There are a number of inevitable signs of ageing. The odd ache here, the occasional pain there. The inability to get out of (or into) a chair without grunting. We expect this sort of thing.
But no-one ever warns you that your childhood heroes will - also inevitably - get old and start to pass on.
This was brought home to me a couple of days ago with the news that Lewis Collins, best known as Bodie in the late seventies TV series, The Professionals, had died at the age of 67.
For those of us of a certain age, this show has a special resonance. To explain, I have to take you back to Britain 35 years ago. It was a world of brown polyester. Politicians all looked about 100 years old. Newscasters spoke in measured tones, displaying carefully received Home Counties pronunciation.
If you were, like me, an eight-year-old boy, whatever TV you saw, on the three channels we had, was strictly limited. If you wanted to see a cop show - and let's face it, which eight-year-old boy wouldn't - you'd probably be faced with a succession of American imports.
Don't get me wrong. Starski & Hutch was great. But to this young Brit, it might as well have been set on an alien planet. People drove cars the size of small counties. They ate in diners where they'd casually toss dollar bills on the counter before leaving. There were a lot of guns. And inexplicably, they'd have telephones in every room of the house.
I was easily impressed at the age of eight.
But then The Professionals came about, and it was totally different. They drove Ford Escorts like that chap across the road. They had banter. Rather than gunplay, Bodie and his bubble-permed sidekick Doyle would normally give the baddies a quick slap.
It was a little shabby around the edges. It was grim and grey in places. It was ours.
On Friday nights, if we were very lucky, Dad would have have gone to the Boundary Chippy for our tea. We'd lie on the floor, all five of us gathered around our rented Granada TV, watching as the heroes of CI5 set the world to rights and winked at a lot of girls along the way.
And let's be honest. Who couldn't fail to have their eight-year-old mind blown by this?
I can almost taste the vinegar.
So farewell then, Lewis Collins. You and your CI5 colleagues made a big impact on me. Maybe I'll go and drive through some cardboard boxes next week, just as a tribute.
If you're around my age, you'll know exactly what I mean.
Sunday, 1 December 2013
There are a number of inevitable signs of ageing. The odd ache here, the occasional pain there. The inability to get out of (or into) a chair without grunting. We expect this sort of thing.
Posted by fatboyfat at 11:31 pm
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
Exactly 15 years ago today. I was sitting in this very room. I was playing Gran Turismo on my Playstation, with a moustachioed gentleman called Stuart.
That's not exactly the main topic of this post.
As we tried to upgrade our virtual Nissan Skylines, we were drinking John Smiths Bitter from cans. John Smiths, for those of you who don't know, is terrible beer. It is beer for people who don't like beer.
Again, that's not really the main topic of this post.
But Stuart was there for a reason. He was to be my Best Man, for the day afterwards - 15 years ago tomorrow - I was to get married. It was Stuart's job to drive me to the church. Not in a Skyline, but a Micra. It was that kind of deal.
Fifteen years later - our crystal anniversary - and Stuart is no longer on the scene. I don't play Gran Turismo, and avoid John Smiths Bitter where I can.
But Katie is still here. I'm at a loss to understand why, but I'm grateful every day.
You should not marry the person you can live with. You should instead marry the person you can't live without.
Sing it, Van.
(If you can't see a video of Van Morrison singing our first dance song here, blame YouTube, Apple, the Internet Cabal, Piers Morgan or all of the above.)
Posted by fatboyfat at 11:32 pm
Thursday, 11 July 2013
Yes, I know. It's been a while. About six weeks, in fact. Sorry about that. I've been busy, you see.
Well, when I say busy, I'm playing a little fast-and-loose with the whole concept. A significant proportion of my time in Marrakech last month was not, in any way, stressful.
Colourful drinks by the side of a pool featured quite heavily in the proceedings.
But it would be wrong to say I spent all my time in a sedentary position. We did get up and around, from time to time. Since our return, whenever anyone's asked me about Morocco, I've mumbled something along the lines of, "Oh yes, a fascinating country."
Which is partly my way of deflecting attention away from the whole 'lying by a pool, drink in hand, European house music in the middle distance' thing. Because in fairness, that only applied to a small amount of our time over there.
Morocco - or at least the bit we saw - is truly fascinating. Get yourself over there if you don't believe me. (Just not right now; it's Ramadan and the temperature's in the high forties. The people were lovely when we were there last month, they must be somewhat distracted at the moment. I know I'd be.)
It's a terrible cliche, but there was something for everyone. 900-year-old cities, the hustle of the souks, the muezzin's call to prayer drifting in on the afternoon's breeze. I even managed to be vaguely arty with my photos. My memory card was groaning by the time we got back; hopefully I avoided any cheesy 'here I am standing in front of a landmark' ones:
OK, scratch that:
It wasn't all hustle and bustle. We went up into the Atlas mountains and visited the Berber people there.
The effect was lessened only slightly by the Sony Trinitron TV in the corner of the room, hurriedly covered up with a cloth. The 21st century gets everywhere.
We went out to dinner in the medina, the old Marrakech, in a riad. That's basically a townhouse with a very nice garden in a central courtyard. We sat, watching the sky slowly darken from cobalt blue to inky black. red-clad waiters silently brought course after course. Arabic and African musicians entertained us. It was, without any doubt, a night I'll remember for ever.
Going out to a Harvester doesn't really compare.
Returning to England was a real culture shock. I missed the heat. I missed being woken every morning by the tree full of finches outside our window. I missed walking back to our room at night with the bullfrogs and cicadas providing a chorus. I missed the smile of Ismail, the barman whose idea of a gin cocktail was Lots Of Gin. I missed the Brownian motion that passes for traffic over there (I'm not kidding - we were in the country for one hour before we saw our first dead body on the road).
Morocco? Fascinating country.
Posted by fatboyfat at 10:12 pm
Monday, 27 May 2013
I have for a very long time thought that to be British was in many ways similar to having won the lottery in life. Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware of other places. I know also that people from elsewhere probably consider their homes as being pretty good, too
I won't disagree. Especially after having spent a few days in Barcelona earlier this month.
I mean, Barcelonians (I am almost certain this is incorrect) have pretty much won the rollover in life, haven't they? You've got the combination of a great climate, cloudless blue skies, a gentle breeze rolling in from the Med.
You have a city that mixes gothic with modern, where you let artists design your buildings. Look at these:
That final one is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, which they started building in 1882 and is still underway now. I'm not a particularly church-y person, but it pushed my buttons.
I can imagine town planning meetings in Barcelona must be like:
"I'd like to put this building up. It's a little bit left-of-field."If you live in Barcelona you have art galleries, museums and parks on your doorstep. You can get from one side of the city for a few euros. You have the technological quarter, with wide airy boulevards taking you into and out of the centre with ease. You seem to figured out the whole 'living well in a modern environment' thing. You have sensible living areas and spaces to work and live in.
"Does it have a roof like the back of a giant dragon?"
"You're just not trying, sunshine. Come back next week."
Your local cuisine is like this:
You have a football team that is successful and admired by everyone in Europe. That's something that just doesn't happen, normally.
If you live in Barcelona, you're surrounded by waiters who don't know when to stop when pouring drinks (I accept this might be a tourist thing, but bear with me). This is what passes for two sangrias:
This is not a poster for sensible drinking. We flew black from Barcelona with livers like pickled walnuts.
I'm sure, like any other large city, there are less favourable elements. But in short, if you live in Barcelona, I'm bloody jealous of you. You really have won the lottery of life. I'll be coming back to see you again at some point in the future. And I'd recommend that anyone reading this does so, too.
Posted by fatboyfat at 10:57 pm
Thursday, 2 May 2013
This is most unlike me. Us. It's most unlike us.
For a number of years, our idea of a holiday has been quite simple and described using these five words: get away from it all.
Quite what It All is, we've never been quite sure. But we aim to distance ourselves from it at least once a year. So our holidays have involved going somewhere quiet, relatively private and lacking in both hussle and bustle. Climate doesn't enter into the equation.
There's a reason why we're not fussy about the weather at our intended destination. I am, by nature, north-west European and don't go in for heat. Warm weather is just so damned un-British. You get all sweaty and unpleasant. You have to worry about what the sun's doing to your pearly white flesh. I have Irish ancestors. We don't worship the sun, we run away from it in fear.
An early holiday with Katie, not long after we got together, saw us spending some time on a beach. And while she went a deep golden brown, I opted for Shade of Lobster and spent a significant proportion of the next fortnight screaming, "Don't touch me!" in a strangulated falsetto.
Which is not what you want to be saying in the early stages of a relationship.
So if, on holiday, I look out of the window to see rain lashing down, I generally say, "Marvellous," out loud, reach for a good book and put some John Martyn on the stereo. I am a man of simple, temperate tastes.
Which is why it's all the more puzzling that we've booked two weeks in Morocco in June.
I've checked and, yes, this is an African country. It's bordering the Sahara desert. We'll be just outside Marrakesh, home of the beguiling Jemaa el-Fnaa, the busiest market square in the continent. A heady mixture of spices, souks, mosques and ancient, history-soaked streets await us. We'll have the Atlas Mountains off in one direction, home of ancient Berber tribes. I will eat quite a lot of lamb dishes.
All of which sounds lovely. But I'm going to melt.
I'm told that everywhere will have air-conditioning. It's a modern country, after all. But you still have to walk from one air-conditioned bit to another air-conditioned bit. And I don't think the ancient souk is going to be quite so well-equipped. Thinking about it, in order to be respectful to the locals, it occurs to me that you need to cover up a little bit. So the Speedos are out of the question, which, on reflection, is probably a good thing.
I've just looked at the temperature for Marrakesh. A couple of hours ago, in the early evening, it was a balmy 26 degrees celsius, or 79 degrees in old money. But with undisguised glee, Katie tells me that she's researched the typical daytime temperature for June. By all accounts, 40 (104 in fahrenheit) is about par for the course.
Seriously. I am going to melt.
The famed Berber storytellers, who gather in the market square at night, are going to have a new tale to tell. About the pale ghost from the north who simply burst into flames one day.
This should be interesting.
Posted by fatboyfat at 9:42 pm
Sunday, 21 April 2013
There are any number of things that I'm quite good at.
OK. I accept that was a little ambitious. I'll try again.
There are some things I'm quite good at.
Still too much? I'll try again.
There are one or two things I'm quite good at. But there is something new I need to add to the burgeoning 'Not Very Good at This' pile. I would make a lousy hermit.
On the face of it, being a hermit sounds quite reasonable. You get plenty of time to yourself. It's nice and quiet. You don't tend to get people calling you up about PPI reclaiming. In many ways, hermiting has a lot going for it.
Yes, that's a word. Because I said so, alright?
But I'm not cut out to be a hermit. Mainly because I'm not very good spending prolonged time on my own. And as far as I'm aware, you can't be a hermit that goes and mixes with people during working hours. That won't do. That's not hermiting.
My inability at spending time by myself has been brought home to me this weekend. She Who Must Be Obeyed has been away since Friday morning, visiting relatives in Southampton.
(I need to digress here for a second. I mentioned to someone last week that Katie was going to Southampton. "Lovely," they said. "Have you ever been?" I asked. "Well, no, I haven't," they said brightly, "but I've been to Northampton." True story.)
Anyway. My wife will have been out of town for three whole nights before she returns tomorrow. I am in the house on my own. And at first it sounded like it could have been a blast. I could have drunk beer and eaten unhealthy food, for instance. This apparent freedom is only lessened by the fact that we do that when she's here anyway, so no change there, then.
I had a disgustingly long lie-in yesterday morning. But we tend to have long lie-ins at the weekend in any case. I lounged on the sofa for a significant proportion of the day. Again, nothing new there.
But I was beginning to notice the difference. I went hours without speaking. And telling the cat off for bringing in another bumble bee from the garden doesn't count. It's not a particularly memorable conversation; the cat doesn't really go in for snappy comebacks.
I'll tell you this. Our house is scarily quiet when there's just me there. After I'd derided the cat for another insectoid murder, we settled down. Eric scuttled off to his radiator-hammock-bed device, doubtless wondering why the smellier of the two humans he owned was alone. I tried to read a thrilling article on the internet about World War 2 artillery shells. I have no particular interest in the subject, but I thought I should try and do something different. But the silence was overwhelming. Really oppressive, and ever so slightly unnerving.
I went out. I came back in. I find it best to do those two activities in that order. If you try to come in before you go out, you're essentially circling yourself in the hallway of your home. And that way lies madness. I came back in to a silent, forbidding house. I never realised the sound the central heating boiler made when it comes on. When the fridge-freezer kicked in I almost jumped.
Tomorrow evening, Katie will be home. She'll be talking to me about her weekend, and checking the house to see whether I've managed to break anything. There will be Something Wrong that is my fault, and she will remind me of this fact. Whether it is my fault or not, she will, of course, be right.
Good. Because I think my short hermitage is sending me slightly mad.
Posted by fatboyfat at 10:30 pm
Sunday, 14 April 2013
Don't think of this as just a blog post. Consider it instead an open letter. I'm aiming this at the utility companies, people who offer domestic services, like plumbing, electricians, etc.
Chaps. I'm going to tell you something that might just blow your mind. It's this.
You know your customers? You know, the people to whom you send bills? Those folk who ring you up and ask daft questions? Yep, those people. A lot of them - I'd guess a good proportion - work Monday to Friday, during what we'll call, oh, I don't know, working hours.
So if you want to provide a service to these customers in their homes, here's a rather novel idea. How about offering it at the weekend?
I know. It's dangerously radical. But it might just work.
I mention this because we've been getting letters from a company called E-On. For the non-Brits reading this, E-On is a major utility company in the UK that evidently allowed the Marketing Director's 8-year-old to come up with their corporate name.
The good people of E-On had been writing frantically to me over a period of about 12 months. I didn't owe them any money, which makes a pleasant change. They were writing because they wanted to change my electricity meter. Apparently there's a law. By all accounts, you have to get it changed every 10 years or so, in order to make sure it remains accurate. We've lived here for 16 years, happily motoring along with the meter that was here when we moved in, but who am I to get in the way of progress?
As it's not considered wise to go mucking about with what is essentially the main electricity supply to the house, they would need to cut power for 20 minutes while they swap meters. So the letters asked us for a convenient time when we'd be here.
They're really flexible, these E-On bods. I could pick any day, from Monday to Friday. Morning or afternoon. Positively bending over backwards to help, they were.
In the working week, between the hours of 8am and 6pm, this house is occupied by a cat. And while Eric is reasonably intelligent, I think it would be unfair to expect him to negotiate with an electrician.
So what did I do? I ignored the first letter. And the second, third and fourth, despite their increasingly desperate nature. My lights still worked. I was still receiving and paying the bills.
Eventually, I took pity on E-On. I made contact to tell them that we have this really weird practice in our house, called 'going to work' and what could they do about it?
"Oh, no problem. Let's get you a weekend appointment arranged."
"I'm sorry? But your letter, sorry, letters, don't mention weekends at all. They make it clear that it's Monday to Friday, or nothing."
"Ah yes," chuckled the operative, "we can do this on a Saturday or Sunday. But you see, we don't mention weekends on the letter. Because if we did, people might want to book the appointments for then instead."
At this point, I actually took the phone away from my ear and stared at it. You know how, in old caper-style films, there'd be that bit where an old drunk witnesses something unlikely, then looks at his bottle of whisky in confusion? It was like that. Only with a phone. Not whisky.
"Yes," I said. "I suppose they might. Given the chance."
"Now sir," she said, not detecting my raised eyebrows over the phone, "I'll pass your details to the team that books weekend appointments." They have a team for this? Who knew? "They'll be in touch."
Which is how, a week or so later, on an early evening, I found myself speaking to the Weekend Meter Changing Appointment Booking Team. I'm not sure if that's their official title.
"Oh, I am glad we've been able to contact you sir," E-On's Emma said.
"I'm sorry, what do you mean?"
"Well, I've been calling your home number all day today to book your weekend appointment. But there hasn't been an answer."
"You've been calling me at home?"
"Because you need your meter-fitting-bloke to come round at the weekend?"
"That's right," she said, brightly.
I briefly stared at the phone again. It seemed the right thing to do, in the circumstances. Come on Emma, I thought. Work with me here. I spoke slowly. "We need a weekend appointment as we're not here in the week. It's Thursday. You've been calling my home number all day and you haven't been getting an answer. Because.....?"
Nothing. Nada. Rien. The penny was not for dropping. I swear I could hear the sound of tumbleweed. In the distance, a lonesome coyote howled. This is how Kafka got started.
"Never mind, Emma. It's not important. How about Saturday next week?"
So, companies of Great Britain. Think about the weekend, why don't you? It doesn't have to be difficult.
Well, not unless you deliberately make it so.