ‘You look lovely’, etc. Just trust me on this.
3.   Never question the price unless you want to be branded a cheapskate. Besides, she’ll be taking everything back for a full refund the following Saturday, so it’s really not worth getting worked up about.
4.     If she says it’s a “bargain”, it is a bargain.
5.    Avoid any references to time, being late, etc. Shopping is stressful enough as it is without being told to get a move on.
6.     Avoid references to being hungry, thirsty, etc. Skipping lunch and/or dinner won’t kill you.
7.     Remember to smile at all times. Nobody wants to be seen with a misery guts.
8.    Create distractions to pass the time e.g. try to work out in your head what the final bill is going to come to. This should be right up your street, Craphead.
9.    Take your mobile with you and pretend to be using it at all times. This gives the impression that you are a busy man with a purpose in life, rather than some sad git wishing he had the guts to go down the pub with his mates to see the football.
10.  Offer to carry her bags. That’s why you’re there, remember.

‘They look great on you,’ said Colin, quite unable to discern any tangible difference between this latest pair and the previous seven that Amanda had tried on since entering this delightful little boutique.
‘Excuse me, how much are these, please?’ asked Amanda.
‘Eighty-five pounds, love. They’re on special offer.’
Eighty-five pounds?! For a pair of safety pins!
‘They normally cost ninety.’
Five pounds off? Now that’s what I call a bargain.
‘And do you have a necklace to go with them?’
Bloody hell, Amanda!
‘Won’t be a minute, Colin,’ said Amanda, smiling.

Colin smiled back – what else could he do? – and returned to his mobile. He’d already sent his SMS to the Samaritans; now he was experimenting with screensavers ...

                dayrealing, Chapter 50, “Don’t Stop Me Now”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Always On My Mind

“For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.” 

- Karl Ove Knausgård -

Dad’s heart stopped beating six months ago today. I miss him terribly, and I can’t wait the full year’s mourning to say so … even if I virtually ignored my poor father for the last 30 years of his life. Not deliberately, of course. But you’ll agree that two visits a year and one monthly phone call from me was a far from impressive performance. Pat, my oldest sister, fared even worse: one visit every two or three years if I could struggle all the way up to Coventry, plus a phone call on her birthday. Both Pat and Dad were always in my thoughts, of course. And now that it’s too late to tell them, even more so. 

All of which leaves us with just photographs and memories. Personally, I don't remember much about our family holiday in August 1962, but Dad's memoirs, My Life So Far (1999), never fail to entertain me ...

1962 – MARGATE  (Kent) – Boarding house near station – Weather: mixed
August (1 week) with  Pat, Debbie and Mike – by Keith Bryant’s car

Keith took ages because of traffic jams and getting lost. The boarding house was close to Margate Station and the racket kept us awake the first night. This was the cheapest board ever (£4 per week each for us; less for the children). The food was good! 

Classic Dad! He persuades a friend to give us a lift to the coast, and then slags him off in his diary for his poor driving skills and lousy sense of direction! 

Margate, August 1962: Mum, Mike, Deb, Pat, Dad

Dad continues:

Sitting on the beach on Sunday afternoon, we lost Pat. I got frantic, looking for her. (Myrtle had to feed Mike who was four months old.) People brought Pat back (she’d been playing on the sand and went to the wrong hut) but Deb got sun-stroke and I had to take her to the doctor next day. 

So all's well that end's well. And I'm pleased to see that Mum had her priorities right: "Stop fretting, David. First, I'm going to give Mike his lunch. Then, I'll help you look for Pat. OK? Oh, where did Debbie go?"

Talking of Mum, perhaps I''ll give her a quick call before I forget ...

Wycombe, April 2014: Deb, Sue, Mum, Brian, Mike