Bedtime Snippet

My four year old son James shouted for me to come upstairs. “I don’t want to sleep on my own. I hate being on my own.”

“You’re used to sleeping on your own. It’s natural to sleep on your own. It’s normal.”

“Well I hate it.”

“Your sister sleeps on her own. Your Nanna sleeps on her own. Every student that lives with us sleeps on their own. Your friend Alfie sleeps on his own. And Lewis. And Theo. All of them sleep on their own.”

“You don’t. You sleep with Mummy.”

“And when you’re older, you will have a girlfriend. She will be lovely, and you will get married and sleep with her.”

“No I won’t! I am not going to have any girlfriend.”

“Then you can sleep on your own!”

(I know, I know. I’m on dangerous ground.)

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The Coffee/Book Trade-Off

The primary school of my two youngest children lies very close to our town centre, and so, often, I find myself ambushed by surprise texts from my wife to call down and get various items of grocery while I’m still on the perilous school run. Personal plans be damned.

Much more preferable, though, is when I have forewarning of this, as I take a book along with me so I can read a few chapters over coffee before entering the melee of consumer hell. With a house full of children, students, a wife (just the one), I take whatever chance I can get to thrust an uninterrupted nose into a book

This is the non-negotiable shopping chore trade-off.

I used to go into McDonald’s, but recently I have discovered a great coffee shop, situated below a tattoo parlour, run by a charming Polish guy, who, when I enquired about his opening hours in the morning, asked if 8 o’clock was okay for me? Straight away we got off on the right foot.

I prefer to give my custom to small, local businesses, and besides, this place is cheaper, friendlier, more personal, and the coffee is better too. The place is called Coffee And Dessert House, which pretty much does what it says on the tin, but I’m on a diet.  It is a book reader’s perfect escape haven, and I have already placed my towel on my own spot: an armchair below a tall, standing lamp.

View from my claimed armchair.

View from my claimed armchair.

Dotted around the place are two portraits of Marilyn Monroe, and two portraits of Audrey Hepburn. An obvious draw are the deliberately slanted bookshelves. The owner has said I can take any that I fancy away with me to read, but, as usual, I have a long backlog of books to get through, but I appreciate the gesture.

You can keep your Happy Meals.

Monroe, Hepburn, books and vinyl. Not a freaky red haired clown in sight.

Monroe, Hepburn, chess set, books and vinyl. Not a freaky red-haired clown in sight.

I was in there yesterday finishing The Great Gatsby, that great and tragic book, low music issuing from a retro-style record player adding to the past-time feel of the place. I have never seen the film, but when considering the eponymous character, Leonardo DiCaprio never comes to mind.

I could imagine some of Fitzgerald’s acquaintances sat in here, drinking cocktails rather than coffee. Maybe with a little more lace than I normally wear, with matching pearls.

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My wife had another list of things for me to get this morning, so I left armed with my Kindle, which comes before the kids’ packed lunches. Having a break from the modern classics, I began an anthology of horror stories, selected chiefly because of the inclusion of two stories by two of my favourite horror writers:  John Ajvide Lindqvist, of whom I haven’t read anything new for a while, and the inevitable Stephen King.

This morning I had my coffee dark. I should have been Swedish, I am made for fika.

Birthday Snippet

I’ve just seen what my eight year old daughter has written in my Mum’s birthday card:

“To my gracious Nanna Bog-Off,

I love you, even with oldness and wrinkles.”

*My Dad used to shout “Bog off!” down the phone to my eldest two children, and so to differentiate between both sets of grandparents, my Mum and Dad became forever known as Nanna and Granddad Bog-Off.

Mongrel Nation

St. George’s Day again. I tried to reblog my original post that I did on this day, two years ago, but think that I can only reblog a post once? Anyway, the highlighted, following title should take you to it. It is about St.George, St.Aidan, Ancestry, History, DNA, and what it means now for me to be English, or rather, British, or rather, African. Go figure. Mongrel Nation.

UTS (Up The Shakers!)

You guys know I’m a Manchester City fan, right? I think I may have mentioned it once or twice. I’m used to watching a Premier League team, with Premiership players earning Premiership salaries. You can experience the very best in hospitality and food, the very best in entertainment. These days it is a day out for some people, the football is almost an added extra.

Well last night I went to watch another local team: Bury. Recently their match against Southend United was abandoned because of the state of the pitch, due to a sustained downpour.  It was rearranged for last night, and they declared that it would be free admittance for all supporters.

It was a fantastic gesture by a club that not so long ago nearly went out of business due to financial reasons. Life really is a struggle for the clubs at this level (they are three divisions below my City team) to exist and compete, every penny that comes through the turnstiles counts.

Locals responded, the ground was full, and the atmosphere was great (in certain respects, I think my own club has sold its soul, but that’s for another day). Unfortunately the Shakers did not get the result they were looking for, despite a host of first half chances. (They are going for promotion-winning their final three matches would guarantee it.) But much kudos to Bury.

I’ve always said that supporters of smaller clubs, such as those who follow local teams like Bury, Rochdale, and Oldham, who go week in week out in all weathers to watch their team, playing at a much lower standard than what is experienced at Premiership level, sometimes, most of the time, struggling, with few expectations of glory, are real football supporters. They refuse to jump onto the bandwagon of headline-hitting larger neighbours, in this case Manchester City and Manchester United, and remain loyal to their team and true to their hearts, finding their spiritual home in small, ramshackle stadiums of limited facilities but great camaraderie.

They still have the romance.

Good luck Bury, I hope you go up.

UTS !

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Note To Self: Never, Ever, Again

Saturday, and the sun was out. Manchester drew all of us to her with false promises and sales bait.

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My wife, son and I threw ourselves foolishly into the throng. If there was to be any trouble this day, my son had the Arndale covered, patrolling ahead in his army get up. Cute eh? Sure. So far, so good.

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As the day drew on, we decided to split up.

That’s how it all began. Just like one of those movies where a group of youths are being stalked by a homicidal maniac, and they decide to split up as you yell “Stick together for God’s sake, stick together!”

Jen took James with her to buy him some trainers, while I was given free reign to lose myself in Waterstones. An hour later I emerged with a book containing a dialogue between the Pope and a Rabbi. I was curious to see if I got a mention. If you should get yourself a copy, and the subjects are arranged alphabetically, try to remember that Jackdaw comes shortly after Devil.

Now came the tricky part- the time to meet up again. We were both in our home city, both of us with mobiles fully charged and with credit. Easy, yes?

Wanna bet?

The barrage of texts began:

Me: I’m out now. Where are you?

Jen: We are in Subway having a drink. We’ve still to get the trainers yet.

Me: Okay, tell me where you are in about fifteen minutes.

The clock ticked. The Fates chuckled.

Jen: Got trainers. Will meet you at that cafe in the Arndale.

I waited a while. The Fates now eyed my empty apple juice bottle. I moved on.

Jen: Here now. Where are you?

Me: I came out as I finished my drink. I’m in HMV, upstairs, near to where you are.

I foolishly expected her to come up to me.

Jen: I’ll go somewhere else.

Now that makes sense. Later:

Me: Where are you now?

Jen: Debenhams.

Debenhams? Debenhams? Where the Hell was Debenhams? I had to think a minute. It’s outside-yes, definitely. Debenhams was not inside the Arndale. I made my way out onto Market Street, blinking in the bright light. Now-which way? Left or right? I was beginning to get a bit tetchy. I waited a few minutes, calming down while listening to this guy on his pan pipes.

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He drew quite an appreciative audience, until a woman set up some speakers and blew him away with some rap-techno-I’m too old to understand this shit-thing. It was symbolic of my afternoon. The piper packed up.

I wandered further up Market Street, phone still in hand and ready to stab. Then I spotted it: Debenhams. Hallelujah. I wandered in: more than one floor, great. We began the dance again.

Me: I’m in Debenhams. What floor are you on?

Jen: Come back out, I’m outside TK Maxx.

I was seriously starting to get pissed off.

Me: Where’s that?!

No reply straight away. The day grew hotter. Grip on the phone got tighter.

I think I know where that is. I re-emerged onto the street. I trudged up to the corner, dodging the people who seemed set on a collision course with me. Rounded the bend to where the shop was. Sharp intake of breath: THAT’S NOT TK MAXX, THAT’S FUCKING PRIMARK! Cue very fast and hard typing:

Me: Where’s that????

Jen: Out of Debenhams, straight towards the Arndale. It’s on your right.

THIS IS MY BLEEDING HOME CITY WHERE I’VE LIVED ALL MY BLEEDING LIFE!

I moved down. Teeth clenched. Snorting through my nose. No sign.

Jen: I mean the left.

I dropped my bags all dramatically, then picked them up again. It made me feel better. I turned to the left. I saw her, gazing searchingly through the crowds, James looking like he would need reviving  right there on the floor where he was slumped.

I was tempted, really tempted, for one final round:

Me: Meet me near the flats over the road from The Angel pub.

Jen: Whereabouts?

Me: Twelfth floor.

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War And Words

I have just finished reading Goodbye To All That, the autobiography of writer and poet Robert Graves, up to 1929. In it he talks of meeting other writers such as Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen, and, in more depth, Siegfried Sassoon. Of most interest, though, is his account of the time he served as an officer in the First World War.

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He speaks of the horrors of war:

“…I went along whistling ‘The Farmer’s Boy’, to keep up my spirits, when suddenly I saw a group bending over a man lying at the bottom of the trench. He was making a snoring noise mixed with animal groans. At my feet lay the cap he had worn, splashed with his brains. I had never seen human brains before; I somehow regarded them as a poetical figment. One can joke with a badly-wounded man and congratulate him on being out of it. One can disregard a dead man. But even a miner can’t make a joke that sounds like a joke over a man who takes three hours to die, after the top part of his head has been taken off by a bullet fired at twenty yard’s range.”

There is also the tragi-comic, such as the soldier who wanted a ‘cushty’ wound that would get him sent back home to England:

“…so he waves his hand above the parapet to catch Fritz’z attention. Nothing doing. He waves his arms about for a couple of minutes. Nothing doing, not a shot. He puts his elbows on the fire-step, hoists his body upside-down, and waves his legs about till he gets blood to the head. Not a shot did old Fritz fire. “Oh,” says the Munster man, “I don’t believe there’s a damn square-head there. Where’s the German army to?”  He has a peek over the top-crack! He gets it in the head. Finee.”

Graves talks of the superstition among the men, and how he himself saw the ghost of a friend who saluted him through a window, who unknown to the author had been killed some time previous. He also tells how Sassoon distinguished himself by single-handedly taking an enemy frontage in daylight, but then instead of signalling for reinforcements, sat down in the German trench and started reading a book of poetry he had taken with him. His furious Commanding Officer said he’d have gotten him a D.S.O (Distinguished Service Order award) if he’d only shown more sense.

This is a good book and a timely read, what with all of the First World War anniversaries occurring around this time.

I have also picked up some more books from the Penguin Modern Classics range: some Capote, Fitzgerald, Joyce, and Stegner, to add to those I already have.

Could there be a greater collection of books out there?