Song #2657 – Stuck On You

If I ever look as if I’m experiencing an epiphany, as if I’m learning an all-important life lesson, or that I’m finally finding some much-needed clarity about a piece of universal information, let me tell you something: I’m not.

I never am.

What I’ll be learning instead is a lesson that is so incredibly small, so incredibly specific, as to render it practically useless.

To give you an example: I once walked in on two of my housemates having a pillow fight in our lounge. Without invitation, I decided to join in. I picked up a cushion from the sofa, flung it across the room at full force, and watched as the zip of that cushion caught my housemate right in the eye.

Not her eyelid. Her eye. Her eyeball. Her rapidly pinkening eyeball.

She dropped her pillow and hit the floor in a yelp of pain, clutching her face, terrified that my misjudged ambush had would now resign her to a life of reduced depth perception and Phantom Of The Opera masks.

Now, there are all manner of good lessons to take from this sort of incident. Don’t get involved in fights that aren’t your own is one. If you’re going to gatecrash, at least attempt to be discreet about it is another.

Even at a bare minimum you’d think a person might take it as evidence that their aim really isn’t as good as they (/I) think it is. But, no. The only lasting lesson I learned was: If you’re ever in a pillow fight, be sure to use a pillow.

And I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean it entirely literally. I have injured dozens of people through uninvited clumsiness and hijinx in the years since – but I have never thrown another cushion.

Or there was the time that I was so nervous about asking a girl out, I decided to have a drink to prepare myself for it. I ended up getting so shitface-drunk in advance of making that call that I’d clean forgotten all the plans we’d made seconds after hanging up.

I missed our date. I stood her up. She never took a call from me after that.

The lesson that most people would learn from that? Don’t making plans after drinking.

The lesson I learned? Don’t make plans after drinking gin and tonic.

And so it was with Nina.

Nina should have taught me a lesson. A very important lesson, wide-reaching enough that it should have informed about 80% of your consequent human interactions – but, sadly, she did no such thing.

It’s probably because it wasn’t my intention to do anything bad in the first place. Not really bad, anyway. I was acting out of love.

Fundamentally, I suppose I was trying to say Nina, I love you – but I was eight years old and I didn’t express my love through simple words. I expressed my love through flat-out cruelty.

It was just supposed to be a little bit of affectionate teasing. A well-meaning prank. For how was I, aged eight, to know that Blu-Tack got so sticky and stringy when it had been rolled around in a person’s hot palms for half an hour? Was I supposed to just guess that it would take on the consistency of chewing gum when I covertly fastened a blob of it onto her ponytail? How could I have foreseen that she’d react to this unexplained lump tapping against her neck by panicking, squishing the Blu-Tack further and further into her ponytail, catching more and more of her hair up in it?

Teacher eventually had to cut it out. Nina cried and cried. I can only imagine how much more she cried again when her mother spotted the chunk that was missing out of her hair. And then again when she had to get it all evened out at the hairdressers.

It was always my plan to admit to it. I would have done too had it not caused such a problem. Instead, I sat and watched the commotion all play out, silently thinking: Next time, don’t use Blu-Tack.

HeartStringsThe Heart Strings – Nina And Her Very Long Hair
from “True Fly Blue Sky”
Listen

 

 

Posted in Growing Up, True Story | Leave a comment

Song #1054 – The Heart Is A Lousy Hunter

The rifle feels about as heavy in his hands as you’d realistically expect a rifle to feel, which is to say pretty heavy indeed.

“You got it in your sights, son?”

He’s talking about a deer. A graceful, tranquil doe, doing nothing but sniffing leaves.

“Yes,” the boyfriend whimpers. “I do.”

“Now, what you want to remember,” he says, “is to squeeze the trigger.”

Why, the boyfriend wonders – as he trains his crosshair on this peaceful, beautiful creature – couldn’t his girlfriend’s father be something normal? Like a quantity surveyor. Or a policeman.

“Lot of first timers, they tend to pull the trigger back hard, see? Sends the damn thing sky high. What you want is a nice, firm squeeze.”

The boyfriend is aiming between the deer’s front and hind legs. The bullet will pass beneath her belly. There’s no way he’s shooting Bambi’s mother. Not for him. Not for her. Not for anyone.

“So when you’ve got it nice and steady, you…”

The boyfriend pulls the trigger. He pulls it back hard. The shot swings up and to the right, catching the doe’s haunch.

The noise is horrendous. Just horrendous. She squawks and screams, all hell coming out of her throat.

“I SAID SQUEEZE, GODDAMNIT!”

She tries to make her escape, the deer, but she won’t get far – running like a broken marionette, unable to keep her legs from crumpling underneath her.

“Jesus,” he says, sliding his knife from its sheath, setting off on her trail. “Stay here.”

LoneAveBlur – I’m Just A Killer For Your Love
from “Blur”
Listen

Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

Song #783 – Some Spots I Cannot Change

I don’t have a tattoo, and I’m almost certainly never going to get one.

Not because I don’t like the idea of them. Not because I don’t think they look good. It’s because of what happened with my bedroom wall.

When I was fourteen, my parents allowed me to redecorate my bedroom. It wasn’t that much of a job, all told, as posters already covered two of the available four walls, and I was saving a third to pin vinyl record sleeves to (in preparation for the time I’d saved up enough lawn-mowing money to buy a record deck on which to play them.)

But the fourth wall, the wall above the head of my bed, was mine to do with as ever I pleased.

Like a number of boys my age, I had recently read the novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. At the time it had seemed to me tremendously adult, and it spoke about all of the things I thought were most important in life. Love. Music. Women. Mixtapes. Refining your tastes with clinical precision. Speaking about them at interminable length. Temporarily bamboozling people into thinking you’re somehow impressive.

I have no idea what I’d make of the book now but, at fourteen, I wanted to live in it.

There’s a quote in there. I don’t know what page; I don’t recall what it said – but it was about the importance of music and it ran to half a page. That. That half a page. That’s what I wanted up on that fourth wall. That’s what I was going to paint on it.

I had it all planned out. I had decided on the typeface, the line height, the spacing. I had printed it out twice – once onto a single acetate sheet, and again at double size across four acetate sheets (because I had had to buy a whole pack and had absolutely no use for them other than this).

I had arranged to borrow an overhead projector from school. Ordinarily, it’s not the sort of thing that pupils can just take home with them but as the teachers knew better than I did that I had practically no capacity to misbehave (and would probably return the thing cleaner than when I took it) I was allowed to loan one for the weekend.

My curtains were drawn, the acetate was lined up just so – I was all ready to go.

Only, there was a problem. Something I hadn’t considered. Every time I stepped up onto my bed to starting tracing the projected words, my shadow got in the way.

I tried kneeling on my bed and stretching up to paint it from beneath (couldn’t reach the top; was pressed too close to the wall to see anything properly). I tried standing on my bookshelf and leaning in from the left (kept toppling; had nothing to grab); I tried standing on my windowsill and leaning in from the right (too far to reach; couldn’t paint left-handed).

Every time I thought I’d found a suitable position, as soon as I raised my hand to paint, my clenched fist would end up obscuring the exact bit I needed to see to trace. I battled on with a word or two, but the resulting letters were so chillingly crooked and spidery, it looked more like the dying message of a hostage than an inspirational quote.

There seemed to be no way around it. My dream of painting a twenty line passage from High Fidelity on my bedroom wall was dashed.

So what did I do?

I painted it in leopard print instead.

LeopardPrintWall

The choice to go for the snow leopard palette was more out of necessity than design. I had only bought black and white paint for the quote, but I do remember feeling that there was something much more refined about a greyscale print. I felt it would mark me out as something of a sophisticate among my peers. There was a manly, brooding quality to the leopard that I liked – something slightly primal and sexual too – but the muted colour scheme made it less imposing, less brash, so as not to sour the mood of any cocktail parties I may eventually host.

I had people round too. Friends, family, neighbours, prospective buyers. People saw it.

Suffice it to say, the effect of this wall was so toxic that I had to move house three times before I was sufficiently distant from it to persuade anyone to take my virginity.

Quite what possessed me to do it, I couldn’t tell you for sure. Partly it was because I already had a leopard print bedspread and had yet to understand the concept of tasteful understatement. Partly it was because I was in love with the band Kenickie, who were among leopard print’s most visible advocates in 1998. But largely it was because I should never, ever be trusted to make decisions by myself – especially ones that are hard to cover up.

I picked up a copy of High Fidelity again when Ben Folds and Nick Hornby released an album of collaborations, Lonely Avenue, in late 2010. I was curious to remind myself of that quote, the one I had picked out all those years ago. The one that spoke to me so deeply.

I leafed through the book for twenty minutes, but I never found it. Or, if I did, I didn’t recognise it.

LoneAveBen Folds & Nick Hornby – From Above
from “Lonely Avenue”
Listen

 

Posted in Growing Up, Literature | 2 Comments

Song #261 – I Can Be Your Bodyguard

There is a man enjoying a bit of notoriety on the internet at the moment, for having written a rather brutish letter to a female BuzzFeed writer.

I won’t name him personally, so as not to give the situation any further oxygen (nor play into his hands if – through some truly incredible circumstance – he isn’t joking when he says that the spectacular fallout from all of this is part of his masterplan) but, on the face of it, it seems to be your classic boy-likes-girl, girl-politely-declines, boy-calls-girl-a-bitch, hounds-her-on-the-internet, writes-her-a-1,500-word-email-putting-her-in-her-place, skirting-some-very-serious-safety-concerns-in-the-process story.

I confess, the temptation to do what I usually in brawls, both online and off (viz. hold back until the stronger kids have safely pinned him to ground, then run in and kick him in the spine) is great. But every time I try to take my run up with this guy, I stop. Why? Because I feel like I can’t, in good faith or clear conscience, take a proper shot at him.

For I too, it may not surprise you to learn, have written a letter to a girl demanding that she talk to me. A letter demanding that she give me an answer, an explanation for her behaviour. I have done it too.

I was nine years old.

Her name was Diane Wallis. She looked like a church mouse from a Disney movie and she was, for a good term or two, the reason I went to school without complaint. The reason I laid my uniform out before I went to bed. The reason I made sure never to spill my breakfast down my front. The reason I was careful to pick the eye bogeys from my eyes each morning, because I didn’t want her to think I was gross.

Diane, however, didn’t like me back. In that respect, she was something of a trendsetter. She would be the first of dozens of girls who would feel little more than an affectionate coolness when presented with evidence of my devotion. She was never anything other than polite to me, but the truth was that her heart belonged to another. Daniel Bauer.

Danny Bauer was a friend of mine. We’d known each other for a few years. I didn’t much care for his taste in jackets, and was constantly surprised – surprised to the point of indignance – that Diane would care to spend so much time with a guy whose Parka absolutely stank of damp, but I liked Danny.

Still, he had stolen my woman. So I had to act.

I remember clearly the letter I wrote. I remember where I wrote it. I remember when I wrote it. It was a Sunday evening. I had watched a martial arts movie called Sidekicks – starring Chuck Norris and some kid. It was around the time of Chinese New Year, which I knew because McDonalds were offering their Chinese New Year menu and I had asked for extra Kung Fu sauce with my chicken nuggets when we had gone to McDonalds after church that morning.

After Kung Fu sauce and Sidekicks, I was feeling – as you might imagine – pretty pumped. After a half hour of getting my sister to throw sofa cushions at me so that I could chop, punch and kick at them, I had decided on my angle. I knew how I would win Diane’s heart.

With pencil and paper, I went and sat in the space between the sofa and the living room wall and, in secret, I wrote Diane a letter.

I told her that I had just watched Sidekicks. I told her that I had just eaten an extra portion of Kung Fu sauce at McDonalds. I told her that my martial arts skills were second to none and that she was an idiot – an actual idiot – to ignore me in the way she had been doing.

And then, at the point I imagined she would be reeling from the name-calling, I delivered my killer blow. I asked: What was Danny Bauer even providing her? What use would he be in the face of danger? Does he know karate? Because I do.

I could offer her so much. Protection. Love. Security.

Actual security.

I offered to be her bodyguard.

I closed the letter with that very simple offer. I would provide a close-protection security detail (‘bodygaurd services‘ [sic]) for free if Diane would just let me be her boyfriend. All the defence she would ever need; she just had to dump Danny and go out with me.

I put the letter in her drawer at school the next morning. Presumably she found it. Presumably she read it. I don’t know if we were old enough to gossip to friends about that sort of thing, or whether she kept it a secret. I never heard anything more about it.

She and Danny fizzled out without ceremony, in the way than infant couples tend to. She made no overture at me; my fingers were too burned to make one at her. It was left at that.

I would still show off my Kung Fu moves on the dance floor at youth club. A good half of the shapes I threw in that club were cribbed wholesale from the six blue belt lessons I had signed up for. But if Diane noticed, she never let on.

I never made the offer again. Not to her, not to anyone.

So as the boots rain down on this guy, and he takes a well deserved kicking, I feel it best that I hold back. For were it not for Diane Wallis – and the twenty-two subsequent years in which I have had to refine my romantic technique (and become a largely functioning adult) – I could very easily have been that guy.

Instead, I’ll stick to what I’m best at. Standing at the side, watching the fight play out, talking about myself.

Ash 1977
Ash – Kung Fu
from 1977
Listen

Posted in Growing Up, Romance | Leave a comment

Song #2649: Scenes From Christmas Past

Teacher knew she shouldn’t raise her voice, but they’d been running this scene for fifteen minutes now and mums were already starting to loiter outside the hall.

“Try it again, poppet, and try to remember to put your arm around her as you say the line.”

The children shuffle back to their positions. Kit steps forward and recites his line.

“There, there, Emily. Don’t cry. Tiny Tim has gone to a better place now.”

“KIT, SHE’S YOUR WIFE, NOT A PET DOG!”

Teacher gets up from her chair. Strictly speaking, she’s not supposed to touch the children but this is drama. You can’t direct properly without manhandling your actors.

“Don’t put your hand on top of her head, ” she snaps, grabbing him by the wrist and forcing his arm around Sarah-Jane’s shoulders. “Your child has just died, for Pete’s sake! Hug her!”

A ripple of whispers runs out around the rest of the cast. One kid makes an “Ooooh!” sound and follows it with kissing noises. Laughter is heard.

Kit’s cheeks burn. This is exactly what he was worried would happen.

If his girlfriend finds out about this, he is in so much trouble.

The Housekeeping Society – One More Sleep ‘Til ChristmasHousekeeping

Posted in Defining Moments, Growing Up | Leave a comment

Song #4498: The Death Of Évariste Galois

or What A 19th Century French Mathematician Taught Me About Love

I know nothing about abstract algebra. I know even less about polynomial equations. Field theory, permutation groups, Abelian integers are all an absolute mystery to me and my understanding of 19th Century France and the radical Republican movement during the reign of Louis Philippe is really no clearer.

That being so, it is strange that I am aware of Évariste Galois at all – given that he was a preeminent mathematician and an active political agitator living in Paris in the early 1800s – but his story rather sticks in the mind.

Though the details surrounding the final days of his life are scant and hotly contested, the general consensus seems to be that there was a sweetheart at the centre of it.

Reading between the lines of the letters that Galois was writing at the time, it is clear that he had been conducting an affair with a woman named Stéphanie-Félicie Poterin du Motel. Du Motel was engaged to pistol-owner and crack-shot, Pescheux d’Herbinville, who, on discovering their illicit relationship, threw down the gauntlet and demanded to duel Galois.

Galois, being a man of numbers, had little difficulty in calculating the probability of his survival in this particular set-up. Convinced that he was going to die at dawn the next morning, he stayed up through the night frantically scribbling down all of the mathematical ideas in his head and sent them to a friend so that, if nothing else, his work could live on.

The resulting manuscript was, by all accounts, an absolute knockout. His ideas caused huge advances to be made in the study of modern mathematics and some mathematicians have even gone as far as to say that Galois’ final letters make perhaps the greatest contribution to the wealth of literature that mankind has so far amassed (though that would appear to say more about mathematicians’ idea of a good read than it does about the the letters themselves).

The next morning, the genius Galois was shot in the gut. He died a day later from the wounds, on May 31st 1832 – aged just twenty.

Though his life was short, Évariste Galois has taught a lot of people a lot of things – almost all of them to do with abstract algebra, polynomial equations and field theory. The lesson he taught me though, 180 years after his death, is a very different one.

Namely: You can be as smart as you like; love can make a fool out of anyone.

Spoon  – My Mathematical Mind
from “Gimme Fiction”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Song #700: Evelyn Turner’s Husband

I was too young to remember Evelyn Turner properly, but she used to live down the road from us.

My father recently told me the story of how her husband died. It happened one Sunday afternoon – not long after the UK trading laws changed and it became possible to shop on a Sunday. Though the pair of them had long since retired and moved from our village, they continued to visit the nearby church and so did their weekly shop at our local supermarket on their way home.

Their routine went like this. After church, he would drive Evelyn to the shopping centre. Evelyn would get herself a trolley and go into the supermarket whilst he stayed in the car. He would then wait until she was safely out of sight before nipping to the adjacent newsagent to buy a Sunday newspaper that Evelyn always complained was ‘vulgar’ and a Mars bar.

This particular afternoon though he didn’t nip to the newsagent. Shortly after Evelyn had entered the supermarket he instead suffered a massive heart attack, right there in the car. Continue reading

Posted in Romance, Stories | Leave a comment