Saturday, 31 October 2009

Yes, I shall become a bat.

The journey north felt like a journey deeper into the autumn. Trees near London seemed greener, those nearer Macclesfield more brown. I love this time of year.

The 85 came before the 86, so I slipped into Oddest to touch base with Kate. “I’ve pinned a note to your door,” said Kate, “which says that we’re going to a party. A fancy dress party. Can you find yourself a costume?”

Costume ideas had been floating around my head since the Pemberton Towers party announcement. The theme for that party is Literature, and I’d flirted with the idea of going as a raven, after the Poe poem. Could I do something related?

Yes, I shall become a bat.

I cut wing shapes out of one old black shirt, and sewed them onto the undersides of the arms of another. The bat-shirt will serve me well as the base of my raven shirt –a few feathers and I’m away. With a little help from Dunk, I became a top-hatted, long-eared, wing-tipped, armpit-flapped bat.

We went to Whalley Range with Paulina, to a party where we knew barely a soul. I think I was pissed enough (or short-circuited enough through sleep deprivation and hangovers) to mumble on through various inane conversations before I started to enjoy myself. Little Laura and Roisin were there, and it was nice to talk to Kate Bell too. I met some interesting people, and some very drunk people too.

Kate and I rolled in at about 6am. A heavy night, but a good one.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Haw he honk he haw he honk!

“The top floor loo,” said Dominic earlier in the week, “is the best place to take a crap in the whole house. The views are amazing.” I’d taken his advice. A car horn sounded from outside, and I dashed to the window, stark naked.




Two cars were en face on the bridge below, honking at each other and refusing to move. I looked down, and saw most of the other guests on the upper balcony below. From our vantage point on the hillside, we could see everything very clearly. The drivers got out of their cars, shouted at each other, and then got back in. A classic (and quite literal) impasse. More honking, from the rows of cars that had built up on either side of the canal. I saw Colin peering out from a window to the side of me, Hannah from another beneath me, Tom from still another. A younger, slim woman stormed out from a car in one of the rows, stamped over to the bridge, yelled and got back in her car. Just went the scene couldn’t get much more French, a row of cyclists passed by. Our laughter echoed across the valley.

The stand-off faded, and the cars passed. One each side the row jeered and honked at the car they saw as having just blocked their way for ten minutes. Dom turned around and looked up at all of us leaning out of different windows. I caught his eye and imagined what he could see - a Kodak moment.

Shortly afterwards, Vin and I left.

A Certain Romance

Charlene and I took a slow, romantic stroll along the Canal du Midi over lunch. It wasn’t that we were going to sneak away and make passionate love in the midday sun, on a bed of fallen leaves by the water’s edge – not romantic in that sense. More that it was a guy and a girl getting away from the hubbub of the group to spend a little time together, enjoying each other’s company without interruption.

We sat on the bank, Bonjour!-ing at passing cyclists, and talking about our lives. I talked about Liz B, and about Pippa, about Rigby, about Sonya and about Liz. We dubbed her Elizabeth II. Chaz talked about being engaged, and not being engaged anymore. We sprawled and laughed, listening and smiling. It was one of my highlights of the whole trip.

As we walked back up through the terraced garden, our assembled friends were leaning over the top balcony, sizing us up. Have those two, they wondered collectively, been having sexy time? Vinny asked me straight up. I shook my head.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Cabaret, and a hanging.

The second murder was very risky. It had limited the probable murderers to either Skinner or Chaz, with Colin and Hannah as outside bets (if either of them were ninjas). That took a lot of pressure off of the rest of the survivors – nobody was defending themselves, only accusing one of them. Skinner? I didn’t think so. Chaz? Let’s find out.

We spent the afternoon cruising between vineyards in the Espace, trying amazing wines from the region. I kept a close-ish eye on Chaz, sitting next to her in the car and sticking close by during the tastings. “Are you trying to get a piece of Chaz?” asked Vinny, ever perceptive. I was, to an extent, but I was rather enjoying getting to know her too. And was falling more and more towards the idea that she was the murderer.

Our wine tour ended at Ventenac, the cellar for the collective made up of the former employees of the family that had once owned the chateau. By now, Skinner and I had consumed several glasses of wine. We didn’t swill and fling away our dregs, you see. We just had the whole thing. Dominic, who had stayed behind, was setting up the evening’s entertainment around the rough patch on the second level of the terraced garden: a barbecue, bonfire and cabaret.

Great acts. Hannah sang. The Lovely Jane and the Lovely Colin sang. Jamie recited a poem. Vinny played guitar. Julia dressed up and read a poem. Dominic sang a Lovely Song for the Lovely Jane and the Lovely Colin, inspired by their approaching wedding. The Lovely Jane danced with Poi. Skinner, Vinny and I played Mallet’s Mallet, using crème fraiche instead of a mallet. I lost. Splat! As things drew to a close, we all sang together. Dom adapted ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ to be ‘I Love this Chateau.’ Jane had written new words to ‘Let It Be,’ a sweet and slushy end to a lovely evening. Even Skinner and I, easily the most pissed people there, couldn’t ruin it with our shambolic hosting.

Trial time: Chaz? Skinner? It didn’t take long. Of seven survivors, three had voted Chaz, with two voting Skinner. The Lovely Jane hadn’t chosen. My vote. I looked up. It was Chaz, I thought. I voted: “Skinner.” Over to you, the Lovely Jane. She chose Chaz. And so we hung her.

“Vinny. Without a doubt. Definitely Vinny.”

If there’s a pool, then I’m going to use it, however cold it might be. That’s me: British attitude; Hawaiian shorts; dumber than a bag of hammers. What chemical, I wondered as my limbs numbed and stiffened, keeps this water from freezing solid: surely it’s cold enough. Broken, I shivered and dripped back up the terraces for a tea.

Dominic had been murdered in his bedroom with a candlestick between the hours of eight and nine. So it goes. I left my room and started my fool’s journey towards hypothermia at around ten to nine, so I was very much in the frame. Any of the four who made up the couples might have slipped out, I suppose, but they were all vouching for their partners. Vinny, Skinner and Charlene were all alone in their respective bedrooms, so all had the opportunity. Jamie was promoted to Inspector for being too good at the game, so it definitely wasn’t him. That aside, it could have been anybody.

The final CDWM team scooted to the hypermarche, and I lounged on the patio, drying out my clean clothes, reading The Economist and drinking good coffee with Colin. The warm sun on my neck felt a million miles from the prickling cold of the pool.

Beer o’clock came around quickly enough, and the shoppers returned with cheese and baguettes. “My poo smelled like cheese,” said Tom, “and that’s when I thought that I might be eating too much cheese.” Fine dining makes for fine living, I think.

I asked Chaz to join me on the upper balcony, rather than meet Colin and Jane in the cave. Chaz came up with virtually the same alibi as Hannah had yesterday, so I wanted to probe her about the murder. Skinner came out of the kitchen as we were talking.

“DTR, who would you murder if it was you?”
“I would definitely kill Vinny. You?”
“Vinny. Without a doubt. Definitely Vinny.”

The three of us retired into the dining room, and talked about a particular way to play the game of murder as the murderer. Massacre style. The more murders committed, the more chance there is of being rumbled. A one-off, multi-victim killing spree is a high-risk approach. At the same time, it’s high-reward: the dead don’t participate in the investigation, so the more people killed, the fewer to convince of your innocence.

Based on that premise, the smallest possible jury is the best. Sadly though, killing absolutely everybody else is out – obviously the last man standing is the killer – as is killing all but one person – the innocent would know it wasn’t them. In fact, at least three people are needed to have a two-on-one vote. So, playing massacre style, the murderer would kill everybody except themselves and two others. At the investigation stage, you need to convince one of the two others that it wasn’t you, and then side with them in accusing the other person. Simple enough.

Jamie was within earshot, by the study window in the drawing room. Hannah was in the bath. Vinny was reading the paper in the kitchen. Colin and Jane were in the cave, Tom was fishing, and Dom was dead.

Chaz popped into the kitchen to ditch an apple core. She came back and we discussed another approach to being the murderer, the shopkeeper approach. This involves waiting in a room with a weapon, and killing whoever comes into ‘the murder shop’ next. Skinner went to collect a few more beers from the kitchen. We started to explore the shopkeeper approach a little more, thinking about the…

“MURDER! MURDER!”

Vinny was dead! So it goes. Skinner had found him strangled to death in the kitchen. The look I exchanged with Skinner was like a telekinetic high five.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Murder!

"MURDER! There's been a murder!"

The Lovely Jane's voice echoed down the stairs from the middle floor landing. I dashed up from the kitchen. Charlene had been butchered* in her bed between the hours of three and four in the morning. So it goes. A silent figure had come into her room and stabbed her to death. Hannah or the Lovely Jane had found her bloodied corpse. So it starts!

*Chaz had woken up to find a note and a knife on the bedside table. She watched the whole investigation 'as a ghost.'

Who was where at the time of the murder?
  • Charlene was in her bed on the middle floor.

  • Hannah and Tom were staying in an adjacent room, to the west.

  • The Lovely Jane and the Lovely Colin were also staying in an adjacent room, to the east.

  • Vin was alone in the room he normally shared with me on the top floor.

  • Jamie was also alone in a room on the top floor, a room that he normally shared with his brother Dom.

  • I was in the drawing room drinking port with Dom and Skinner.


Nobody had a decent alibi. Vinny was alone. Jamie was alone. The beautiful symbiosis of coupledom means that Tom could have slipped out of bed without disturbing Hannah, and her him, and likewise for The Lovelies. All of the late drinkers slipped out to use the toilet at least once. On grounds of opportunity, nobody should have been beyond suspicion. Such rational thought, however, was far beyond the groupthink of the hivemind.

What do I remember? Nothing incriminating. I was last to bed, as ever. Skinner went up before Dom and I, who shared a last Drum Gold moment on the balcony before bed. It could have been Skinner, in that gap. It could have been Dom, who left me for another five minutes as I looked at the mist curling in the valley. It could have been me. But I didn't think it was any of us. The three of us talked about spectacular ways to commit a murder over the port, and I doubted that Dom or Skinner would then follow that with such a prosaic MO. Unless it was a colossal bluff, of course.

Dom and Skinner and I more or less put forward the same opinion - it could have been any of us, but we thought it probably wasn't. Was one of us duping the others?

Tom had vanished first thing in the morning, to go fishing. Was he getting himself as far away as possible from the body to put himself out of the frame?

Vinny took a pad, and started to draw out a chart of who was where at what time. Was he blustering to take the heat off himself?

The Lovelies, The Lovely Colin and The Lovely Jane, were oddly bickersome that morning. They seemed intent on stitching each other up. What had gotten one of them so riled?

Hannah had gotten up in the night and come down to the kitchen for a glass of water, and then refused to enter it because she remembered there was a dog. "I'm scared of dogs," she said, "and I don't drink bathroom water." Oh, really... how convenient.

Jamie was quiet. He'd been quiet all week. Thoughtful. He's a buddhist these days, nothing out of the ordinary there.

Discussions continued into the afternoon, and into the evening. Hannah's tale of an aborted attempt to get up in the night wasn't holding much water with anybody. Most of what she'd said smelt strongly of bullshit. Getting up for a drink when you have a tap in your room? Because you don't like bathroom water? Really? making all that effort to get out of bed, then turning back empty handed out of fear of the most placid dog I've ever met? Hmmmmm...

Skinner's comatose hangover led Vin to declare Skinner was out of the picture. I was in the clear too - "DTR wouldn't go into a girl's bedroom in the middle of the night with a massive knife unless he knew that girl quite well, and he only met Chaz on Monday. It's not him."

There was more from the great detective. "Because I was sharing a room with DTR, and because Jamie was sharing with Dom, and because there was no way we'd be able to predict how long the bottle of port would last, neither Jamie nor I could have planned to wake up in the night and kill Chaz. We couldn't risk setting an alarm in case it woke up our roommate.

"Neither Colin nor the Lovely Jane remember their partner getting out of bed in the night. Tom, however, does remember Hannah getting out of bed. Hannah's story isn't convincing. In fact, it keeps changing. For a teacher, who speaks in front of people all day, she's really struggling to look anybody in the eye. I think it's Hannah."

Everybody said who they thought it was at the penultimate stage, and why. Most people went with Hannah, but I suddenly thought it was Tom, based on what Hannah had said about how his occasional lies present themselves. There were a couple of other curveball ideas, but nothing substantial. It came to the vote. I voted Dom. Skinner voted Jamie. In the haze of wine, looking back, it seemed that everybody else voted Hannah. So she was hung.

"Will the real murderer please stand up?"

Chairs moved. An arm stretched out. A hand pressed on the table. Everybody was looking around at everybody else. This is the best part of the game by miles. Who was it?


Jamie.


"I decided to kill Chaz in the middle of the night. I knew that an alarm would wake up Dom, so I conducted a series of tests. I set my watch alarm to go off, put it under my pillow, and listened from Dom's bed. It was too loud, so I put it inside a sock and tested it, again listening from Dom's bed. Still too loud, so I used another sock. Much better - barely audible from Dom's bed, but loud enough for me - after all it was under my pillow. I took the knife to bed with me, and even wrote the note in advance. I woke up with the alarm, and saw Dom's bed empty..."

"Because I was drinking port downstairs with DTR and Skinner."

"...yes, and so I went into Chaz's room. And the rest is violent, bloody history."

Such dedication to the cause is commendable. I think Jamie deserved to win. Chaz - who'd been silent since her death - asked if we could draw cards again. And why not?

Port chatter

Creatures that survive on methane at the bottom of the ocean; quantum superheroes who can control time, space and all matter; harnessing the chemical energy of salt in the sea: Dom, Skinner and I put the world to rights over a bottle of port. We went to bed at around four am…

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Killing Time

The quiz had kept us up late - we'd waited because of CDWM and we'd waited for Tom to finish a job application - so there weren't many heads over the parapet first thing. It was my turn to do bread and breakfast, so I went to the boulangerie on my own to collect what was needed. I managed to explain, in french, that I was feeling a little tired because of all the wine. The baker smiled and titled her head at me. "Are you staying in the chateau?" she asked. I nodded. She nodded, knowingly.

Breakfast became brunch became lunch as more people rose and the day warmed. Vinny, Skinner, Tom, Hannah and I filled a box with beers, and went down to the river to fish. I wasn't bothered about fishing, really, but I was very interested in the box of beers. Insecure Dave and Dom followed on. We found a sandy cutting through the reeds that led down to a sunny spot by the river. I shudder to think of what the channel we were fishing in was designed for. It certainly wasn't natural. Vin soon tired of fishing, and Skinner seemed restless too, so we went back to Ventenac. We took a different route through the vineyards, and were set upon by score of flying ants. "France is a load of shit!" said Skinner, "this is horrible."

The team re-convened on the small balcony, and we drew cards for murder.

"We are about to play a game of murder, most horrid." Murder is a game. It's a little bit like mafia,, a little bit like wink murder, and a little bit like something else. This is how it works: a murderer is chosen at random and in secret, using playing cards. The murderer has a killing period, perhaps 24 hours from the drawing of the cards. In that time they must commit at least one murder. A murder is committed by the murderer presenting their victim with (semi-)realistic means to carry out a real murder. The victim is now dead in the context of the game, and must lie still until discovered (within reason). The only information that the dead can give to the living is an 'autopsy report' detailing how they were killed and the approximate time of death. The other players conduct informal investigations amongst themselves, based on whatever factors they think are important. At the end of the killing period, there is a trial, and all the players cast a vote to say who they think is the murderer, and therefore who they think ought to be hanged. After the hanging, the real murderer reveals themselves. If the murderer gets away with the murder, they win. If the right person is hanged, the others win.

We had drawn cards, and the killing period had began. The game was on.

Cast List for Ventenac

To ease the confusion of the casual reader, this is a dramatis personae of those who were lucky enough to attend the wonderful week at Ventenac:

The Venezuelans
Audrey
Tani - a vicious expert at le babyfoot

The Bristocracy
Julia - mater familias
Jamie
Dominic

The Duets
Colin and the Lovely Jane
Tom and the equally lovely Hannah

The Soloists
Insecure Dave
Skinner
Chaz - with a soft "sh", as in Charlene
Vinny
DTR

For the geographically minded, our movements over time were:

Vinny and I arrived on Saturday, with the Venezuelans, the Bristocracy and Insecure Dave already in situ. The Duets arrived by car on Sunday. The Venezuelans left as Skinner and Chaz arrived on Monday, with Insecure Dave leaving the next day. The core group consisted of the Bristocracy, the Duets, and the Soloists, except Insecure Dave, who sadly had to leave early. Vin and I left next, on Friday, with Chaz following the next day. And on Sunday, exeunt except the Bristocracy.

Monday, 26 October 2009

This is what happened to Skinner in Belgium.

We prepared an English classic, with a Gallic twist, as our contribution to CDWM. After dinner, we settled down to listen to Skinner explain what had happened. As you'll remember, on Saturday night we received news from Daryl that Skinner had vanished. This is the story of he lost a full day of his life in Belgium.

video

The slow march of the leaves

Another day, another hangover. Nothing too severe for me, but some of the team were really suffering. Loose ends were tied up over the course of the morning: Vin and I finished writing the quiz; Skinner had been found, and would be with us in the afternoon; Charlene was on her way; Audrey and Tani were about to leave; my team decided on its Come Dine With Me meal. It was a Monday morning when things got done.

“Mate, let’s go out on the bikes and find somewhere to buy a beer.”
“That sounds perfect. We can sort out teams for the quiz as we ride.”
“On y va!”

We rode west along the canal, towards Carcassone. We searched for and failed to find a beer in Paraza, and then the English bar in Roubia was closed. We pressed on, and found a house by the side of lock. A tanned man in his mid-fifties, the lock keeper, greeted us. I asked for two beers, at a euro each, offering him a five. “Pas de monnaie,” he said – no change. He offered me the pair for free. I shook my head, and asked for five beers. He smiled at me, and handed them over.

We found chairs at the side of the lock, and drank our beers in the sunshine, smiling at passing boats. We were here:


View Larger Map

The lock keeper wandered in front of us, carrying a plastic crate of old bread. He put his hands into it, and took out the larger lumps. He stamped on them, crunching their ends, and put them back into the crate. I shared a raised eyebrow with Vin. Obviously we were in the company of a mentalist. It got worse: we watched, amazed, as he threw a bucket on a rope into the canal, drew it up, and poured its contents into the crate. He rolled up his sleeves, put his arms into the mushy mix, and stirred. Sloppy breadcrumbs dripped from his elbows. Surely this is not how the French make their famous baguettes? He took the bread slurry, and scattered it up and down one bank of the canal, slowly, calmly, deliberately. I can’t remember if Vin worked it out, or if I did: he was feeding the ducks.

We watched the slow march of the sunken leaves in the canal and caught up in the warm lunchtime sun. A few more beers. Family talk. Private, intimate conversation. We talked about balancing holidays with work, about pleasure and effort and their relationship. The leaves were golden down both sides of the canal, as we watched the ducks have their fill.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Of all the bars in the South of France, you had to walk into mine.

An early riser's lot is a good one. Vin hadn't enjoyed my snoring, and I was eager to see the chateau by day. Our hellish trip to Carrefour meant that it was dark when we arrived yesterday, and I hadn't had a chance to bathe in its glory. I went downstairs, met Julia in the kitchen and headed out to the patio.



I looked up and back at the chateau. Its vastness towered over four floors, three bold rows of cream and cherry red window arches. At ground level was la cave, a basement with a slouchy sofa and table football. Above, up the external stairs to the first floor, stood a narrow balcony with doors to the grand country kitchen and long dining hall. The drawing room, to the east completed that floor. Above, on the second floor, three grand bedrooms, and above that three more. A terraced garden led down to the pool. It’s a stunning place.



As I gazed upwards, Jamie leaned out of a window and yawned. I waved up at him. He smiled and came down the stairs.



Jamie and I walked out through the village with Teg, past vineyards and villas and down to the canal. We saw a hunter in a camo jacket and fluorescent orange cap, shotgun cocked, seeking out small game. We Bonjour!-ed cheerfully with passers-by, and wandered down to the boulangerie for fresh bread. The mayor has a tannoy system set up around the village, proclaiming their decrees. I felt like I was in another world. Perhaps I was.


The canal, with the wine cellar to the left and the chateau to the right and top of the photo

We returned to the fold, to find that there had been no news of Skinner. He’d been missing since about 3am on Saturday morning, and it was now Sunday lunchtime. On one hand there was every chance that Skinner could make it on time. All it would take was that he would find Daryl, pick up his gear and dash to the plane. On the other hand, worry was rising amongst us. Frantic calls from friends in Sheffield and Belgium hadn’t got us any nearer to finding him, and had stirred us up rather.

Although I mock the Ibiza Uncovered crowd for frequenting English bars on the Costa del Sol, I was glad we found a few ex-pats for the Liverpool United game after the hell of Carrefour. Vin was less pleased that they were mostly Mancunians, and almost entirely United fans. So it goes, I guess. Tom and Colin arrived with Jamie as the match was drawing to an end, so we had a beer.

Back at base, Jane and Hannah had arrived too. They’d driven down from Dover, which must have been beautiful. We ate, we drank, we drank some more, and retired to the cave. Insecure Dave, the Bristows and the Venezuelans were in another league when it came to playing le babyfoot. I was humiliated throughout. Dom and Vinny started to play music, and we smoked and drank and sang like Gomez.

The evening ended with Dom, Tani and me sitting downstairs listening to Roots Manuva and Belle and Sebastian through my phone. A reefer, and another, and another. Dom went to bed, and Tani asked me to show her how a tie is tied. My hands brushed on the skin of her collarbone as I tied the knot. I could feel her breath on my hands as I pulled it tighter. An erotic moment. Reader, I did not kiss her, although I wish I could say that I did.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

I was just pissing by

“Let’s write a pub quiz on the plane to France!”
“Yes, let’s!”
“What rounds should we include?”
“How about Politics and Global Economics?”
“Yes!”

Organising the organised fun to follow, Vin and I hammered out the skeleton of one of our contributions to the evening entertainment schedule for the week ahead. Sat to my right was a young woman who might have been fifteen, and might have been twenty-five. It was impossible to tell, so I kept the flirting very mild, and pre-watershed. She sped the journey for me, and I like to think I did for her too. No harm done.

France rose up, an autumnal golden brown, and met us as we descended into Perpignan. My first memory of France is following the sharp shadow of the aeroplane wing on the runway surface with my eyes, and being greeted by the grand Pyrenees. Wow! The airport is tiny, like a 1970s shopping centre in its décor and its mood. Jamie was delayed. “Hang tight, and get a beer.” We didn’t need telling twice.

Carrefour. Shopping, or hellish riddle, designed to confound les rosbifs? To my mind, the jury is still out. Let's divide up the shopping list between us, said Jamie, and collect the food for the night's meal. Of course, that'll make things much faster. Right? Wrong. My list included a very specific type of yoghurt, some milk, and some herbs - herbs with French names quite different to their English names. I don't think we covered tarragon in my GCSE class. What might have taken twenty minutes in Tesco Burnage ended up taking more than an hour. We didn't even bag up our vegetables properly. Our checkout girl ended up serving us in English. "Humbling, isn't it?" said Jamie as we walked to the car.

We picked up Tani and Audrey in Narbonne, and dropped our eggs at the garage. Alors! A quick trip to the halal grocer, and we were equipped for Insecure Dave's wonderful quiche and soup.

The news broke over dinner that Skinner was missing in Belgium, with neither his phone nor his passport. Daryl was going apeshit searching for him. What could we do? Not much from France. It's Skinner, he'll be okay, right? I hope so.

We spent the evening boozing. After insisting that we give Tani le splash to celebrate her birthday, I ended up convincing the Venezuelans to accompany me down to the pool, "for a look." Suckers? Not quite - I gave Tani my phone as insurance that she wouldn't get dunked. We swung our legs, sitting on the garden wall with stubby beers, and looking into the Canal du Midi. We talked about the UK, and the glory of the BBC. As we sat there, a van pulled up and stopped on the humpback bridge. Three men got out, stood in a row on its brow, and, in synchronised triplicate, unleashed a torrent of piss right into the canal. The ducks laughed, and we did too.

Friday, 23 October 2009

“This is the Virgin Pendalino service to London Euston…”

As the clock struck three, I strolled out of work and headed off onto the first leg of my Autumn break: tonight, London; tomorrow and beyond, Ventenac. I was almost whistling as I skipped my way to the train station, the warm sun tickling my neck. Vive les vaccances!

“Mate, can you wait for me in the Salisbury? I’ve got to stay at work for an hour or so?”

Wait in the pub? Yes, I think I can handle a bit of waiting in the pub. I sat down and enjoyed a beer or two, a little bit of David Bowie on the jukebox, and a few stories about Bob Dylan from my book. It’s a cracking pub, one that’d be easy to get used to.

I was feeling quite relaxed – having consumed around about two pints of relaxation-facilitator – when Vin arrived. It was brilliant to see him, and I’m glad we had a chance to catch up before leaving for France. We went through our careers, our recent romantic histories, and other issues of the day. We were pestered by kids with stickers, two demonic little girls, running around the pub. Their parents were our age. Chilling stuff.

We took on a few more beers, then swung back to Pemberton Towers. The new resident there, Louise, is stunningly beautiful. Olly was there, and not bad looking himself. I spent the night in Skinner’s bed because he had already left for Belgium. What happened to Skinner in Belgium, however, is entirely another story…

Thursday, 22 October 2009

"Why are you laughing. It's not particularly amusing."

David Dimbleby stuck it harder to Nick Griffin than any of the other politicians on Question Time. Bonnie Greer, sat on the other side of the boss-eyed little toad, kept her shoulder forward throughout, refusing even to acknowledge him. And all Griffin did was laugh.

Whilst I'm frustrated that BNP policies weren't smashed to pieces alongside Griffin's own character, I enjoyed seeing them take a kicking. I hope that it translates to the polls.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Demographics, Pi-nt

How could I illustrate the possibilities of demographic profiling to an audience of my colleagues? Hmmmm. Some of them, I imagine, might not even know what demographics are. How could I get through to them? And then it clicked. I'd use TV.

Shameless


Last of the Summer Wine


Cold Feet.


That'll make it easy for them to comprehend. Perfect! After stroking my white cat, strolling menacingly around in my subterranean bunker, and generally cackling at my own evil genius, I texted Kate about going for a pint. At Pi.

"Pi-nt?"

Monday, 19 October 2009

Be Assertive, B-E Assertive, B-E-A-S-S-E-R-T-I-V-E

Being assertive helps you handle working with absolute wankers, according to the video that we watched today at college. Based on my recent experience at work, I should get a personal copy of the tape. And watch it every day.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

"I'm-a Wario, I'm-a gonna splatt-a this-a pie in your face"




After a failed attempt at making its guts into a pie, we carved Wario into this pumpkin to the sound of Disney tunes, then Kate splatted the pie in my face. Good times.

video

Friday, 16 October 2009

Fish

Pippa came round for tea. We ate fish, and drank two bottles of red wine. Kate joined us for cherry pie. The three of us listened to power ballads and Elton John, and chatted into the night. Celebrity crushes discussed: David Tennant; Frankie Boyle; BT mum; Jess Cartner-Morley; Michael Palin; the dad from 2point4 Children. Hehehe!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

"Your tour guide for today is DTRMCR"

For the first time in months, I ironed a shirt today. My boss had asked, "Can you go to the senior managers meeting for me?" and I was eager to make an impression. Meetings was the theme of this week's class at college, and comparing today's meeting to Tuesday's chaos was an object lesson. "That's my homework done," I thought as I watched the head of the unit chairing with tact, purpose, humour and knowledge.

I met Steve Rideout after work for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. We ended up taking a tour of noteworthy buildings: to Spinningfields; down Deansgate; Urbis; the Eye; and back to the G-Mex. Steve talked about cameras. I listened. Good company. A good man.

Walking home from the tram stop, I passed three young girls, eight or nine years old. They were scratching around in the fallen leaves, building piles and kicking them. "Go on," said one of them to another. "Ask him." She jogged over, stood up as tall as she could, and smiled:

"Do you have any money. We want to raise it up to charity."

I smiled, shook my head, and walked on. Good luck to the little bleeders. Raise it up to charity? Ha!




Monday, 12 October 2009

Tired, tireder, and then beyond tired.

Why did I wake up tired? Had I been running through a special someone's dreams all night? No. Well, not to my knowledge, at least. No, I'd slept terribly. Still up at three, exhausted, but unable to settle. Too much caffeine that afternoon? Irregular sleep after Saturday night's antics? Or just too damned excited about work on Monday? I know which of those three it wasn't.

The day went by in slow motion, the hands of the clock crawling round their familiar, tedious journey. I was grumpy as fuck. Miss F sent me an email - another one of those that at face value looked like it was about work, but in real life wasn't really, instead about saying "Hello." On another day I might have responded pleasantly. On another day I might have accepted the olive branch. But today I blanked her. No reply. Nothing at all. I didn't feel great, but those are the breaks, right Kurtis?

College, thankfully, was only a half session of work, with a half session of IT beforehand. King geek that I am, the how to log on to M____ and how to use college email were old news to me: I'd spent hours in the library already. Phew, lazytime! The subject matter of the main session was Meetings, which I feel I can contribute on strongly, given my experience in C______ and in my current job. "So, what makes a bad meeting?" asked Gerard. I had to stop myself from contributing too much.

Afterwards, a well-earned pint in Oddest, and a chat and catch up with Kate. I was pleased to hear that Nic liked her presents. The CD and the book are a nice match. It's good to find another Belle and Sebastian fan out there. Even if it does mean losing the odd badge now and then.

Saturday, 10 October 2009





Happy birthday to Lu

As I was walking to the shops to buy some eggs, I texted Lucinda, wishing her a happy birthday . "Oh DTRMCR thank you v much what a memory!" she replied. Several of my friends - Zoe, Jordanna, John M - and acquaintances - Nic, Jon Lyall, Lucinda - share a birthday on this date. And after last year - when Paul, Dunk and I saw Mark Morriss at the museum, then met Lu and Liz and all at Trof - how could I forget? Sometimes I think that having a blog means I'll never forget a significant moment again.

Nostalgia swept over me, and I found myself drifting into the mind of myself a year ago. It's been a period of great change for me.

This time last year I lived with Paul on the West Didsbury side of Withington. Since then I've lived in two different houses in Chorlton, and with five and a half different people. Five and half, because I have three official housemates in Stretford, but I think Dunk should figure in the count too. Ryan replaced Paul in some ways, and not in others. Domestic affairs have had a massive impact on my daily happiness, a fact most demonstrated by how happy I feel now at 106. Living with Kate is brilliant. Big changes. Good changes.

This time last year I was dating Liz, though in hindsight it was quite clearly coming to an end by the now of 2008. Since then we've broken up. Actually we've broken up twice, or three times, depending on how you count things. There was that awful situation in November and December, and the tears we wept afterwards. Beautiful, brave Lizzie. In between, a brief fun month of Stephanie. Over the summer, an ill-advised dalliance with Miss F from work, and the odd handful of flesh and nothingness now and then. Another important factor happiness-wise. Liz was the biggest deal for me romantically since Rigby, and in some ways more so. For example, sometimes it felt like I was dating a woman, rather than a girl. I don't know if I've learned anything about romance in the last year. Muddle on, blind man, beware the ditches out there...

This time last year I had two prominently chipped teeth in the front of my face. Lucinda, the birthday girl, fixed them for me. Looking back at 2009, I think having my teeth repaired will be the main thing that other people remember about my year. Everytime I clean my teeth in the morning I think of, and feel thankful for, Lucinda's amazing generosity and kindness. I feel like my smile works better now, and I'm much more confident about using it. Lessons? Erm...? Use interdental brushes?

This time last year I was starting to hate my job. Despise my job in fact. Lack of purpose was the main cause, and mostly down to the hand that was on the tiller. Since then, things have got worse, and then much worse, and then steadily better. Studying for my Market Research qualification, and the management course I started last month, has kept my mind busy. And my colleagues see what I see too. I feel much more in control of things at this stage than I did this time last year.

Running. That's new too. Cycling. Yup. Owning Batman comic books too. Good new.

My blog was two years old about a week ago. I'd wanted to do a Year Two summary to commemorate it, but I didn't remember the exact date, and ended up missing it. I wonder what Lucinda would think about my memory if she knew.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

6.6mph

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Bridges

I burn more bridges than I build. Like that DeLorean, a trail of flames often follows me. Unlike that DeLorean, I can't travel backwards in time to make amends.

Last night, at the death of Chubb and Steve's party, I answered the door, and found myself looking at to a once-familiar face. Suze. My old flatmate Paul's old girlfriend. Things hadn't ended nicely - things rarely do, I've found - and I hadn't spoken to her for years. Two years. The last time I saw her was, I think, in Starbucks on Oxford Road. I smiled at her, "Come in!"

There was a time when I saw Suze every day. She was a regular feature of the house on Parsonage Road as things there drew to an end, and the flat by the Bridge Club when things there started out. And then, when things with her and Paul drew to an end, I became increasingly hostile to her. She was, I thought then, treating him badly.

A lot has changed since then. Assuming good faith has helped me handle behaviour I don't fully understand in a more balanced and even way. But somehow Suze had slipped through the net of my zen. Somehow my stubbornness, my affinity for grudge-holding, meant she was stilled filed under *shit* in my mind. My fault.

It was nice to see her. I gave a shit about what she was up to, what she had to say. I tried to show her that I was past all that guff. I don't know what she thought about it.

I burn more briges than I build. But I tried to build last night. I tried.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Improv cycle clips




What do you get for the man who has everything (except cycle clips)? Electrical tape, and feeling like a winner all the way to Didsbury.

"Who smokes crack on a Saturday lunchtime?"

We cycled past two men smoking crack.

"Who smokes crack on a Saturday lunchtime?" I asked Chubb.

"Drug addicts?"

Friday, 2 October 2009

An ally in the darkness

My boss is a good person. That good person is, however, a bad boss. She's the kind of person who'll spend fifteen minutes chatting on the phone to someone who's dialed the wrong number. She's always late, and ill-prepared with it. She's not deliberately mean, and generally only causes offence through her skittishness, not through malice.

But I've been at college, learning about time management. I kept a log of every working minute for the last week as part of my training. I am studying under the sensei of workload optimisation to become the ninja of not wasting time. And my training has made me ruthless, like a machine that knows no mercy.

We had a meeting booked for ten. We didn't start until 10.45. My inner ninja was enraged. Shurikens of anger shot through me. And then we didn't get all the work done because we ran out of time. Grrrr.

My colleague spoke to me afterwards. "That's just how [the Boss] is. We'll work around her. We'll manage her. Don't worry. I'm with you."

An ally in the darkness. Interesting.

Thursday, 1 October 2009