New York State 2

September 24, 2012

I’ve left New York now. I’ll really miss it. It’s a magic place. At 4am you can get pretty much whatever you want be it crisps, moisturiser or scaffolding. It was hotter than Satan’s stolen stereo and on rubbish collection days smelt like the aftermath of Ypres – but I’ll miss it. When I first arrived I kept getting up in the night to find the source of a constant thrum that I presumed was an air conditioning unit in my flat that had been left on. It took me about a week to realise that the noise I was trying to turn off was New York itself, which doesn’t have an off switch. I leant out of my window a couple of times and shouted a general, ‘Be quiet please New York!’ but to no avail. They couldn’t hear me. It’s a shiny, dirty, throbbing, honking, hotbox of a place. It serves you with a smile and calls you a fuck-wad in the street. I love it.

I did nothing while I was there really. I didn’t go up the Empire State building. I didn’t go to the Met or to Ellis Island. I did actually see the Statue of Liberty from the window of a speeding cab from a few miles away, which I’ve been told is the only way to see it, but that’s about it. I have no pictures of me in Central Park or stood by the Ghostbuster’s fire station or sat at the table where Meg Ryan came all over Billy Crystal but I do have a collection of pictures in my head.

I have a black friend; I’m not showing off, it’s just a fact, who came to visit me while I was there. When else would he visit me? When I wasn’t there? Some of you may wonder why I said that, and you’d be right – why did I say that? He has a south London accent that borders on RP. It’s basically as if you asked a computer to calculate the exact opposite of how most African-American New Yorkers speak and then put that voice in a head. On the street one night a stranger greeted my friend in the spirit of fraternity.

‘Hey brother wassup?’ he said holding out his fist.

‘Fine thanks how are you?’ came the response.

Oh how I wish I could have captured that man’s face. It was the reaction of a man who, while enjoying a delicious milkshake, had been bitten by a poisonous snake. In all my dreams before my helpless sight I saw him drowning. It was priceless.

‘What the fuck is that shit?’ he said circling my friend half-afraid of the witchcraft he’d just seen.

‘Peckham,’ said my friend.

‘You gotta learn to speak,’ he offered and staggered off.

New York was the first time I’ve had the sensation of being aware of actually living out a potentially unrepeatable experience. I’m approaching 30, which might not be that old (to older people) but is old (to younger people). And the sensation of perhaps not being one of the immortal fixtures of the universe, like expansion or Zeus, is an altogether new one and is becoming more vivid. I hear songs now, or smell rotting waste, and am immediately transported back to how I felt at certain times in New York, and I’m overcome with a kind of sadness about all the other periods of my life that can be triggered in a similarly abstract way, but which I never quite realised were unrepeatable. I feel like I’ve cherished them less. I think Proust wrote a short piece about it after having a biscuit once. Proust had his biscuits and I have quarter pounders and Jameson’s. (Incidentally, if you like Sambuca and are British, do not drink Sambuca in America. I mean it. It tastes like a night under a Jeep. You might think you got a ‘bad shot’ – you didn’t.)

There are a lot of people in New York who go by themselves to public areas and do Tai Chi. This appears to be a ‘thing’ here. There are two breeds of people who do it: the ones in gym wear and/or clothes appropriate to exercising and the ones who do it in suits. Now, it may be that these busy business people simply don’t have time to put on sports wear because their schedules are so packed, but I doubt it. People doing Tai Chi in suits almost always had that sort of faraway look in their eye. The kind of look you see in the eyes of a person laughing at a joke that a tree has told them. What is the reason for crazy people wearing inappropriately warm clothing? Has there been a study on the correlation between mental illness and the amount of coats you have on? If people did Tai Chi in public in London, they would certainly have to suffer the occasional ‘Dick!’ from passers by of all ages. In New York it goes by without punishment.

People think the streets of New York are run by the mob, or gangs, but they’re not, they’re run by small dogs. The pavements are awash with beautiful women with tiny dogs. The dogs are on leads, but this seems to be for nothing other than the dog to give a clear indication to the human where it is going. In all my time in New York I never once saw a dog instructed where to go, I never saw one so much as persuaded to change its plans. I saw Chihuahuas pulling grown women out into traffic; I saw French poodles forensically sniffing the base of fire hydrants while their owners looked anxiously at their watch, clearly very late for something, but with absolutely no control over what was happening. One day I saw a dog so small it could have been a thumb with legs terrorising an entire foyer of a building, pissing everywhere with excitement and wagging its stump of a tail so hard its arse was hitting the side of its head.

‘Maurice,’ the owner pleaded quietly in a tone more like resignation than anything. ‘Please Maurice,’ as Maurice pulled over potted plants, pissed on a child’s foot, stole someone’s credit card and hailed a cab. ‘Maurice please calm down,’ as Maurice leapt onto the desk, left lewd status updates on someone else’s Facebook account and gave a baby the finger. ‘Maurice come on,’ as Maurice phoned a sex chat line, let all the heat out of the building by holding the door open and struck up a relationship with a meth dealer. Then when Maurice finally jumped down from the lap of the disabled person he had been tormenting and returned to his owner, more from exhaustion than any obedience, she gave him a treat and declared him a ‘Good boy.’ Beware New York: this type of power will corrupt. I wouldn’t be surprised if upon my return the humans were the ones wearing the collars and shitting in the street.

Actually, the humans already shit in the street in New York. I stumbled on one doing a massive crap on a street not too far from where I live. The guy looked at me with absolute disgust, as if I had found exactly what I was looking for to satisfy my sick fantasies and he was a poor innocent caught up in my perverted game simply because he had the bad luck to be shitting in the street in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

‘You bastard,’ his eyes seemed to say. ‘How dare you have the temerity to happen upon me crapping out of my arsehole on this quiet street tucked away in the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world. Pervert.’

It may be legal to do that in New York. There are a couple of surprising laws there. One day I was informed by a friend that it was legal for women to be topless in the city, and that just the other day her boyfriend had seen a woman outside a café reading a book with her bazungas out. It seemed to me such an odd combination, that one of the most populous, urban areas of America should have the same rules as a limited number of Mediterranean beaches. Coincidentally, the very next day, on my way into work, I saw a woman striding down 6th avenue, perfectly typical in every way, down to the latte she was carrying, but with one crucial anomaly – she was wearing only half the clothes you’d expect in that situation. There was a not insignificant whiff of defiance in her gait as she startled oncoming families into evasive action and caused at least 4 major arguments that I saw between passing couples. I really wanted to know where she was going. Was she a nursery nurse? Did she have a nametag where she worked? Where would she put it? In my head she was the world’s only topless librarian, ‘This’ll keep ‘em quiet.’ When my friend had mentioned it I thought that the sight of boobs on Broadway would titillate me, but it kind of made me roll my eyes. We wear clothes to preserve our mystery and to prevent traffic accidents. There’s something really unexciting about someone with no mystery. That’s why the Victorians were so horny. They had nothing but mystery. I can’t even begin to imagine what fever pitch of arousal you’d have to reach to find an ankle horny, but they regularly reached it. When waltzing first hit the ballrooms people were outraged. Outraged! By waltzing! They must have had the horn all the fucking time! ‘Oh my God the small of your back! I’m touching the small of your back! Nggggggghhhh! Yeah! The small of your back. Phew. God that was good. The small of your back…yeah.’ They must have had a stonking time in the bedroom. ‘What the hell’s that? I don’t have a clue but I love it!’ Lots of syphilis, sure, but I bet they had a great time.

We celebrated July 4th while we were out there, a particularly self-conscious time to be British in America. The company we were working for had organised a rooftop party for us near the banks of the Hudson, to enjoy the firework display that every year draws crowds of thousands. A couple of hundred of us gathered excitedly, unperturbed by the two large skyscrapers in the process of being built obscuring our view of most of the left hand side of the river. Surely, all of us thought simultaneously, that must have been taken into account when organising this. They can hardly have appeared as a surprise overnight. The show started and judging from the light bouncing off other buildings it truly was an elaborate display. After a while the building sites were obscuring our view of the celebration so perfectly that I thought it had to have been part of the organisation, and perhaps a kind of symbolic revenge on the British. Ultimately, we heard a really beautiful firework display. It ended, and we laughed off our bad luck and got on with the serious business of getting drunk on a roof. New York in the summer suffers from very sudden storms that leap into action and then disappear almost as quickly. They happen fairly regularly and after a while one started up in the opposite direction from where the fireworks had been, like a consolation prize from God, and started gliding over Manhattan. The New Yorkers among us were so over their own weather that the yawning sounded like a colony of whales, but us lobster-backs, used to drizzle and sheet lightning, pulled up our chairs, opened beers and began ‘ooh’-ing and ‘ah’-ing as the lightning snatched at the buildings and burst occasionally across the clouds. I think we even applauded one particularly elaborate spurt, looking to others on the roof like a breed of underground people being shown weather for the first time. I remember thinking as the light show trundled out of sight, how nice it would be to be a storm in New York, and be certain you’d be back.

New York State

September 16, 2012

I have a fear of flying. Not of having the superpower, that would be fine. I don’t imagine Superman had any moments of, ‘Fucking Hell I’m high up! This is so incredibly dangerous. What the hell am I thinking?’ No, I have a fear of being in large man-made containers that, throughout my life, in many different media, I have seen smash into the ground or explode. When on a plane my mind is a busy hive of death-bees taking the dark pollen of fear and creating a sickly honey of grotesque fantasies and elaborate metaphors. I cannot sit still for imagining a wing falling off, a sudden fire, a crazed air-hostess grabbing the controls and plummeting us to Earth, or the plane simply ripping open spontaneously and spilling its human contents into the indifferent sky. It’s not relaxing. This fear led me to browse self-help websites before embarking on a trip for New York. That proved to be a mistake. Most were pretty shoddily put together and their lack of thoroughness combined horrifically with my imagination. I happened upon perhaps the most unfortunate erroneous omission of the word ‘not’ in history. In a breezy tone the website confidently soothes the ludicrous apprehensions of the phobic with a list of things you can be certain will not happen, then comes this doozy of a sentence:

           

‘You can be certain a crazed thief will hijack your aircraft and fly it into another plane.’

 

            I knew it was a typo, but I still sat staring at the screen for a good 20 minutes, a cold trickle of sweat running down my spine and the death-bees buzzing happily behind my eyes.

            I made it onto the flight though despite the horrendous assurances I’d been given. I was lucky enough to sit next to a child whose jagged little elbows felt like she was desperately trying to write something with a biro directly onto the bones of my arm. After suffering at the hands, or rather elbows, of the little bitch for nearly 8 hours (during which time she inexplicably alternated the entertainment system between Spongebob Squarepants and challenging the computer at chess), and eating a 3-cheese calzone that was like chewing through a biblical sandal, we landed in New York.

            The border control point has posters that say, ‘We are the face of America.’ If that slogan is true then that face is the face of a man confronting another man who has fucked his wife. Brodley was the name of the man who processed my application to walk the few feet that would complete my 3000-mile trip. Brodley. A name so simply and astonishingly funny to me that I wake up in the night sweating about how its existence has eluded me thus far. It is of course entirely possible that it was a misprint of Bradley but if that’s true, then life has no meaning. Brodley looked like a triangle trying to become a circle and, judging from how he spoke to me, thought the UK was suspiciously close to Afghanistan. It’s an unfortunate truth that has probably sent a plethora of innocent men to jail that as soon as anyone, however truthful, is interrogated about actual facts, the body and face go into ‘I’m A Panicking Liar’ mode.

            ‘Why are you here?’ demanded Brodley, as if I would go, ‘You know what I have absolutely no idea. This is an awful, awful mistake.’

            ‘Er…I’m…er…here to do a show,’ I stammered, looking the most like I had 25 grams of cocaine up my arse that I ever had in my life. I imagined Brodley snapping a latex sheath on his stumpy hand and having a rummage in my bum hole. We are the face and hands of America, I thought.

            America shares many things with Britain: language, most shops, chequered history of international relations. Despite our many affinities I stood out like a spear in the neck. I cannot convey strongly enough how incomprehensible to American ears your speech is rendered by the pronunciation of the letter ‘T’. If you say ‘T’ in the middle of a word you may as well be pointing and barking. A man in Starbucks asked me what I would like, ‘Tall Americano, please,’ I said. Immediately he launched into a full throated Dick Van Dyke.

            ‘Sawry mayte?’ he screamed, ‘Whajyer wan’?’ I repeated myself and he asked me my name.

            ‘Daniel,’ I said quite calmly.

‘Danielle,’he triumphantly Sharpied onto my cup. I deduced from this exchange that Americans think Britain is a cartoon island populated exclusively by homosexual chimney sweeps.

            It doesn’t matter if your destination abroad is practically a carbon copy of the place you’ve come from, there’s just something about being in another country that jams the brain. I was once in Montreal and was looking around H&M. It was an H&M like any other, same clothes, same colour walls, same escalators. We have H&M’s in Britain. I have navigated my way through lots of them without a single major incident. But when in Montreal, I tried to walk up a down escalator. Along with your umbrella being blown inside out, this is the most helpless a human being can look in public. At first I managed to maintain a good rhythm, looking briefly like I was satirising the very concept of escalators, but eventually I succumbed to the motion and fell awkwardly and pathetically at the bottom. I looked like a deer being born, and to counter the embarrassment of what was happening, I started laughing quite uproariously. This brought more attention to the incident than I intended and was probably quite unnerving for those looking on. There was nothing different about how these escalators worked; there’s just something about being abroad that makes me a bit boy-with-a-pet-shoe.

            Not to state the obvious but New York is massive. If you compare it to most household items it is absolutely enormous. Like all metropilises (Metropilis’s? Metropili? Metropilots? Who gives a fuck?) the streets are not necessarily friendly. On my first journey into work I went past a couple of people in the epileptic’s death-trap of Time Square dressed as the Cookie Monster and Elmo, handing out leaflets and waving at children (presumably confused at why their beloved characters were now doing basic admin). A young girl ran up to Elmo and spontaneously hugged him. Elmo shrugged her off angrily and wagged his finger in her face. Welcome to New York, I thought. Where even the most cuddly, fun-loving, innocent character in the history of children’s television might tell you to go fuck yourself.

Cookery School

August 17, 2012

I haven’t managed to put anything up on my blog for a while so this piece is one that I scribbled down months ago and never put up. I have a sporadic relationship with the Internet; a lot of the time it feels like getting on a bus full of strangers who take it in turns on the journey to stand up and shout that you’re a dick. Hence my tendency to blog once every four and a half years and tweet every time I see a rare bird. I did a cookery course in Devon on my own and this is what I wrote about it.

Over the past twenty odd years I’ve worked up a steady repertoire of three meals that I can comfortably prepare for myself without crying: bolognese, salmon in a tray and porridge. I’ve wanted to remedy this for some time but have never worked up the necessary levels of being arsed. On a whim I’ve signed up to a “Beginner’s Cookery Weekend” in Ashburton, Devon. I think I was expecting a nice seaside town when I signed up and when I arrived it was as if the town had disguised itself as one but without the sea. It seems to me that as you get further towards the coast people go, “You know, I’m so bloody happy about living near the sea I’m going to paint my house pink. Sod it. I don’t care what colour it is. ‘Ere Geoff! Geoff! Why don’t you paint your house yellow? Let’s just let ourselves go.” This town had that but without the crucial coastal aspect. Feeling actively deceived by the candy-coloured bastards I arrived at the digs provided by the school.

I was greeted by a cheery woman with the middle and index fingers of her right hand bandaged. “Accidents do happen” being the first thing she said to me. What a great motto for a cookery school, I thought. I imagined the school’s insignia: a banner inscribed “Accidentus Happenum” and above it a chef with two thumbs up – on fire.

I had booked myself on the course impulsively and hadn’t given any thought to the type of people I’d be mixing with. After dropping my bags in my accommodation (and noticing with some alarm that the ancient floor rolled and undulated like the land the Teletubbies lived in before that little hoover snapped and killed them all) I went down for the welcome drinks that had been organised.

A sea of round, wrinkled, female faces lay before me, almost all uniformly kitted out in loose-fitting pastels, the same colour as the houses. The kind of neat, countrified, middle England faces that could tell you all about the wonders of making your own jam and without even a change in their tone tell you how much they don’t like black people.

Conversation is such a fucking necessity isn’t it? I’d be perfectly happy just guessing what people were thinking, but no, you’re apparently not allowed to just stare at people, you have to do the whole “Hello how are you?” thing, don’t you? Now, sometimes I’m perfectly content in the company of strangers and can find chat flowing easily from me like dysentery, but sometimes, just sometimes, I find myself behaving like I’ve recently been found in the woods having been raised by sparrows who, as we are all aware, haven’t the foggiest when it comes to introductory drinks. So, after swallowing the disappointment that the prospect of any sex that weekend was dependent on me overcoming an aversion to thick beige tights, I embarked on some conversations. After 54,000 repetitions of “I came by train…yes it was crowded…no, they’re never on time,” I discovered that the majority of these fine women were here for the “Express Dinner Party Course”. Of course that’s the course, I thought surveying the cropped grey lake of their heads.

“It’s going to revolutionise the way I entertain,” said a pleasant ruddy one without even the faintest whiff of irony. To cheer myself up in the face of such earnestness I imagined that they were all swingers and the course was called “Express Sex Parties”. This certainly helped jazz up the exchanges I had with them. Statements such as, “My monthly nights will never be the same” and “My friends won’t believe what’s hit them” completely changed their meaning. They would chat of “whole new ways of glazing breast” and “plum reduction” and my lips would curl and add comments about “covering everything in jus.” God it was childish, but it helped me through what would have been a very awkward forty minutes.

There was a man called Trevor who had a voice exactly like Peter Cook’s E.L. Wisty character, you may not be familiar, but it was eerie. He had been bought the beginner’s weekend as a gift from his kids, having been recently widowed. “I can only cook offal,” he said. “The wife did everything else, you see.”  He told me implausible stories about accosting Gordon Ramsey in Harvey Nicholls and asking him about tossing salad, and how he once threw a chocolate tart at Rick Stein. I like you, I thought.

Upon excusing myself because “I thought I heard a car crash” I went into Ashburton to celebrate my foray into culinary learning by buying a takeaway curry. I wandered down to the Indian takeaway, staffed entirely by Italians (a sign-maker’s error they couldn’t afford not to commit to?) and I decided the best option on the menu for me was the “Meat Madras”. Normally, I like my meat to be from a specific animal, but fuck it, I thought, I’m on holiday and I like meat.

Non-specific foods should, I think, always be treated with an air of caution. Whenever I see a menu with “Meat” as opposed to lamb, or beef, I imagine a conveyor belt of mashed cat, or human hands in a bag. I have a similar distrust of “White Sauce”, perhaps an even greater wariness. WHAT ARE YOU HIDING? I want to scream. What do you mean “Hot Sauce”? What’s IN it? A temperature is not a flavour, no more than a table is a man. I yielded this one time though, partly because I couldn’t see anywhere else, and partly because I have the eating habits of a man deliberately testing the resilience of his own body.

And so it was that upon my arrival at Cookery School I ate non-specific meat in a mystery sauce from a foil box and thought about how it would all change.

Driving Miss Crazy

March 24, 2012

I am learning how to drive. Having lived in London for the whole of what is laughably known as my “adult” life driving was never on my agenda. London is a seething snake pit of bus and train routes which make driving pretty much unnecessary. For ten cramped years I have happily avoided the eye contact of people from all over the world while involuntarily jabbing them gently with my crotch, or accidentally kissing them lightly on the neck as we pull into a station. A frequent complaint I hear about London is its “unfriendliness” and the transport system is often held up as an example of this. “No one ever smiles at strangers on the tube or the bus,” people say. “Back in Little Quaintlington we all smiled so much at each other that the muscles in our cheeks were the most developed in the land and would sit on our ruddy, beaming faces like proud eggs.” Well, balls. When has a stranger’s smile on public transport ever meant anything other than the contemplation of a sexual assault? I don’t want people I’m not familiar with smiling at me. It’s creepy. Smile at people you know, they’re used to it. And also, men who stare at women on public transport because they find them attractive need to consider this fact: never in the history of humanity has there been a speech at a wedding where the groom has ended with, “To think all this started because I stared intently at her face for 13 stops on the Northern Line, ladies and gentlemen, my wife!”

So I don’t know how to drive at the age of 29, which comes as a shock to people outside of London – akin to informing them that I never learnt how to properly wipe myself. I did try once a few years ago. I had to stop though because the lady who was teaching me was, in no uncertain terms, a total nut-job. She appeared at the door on the day of the first lesson in a billowing floral nightie, flip-flops (which even in my own limited experience I knew to be inappropriate) and a bandage on her right foot and leg. For someone who was about to start teaching me how to drive, she looked suspiciously like she had just been in a car accident. It also looked like she had discharged herself early from hospital that very day, and had come straight to my house, after stealing a pair of flip-flops. Never mind, I thought. She’s probably a brilliant instructor. She wasn’t. She spent an inordinate amount of time reaching for belongings she had “left” in the driver’s door, which necessitated rubbing her vast boobs against my arm. Her demeanour also wasn’t suited to dealing with the nervous and easily startled beginner learning how to operate a speeding tonne of steel. If the car drifted slightly too far to the right or left, instead of calmly asking me to correct my course, she would burst into a fit of shrieking and yank desperately at the wheel, like we were heading to the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley of poisoned spikes. “We’re too close to the side! It’s dangerous!” she would scream as she made the car veer from left to right in the middle of a busy road. Anyone watching in those (not infrequent) moments can only have drawn the conclusion that I was kidnapping her. She knew I was an actor, and when I told her that my job at the time involved my character’s death she cried out like a grieving ox and nearly pulled us into the front of a PC World. Her family came up in conversation frequently, especially the son and daughter she had brought up by herself. “Oh yeah I’ve got a favourite,” she would say when she spoke about them, in response to a question I never asked, “…my daughter.” She was inordinately proud of this fact. “I know you’re supposed to love them both the same but that’s just me, I don’t care, I love her more.”

“You taboo-busting maverick,” I nearly said every time this came up. “If only more people took a stance against loving their children equally.”

Eventually the combination of constant screaming, bandages and my growing sense of injustice on behalf of her poor son (“He’s not done anything in particular, I just don’t like him.”) got too much for me and I stopped organising lessons. I received a Christmas card from her about six months later (around about Christmas time come to think of it) heart-breakingly personalised with stick-on stars and Christmas trees. Business clearly wasn’t good. The yuletide spirit, and my tendency to feel uncontrollable great duvets of guilt enveloping me, gave me an urge to call her and book some more lessons. Then I was struck with a vision: an upturned car, smoking and mangled in the wrecked front of PC World Lewisham and two bodies; one of them motionless, bleeding, pleading soundlessly for help and the other, a woman, using the last of her mortal strength, not to get help, but to rub her boobs against the other’s arm.

I’ll get the bus, I thought, putting down the phone. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to stare at the girl of my dreams.

An Open Letter To Orange

February 16, 2011

Dear Orange,

I am thinking of writing a letter of complaint to Trading Standards about the name of your Orange shops. Not because you don’t sell oranges, I have always understood the difference between the phone service and the fruit, and have never confused you with the protestant order. It’s because I think your name doesn’t represent what you offered to me yesterday when I took my phone in. Yesterday my phone became, like so many people nowadays – dead. I needed your help but didn’t especially get it. Here are some names I think you could call your shop, to make it clearer what precisely you are offering:

-Confused Man In Largely Empty Room Store

-The Fake Phone on a String Store

-The “I Need To Ask Him” Store

-An Elaborate Way of Making a Phone Call to Orange Store

The man I asked to try and fix my phone asked me if I had tried charging it. I responded through gritted teeth that ever since first owning a mobile phone I had made a habit of it. He then tried to excavate dust from the charging port on the bottom of my phone. This took nearly fifteen minutes as he fashioned a rudimentary tool from an A4 piece of paper (blank, but it would have worked just as well with writing on) and scraped what was essentially particles of my dead flesh out of the cavity. Uncomfortable. Not least because we ended up staring at a pile of detritus that was actually quite startling. Something came out that looked like a very tiny bobble hat. Also there was something strangely intimate about it, which I didn’t want. At this point the sheer volume of what he had dug out had encouraged me that this might be the problem. He plugged it in. Nothing. He clicked something on the computer. I asked him what he was doing. “I don’t know,” he said.

That was when he gave me a phone to phone Orange. Now I don’t understand why, when I am in an Orange store, that has all the hallmarks of being connected to Orange (the logo, the phones, a computer or two) I can’t be dealt with in the store. Why are you so thoroughly divided between confused people in lonely rooms, and people on the phone with fictitious accents? Why? It’s really annoying. Especially when you are like me and you have the patience of a forest fire. For me patience is not a virtue, it’s a myth; I get annoyed with myself if I can’t piss quick enough. So I am not the best at dealing with the call centre scenario where the same information is asked for 883 million times and you get given all kinds of lengthy footnotes and useless information by the poor wretch having to deal with you. Where are these poor wretches from as well Orange? Seriously, I can recognise a lot of accents but the people I spoke to yesterday had an accent as full of surprise twists as an M. Night Shyamalan film. Do they get so bored they make one up? Are they Swedo-Japanese graduates of an international school? I want to know.

I am now sat in a five hour window I was given to receive my phone. I know full well as soon as I decide to do anything; wash, brush my teeth, even dress, the phone will arrive. Are your delivery men such a mystery to you that to give them an actual time to deliver something is anathema? Are the ways of these people so delicate that to pierce their rituals with even the mention of a specific time would send them shrieking back into the crevice they had emerged from, possibly never to return, a vital trust broken between the two species? The sound of a distant moped signalling the end of a bond that had served you both for decades?

Are there not phones in the shop you could have given me Orange? Process the info on a computer and get a phone out the back no? No? Why not? I needed a phone yesterday. A man came in after me who wanted to pay his Orange bill and lift a bar on his phone. He was told if he paid it there it would take three days, if he rang up it might be instant. I don’t get that.

After I had been on the phone for half an hour, something I have never done even with my mother, I asked the man in the store if he could tell me how to retrieve voicemails from other phones. “I don’t have a clue to be honest mate,” was his honest response. He had the air of a hostage being told that a bomb would be detonated unless he carried on working: the all-time shittest version of Speed ever, comprising of an escalation of mildly embarrassing exchanges punctured with a man looking at phones in wonder.

I did figure out how to get voicemails from other phones eventually. I imagined frantic messages from people desperate to talk with me or share with me or just plain love me and the huge glazed cherry on the fuck-off cake, after several different conversations about setting this up, was the immortal  line: “You have no new messages.”

Cack and spume to it all.

Yours Forever (due to pay monthly contract)

Daniel Rigby

Ding Dong

December 26, 2010

Oh, it’s you. It’s been ages hasn’t it? Yeah, well, come in, come in. Bash the snow off your feet. It IS cold isn’t it? Yeah. Yeah. I know, I can’t remember it being this cold before at this time of year either. Gosh. Ha. No, really not warm is it? I would never describe these temperatures as warm. So how are you? Hurt? About what? My disappearance? Well, look I’m sorry, but I do have more of a life than a blog would suggest. I’m not raising my voice. Wait a second. You’re…you’re…the one being passive aggressive here. I’m sorry. I AM. Come here. I am sorry. I really care about you. (I grab you and hug you tightly. As the clinch becomes more settled we both become aware of each other’s breathing getting heavier. We both know that this reconciliation will lead to only one thing but we wilfully suspend this delicious moment waiting to see who will make the first move. Then, after an ecstatic silence, you feel just the vaguest hint of my tongue gently entering your ear. You smile in anticipation of giddy, glorious and alarming make-up sex).

I know nobody gives a nano-fuck whether I’ve written this thing or not but I feel inclined to deliver the above soft-porn apology, more for myself than anyone. It has been about half a year hasn’t it? I did my show in Edinburgh and the 6 people that saw it over the course of the month really, really laughed. (I exaggerate those facts of course: they really laughed.) I then did the biggest job of my life so far which filmed in September. I then returned back to London and lived like an Earl for about a month (Nando’s for breakfast, cabs to the bathroom, that sort of thing). I then got my job back in a tiny pub seemingly built for mice near Baker Street tube station. I deliver cool glasses of bubbly beer to people with big red faces and a faded light in their eyes. So as a result of these facts, I am in the fairly unique position of appearing live on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday and then going from there to do a three until close shift at the Barley Mow, where I will be spoken to like an Indian tea boy in the colonial era and will almost certainly get some sort of effluence on me. Bizarre. Like Christmas.

My mind is not made up about Christmas. Christmas for me has always been strange. When I was a Christian, my Christmases were comprised of quietly going about various religious observances where my parents wouldn’t see them. This was because if my father and mother had known I was a Christian they’d have had a similar knee-jerk response to it as when my brother came out. (Which, to be fair, should have been no surprise – he was a fan of Aqua.) When I started going to the Alpha course, that cul-de-sac of rationale, I told my Mum and her response was, “Oh Danny, you’re not a Christian are you?” (I think in Psychology this is termed a ‘leading question’.)

To which, naturally, my reply was, “No, Mum, of course not.”

“Oh,” she phewed, “thank God for that.”

“No,” I said, “He’s probably the last person you should thank for that.”

Anyway nowadays I don’t believe in any of the mind-farts that is religion and Christmas has remained the strange affair it has always been really. My Dad has always been something of an ‘armchair theorist’ and most of the festive energy is expended on avoiding talking about the ‘War-About-Water’ or his thoughts about population control. This year my Mum has been raping Jamie Oliver for Christmas ideas (oh dear, there’s an image that’ll never leave now) and as a result has produced totally out of character food. She produced three desserts after Christmas dinner, all of which required Krypton Factor-esque handling. A ‘make-your-own-truffle’ dish, a ‘taste’ dish which involved frozen grapes, chocolate and a huge shot of vodka that my mother poured out for us all gleefully and mince pies with brandy cream. I think the whole foray into experimental food was Mum just hoping we’d all get hammered and fall asleep. It was all very nice and a bit of fun, but, needless to say, as more vodka was consumed the ‘make-your-own’ element to the dessert became a real spectacle. We ended up looking like a clan of chimps tormenting each other with a heap of shit.

I like an occasion, and I don’t mind getting into the spirit of things for a while. I just don’t know what spirit I’m supposed to be getting into. Apart from vodka. So I spend my time watching telly I wouldn’t normally watch, doing things I’d never normally do and eating things I’d never normally eat for the sake of a holiday that can, essentially, mean anything to anyone. I’ll be on more solid ground in the New Year.

My Dad did provide the quote of the holiday on the way back from visiting family yesterday, which me and my brothers felt didn’t really engage with the spirit of the season.

“I’ll tell you what we need: inter-continental thermo-nuclear war.”

Which is my Dad’s version of:

“And to all a good night.”

Edinburgh Coincidigs

August 24, 2010

Last year at the Edinburgh festival I stayed in a room about the size of a guinea pig hutch; it had no windows, little air and one steel framed single put-me-up bed that sounded like a ghost train when getting on or off it. This happened because I was the surplus human being in the flat and I accepted my lot with a screaming and crying grace. I hauled a futon from my event manager’s flat and discovered that futon mattresses are the hardest things to carry since malaria. They are like huge, flat eels that really, really hurt the tips of your fingers. I put all of this down to experience, the general accumulation of festival anecdotes. The flat itself smelt of mildew. The shower seemed to have genuine contempt for me and the bathroom tap was a single gear stick, impossible to understand, that resulted in teeth brushing being a warm, mushy, minty affair. I didn’t like it that much. I had organised this year’s accommodation in a panic, having been told in April that everyone organises their digs two years before the festival and it would be way too late. If anything I should have been booking for Edinburgh 2013 now and not 2010, the chances of me getting somewhere to stay were so slim you would have to collide two neutrons to look at them. Against all the odds however, I did find somewhere to stay, via Facebook, with strangers.

“So what’s the flat like?” I asked my new friends in the car on the way up.

“Absolutely no idea,” came the response.

As the car pulled up I recognised that  it was the same street as last year.

“Lots of people rent out their flats for the festival in this area,” I thought to myself out loud.

Approaching the door of the building I got an overwhelming sense of deja-vu.

“What a coincidence,” I thought breathlessly, “this must only be one or two doors from that horror flat from last year.”

Walking in I ignored the similarities of the stairwell, back door and even bikes in the hallway, convincing myself that all the buildings in this area were decorated the same. It was during my ascent of the stairs that the sense of inevitability began to punch me in the face. I walked into exactly the same flat I stayed in last year and had a war veteran’s flashback moment. I clawed at the walls and shouted “I am not going in there” whilst pointing at the room of my miserable internment. This outburst was enough to convince my new friends to let me have a bed this time, and that I am a maniac.

Luckily the flat had been mildly improved, and I have a bed so it is a world apart from 2009’s horror-show. Now to cover it in mayonnaise (reference to previous incident in Leeds where I woke up in a duvet of creamy mayo having thought it hilarious the night before to become a sandwich). Or salad cream. I woke up next to a corn on the cob the other morning. That isn’t a euphemism for an earnest woman in a mood, I actually woke up next to a corn on the cob. I have no idea where I got it from. Who sold me a corn on the cob at 5am?  The fringe can be a strange place.

Affluent Effluence

June 14, 2010

I am an old pro at setting up antique map fairs. If that first sentence made you zone out then you’re a fool with little awareness of antique maps. Admittedly the unique combination of the three words ‘antique’, ‘map’, and ‘fair’ has an affect on the body similar to rohypnol except that saying, ‘antique map fair’ to someone isn’t traceable in their blood. The world of antique map fairs is a dark, terrifying land full of danger and sexual intrigue. I’ve done it a few times now and there isn’t a conundrum you can throw at me to do with an antique map fair that I couldn’t solve. I’m telling you kid when you’ve been in this game as long as I have there ain’t nothing that’ll phase you. I’ve seen it all. Map vendors in fist fights, tables collapsing, the destruction of thousands of pounds worth of maps by errant Fanta, Michael Palin. (Takes long drag on cigarette and swigs from hip flask). I’ve given everything to the map fair; my marriage, my time, my blood pressure, heck, sometimes I feel like I’ve given it my sanity. (Grabs rookie by the lapels and starts shaking him and spitting). Don’t let her take you kid! Selling maps is all well and good but at the end of the day all you got to show for it is a heart full of bitterness and ears full of dust! (Cries, slowly starts feeling his crotch). I can’t get it up no more kid. I ever tell you that? Not unless I’m looking at a map of Belgium in the shape of a lion. Do you know how rare that is? (Spits on the ground). I’ll show you something. (Rolls up his sleeve to reveal a long thin scar down the length of his arm). Kensington Olympia kid. 2008. I thought I knew it all. Have you ever been given a paper cut deliberately by a french guy? You know nothing. (Punches the rookie and shoots himself in the throat).

The fair happens every year and every year I neglect to prepare myself for one aspect of the weekend that consistently takes me by surprise. I put this down to a blind faith in people. A faith that like all good faiths has no foundation in the observable world around me. Each year I am flabbergasted at how rude people can be. Not just people though. Posh people. Really posh people can be cocking rude.

The maps sell for thousands of pounds each. I don’t know why. You can’t even draw on the paper. They are completely useless and their value seems to be based on a mutual illusion that everyone enters into based on its age and prettiness and political interest. One of the maps on display was worth £100,000. I stared at that ancient square of paper for a long time. I couldn’t get my head round the fact that there was this scrap of scroll, hanging on a wall, inches from my face, that was far more valuable than me as a human being. Even if I was sold as a sex slave I wouldn’t fetch that amount. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be a damned good sex slave and I’d try my hardest, but even with a good sex slave work ethic and great references I wouldn’t fetch that amount of money. It was quite the head-fuck. I was hypnotised by it and obsessed over the notion of grabbing it off the wall and ripping it in half, knowing that that action would be a thousand times more distressing to the people in the room than if I pulled out a knife and stabbed myself in the stomach in front of everyone. So, the patrons of the fair are more often than not posh people with some serious disposable income to jizz away in their dotage.

As the “help” I get to see a unique side to some of these people. Namely their massive swinging dickiness. The most banal and polite of requests can have some woman in a fedora and great chunks of amber jewellery honking uncontrollably in your face for thirty minutes like a goose doing an impression of an air raid siren. I know that sweeping generalisations tend to be a bad thing but there is definitely a correlation between the level of anger and indignation that a person will climb to and the size of the invisible fruit they seem to be holding in their mouth. Perhaps it is a sense of entitlement or maybe all the people that were rude to me were just having a bad day but, actually, at its essence, I just think it’s people who are used to having everything their own way throwing tantrums. I found it a little bit pathetic that throughout the day it was the people with the least to complain about who complained the most. People who clearly have had every opportunity in life and all the comforts a person could want, plus thousands of pounds lying around to purchase lovely but useless artefacts are the first ones to say, “Oh this is absolutely fucking ridiculous!” when you tell them to put their bag in a cloakroom.

I’d take it from the Queen. The Queen could tell me to fuck off and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. She’s on coins. But the Mail on Sunday brigade who have won life’s lottery and still want to moan about the injustice of it all can all be launched into space as far as I’m concerned. The doors will be on a timer so that after a day of travelling they open and the vacuum of space will violently wrench thousands of wittering berks out into the void. “I demand to speak to the manager,” passing over their lips as their eyes explode in their heads. For my money, if you don’t know you’re born, you may as well be dead.

Sun Spleen

May 25, 2010

This weekend living in London felt a little like what I imagine living close to the Earth’s core feels like. Flipping hot. I remember last year when we had our first bit of snow, initially everyone started hooting and cooing, and having snowball fights with strangers and laughing, and for a minute we all felt like we lived in a film written by Richard Curtis except more ethnically mixed. I think at one point I grabbed a stranger and kissed her full on the mouth and she just giggled and carried on with her shopping. I think. Then London broke because of the snow and it became relentless and we all trudged cautiously around the streets miserably drooling complaints from our cold gobs, many of us nursing injuries from slipping on the treacherous compacted sky-shit. I did an almost-backflip on my road in front of some passing tourists. They just laughed like I was part of London’s many attractions: The London Eye, The Clink, Buckingham Palace, A large white clown who flies into the air legs first and lands like a carrier bag full of meccano. Well screw you tourists. Similarly, people have gone mental for the sun.

“I’ve got a garden,” they start bellowing, “come to it.”

“To do what?” I say.

“Sit in it,” they cry.

“I’ve got a large skylight I can open in my roof that we can sit under.”

“I’ve got a bigger than average ledge outside my window.”

“Come to it,” they all demand, “and sit.”

Well I am not a fan of sitting, same reason I never have baths, I sit in it for twenty seconds before I feel like something should be happening, (which I often counter by making something happen like, for example, getting out of it and doing something, if someone invented a bath on wheels that I could pedal around while soaking I would shit myself with happiness) and I am certainly not a fan of the sun. Photosynthesis, fine, I get it, I admire it even, useful, well done sun. Vitamin D I also am a big fan of, though I admit I admire that from afar. For generally being the engine that powers our solar system and the giver of life on the planet I want to pat the sun on the back and say, “JESUS CHRIST MY HAND!” I’ll explain where my ire about the sun comes from by describing to you what I look like right now, today, sitting here and writing this. I was out for most of the weekend, I had a busy schedule and was having too much fun to go home to get my sun block, so I didn’t. “Just stay in the shade,” I thought. “Be really careful.” So I did. I was really careful to stay OUT of the sun. I have witnesses; people who will vouch that at times I was hunched under furniture craning in on conversations like a nosey rat. My face, my stupid face, looks as if I have been on some desert plain, far from man, watching nuclear warheads get tested. Over and over again. My left arm is so burnt blood vessels have come to the surface, presumably to have a look at what the fuck is going on.

“Here let’s go and have a look. I think he’s being burnt as a witch.”

Both arms are a chicken tandoori red that would definitely stop a car. My foot stares at me with one massive red eye like having Sauron at the bottom of my leg. I know I have Irish roots that would explain my pallor but this skin is something else. I am more like one of those gaudy Vegas fish they find fathoms and fathoms below the sea where the water is the colour of a policeman’s shoe and everything is monstrous and can light itself like a casino. I look in the mirror and don’t see a person anymore, I see an eel or mole-rat. Something that belongs deep in the Earth’s crust. Maybe I should move there. Start drilling. Settle down with a nice worm.

So this time of year is tinged with not a little horror-show for me as people get more and more fascist about being outside.

“Get out and enjoy it.”

“No I am staying in here,” Daniel’s eyes dart from underneath his burka as he applies more factor 700 to his eyelids. “She can’t hurt me in here.” The door slams shut and the friend that had called is left with a sense of dread, something engendered by a file she glimpsed on the desk behind Daniel’s head, on it was scrawled, ‘Plan to Blow Up Sun,’ in copious amounts of blood.

Chaos Theory

May 17, 2010

My two months in Leeds is up. I haven’t been back to London even for a weekend so my return yesterday felt like pissing after holding it in for 9 weeks, a mixture of pleasure, relief and pain. The tube carriage at Finchley Central that pulled up in front of us contained a man the colour of a hooker’s light bulb who had sprawled himself over two seats and wrapped his torso around the arm rest. He was completely unconscious and was wearing a vest top with a huge sparkly word on it like, “Cock”, or, “Arse”. You know one of those “fun” tops. He had clearly been up for 48 hours plus and had put all the drugs he could get his hands on directly into his eyes. When he finally came to and dragged his bleary, swollen head upright he looked like a bewildered Orangutan. I hope he was going to hospital. I really do.

I have returned to my life, to unemployment, that familiar smell of nothing cooking and a menacing pile of post with all the hallmarks of officialdom stamped upon it. I am having something confirmed for me which I have suspected for a long time. Chaos is my best mate. I know you can no more be friends with a concept than have sex with a cloud, I know that OK? It’s a flipping metaphor, why do we even bother talking to each other? I have tried and tried in the past to not be surrounded by chaos. I have tidied, I have ordered, I have spent loads of money in Ryman’s buying a folder for every single bit of paper I come into contact with, I have stapled post it notes to my thighs, I have drawn a histogram of my past relationships, I have made a spreadsheet of my feelings. I have come to the conclusion that I must have some sort of shambles gland that works without me even knowing it. No matter how hard I try to be organised my shambles gland sneaks behind my back and sets fire to my diary. Take money for example. Some people have a knack with money that seems quite natural. They squirrel it away, they save, they are sensible. I, on the other hand, appear to treat money like it’s diseased. Cash flies from me like flocks of startled birds with the face of the Queen. I wouldn’t mind if I had something to show for it like a collection of rare fur hats, or the loss of my septum but I don’t. I am just pathologically awful with money. Even when I try to be good with it something happens to make it disappear. I blame the shambles gland secreting its shit juice into my head and befuddling me. I considered going on a money management course but thinking about that more made me want to take my own life so I have decided I am going to call NHS Direct about my shambles gland to try and get it removed.

NHS Direct: Hello NHS Direct.

Daniel: Yes I’m really bad with money.

NHS Direct: Do you have a medical problem sir?

Daniel: Yes my brain hurts when I talk to the bank.

NHS Direct: Where do you get the pain?

Daniel: Right in the account. It spreads as well. Up the savings.

NHS Direct: Any other symptoms?

Daniel: I get cold sweats at cash machines.

NHS Direct: I’ll book you in for a Shambleoctomy.

Until I get it removed I’m claiming disability.