a birthday: child pirates to streetfights

A long birthday awash with people and places began at 10am, coffee with a once-made acquaintance in a café on Soho’s Golden Square.  A deep-thinking fellow freelancer who successfully divides his time between southern American states and London, he often provides engaging chat and food for thought.  I hadn’t expected it to be hugely constructive in any immediate business sense, and it wasn’t, but it still felt like an hour well-spent. 

Needing pirate fancy dress, I ducked into a likely looking arcade doorway on Leicester Square.  From the street it invited passers-by to an assortment of garish tourist shops, accessory stores, toy shops and an amusement arcade.  Escalators took me up a level and I quickly found myself circling a hellish labyrinth of arcade games with no Down escalators.  My frustration grew to a nightmareish backdrop of loud bleeping, tinny circus music, machine whirs, flashing lights and practically no people.  On finally finding a combination of frozen escalators and steps, I decided to give up on the costume mission and head over to Notting Hill for the coach out of town. 

A blissful few moments on the comfortable top deck offered me the chance to absently admire fluffy clouds, read and reply to birthday messages from seldom seen friends and listen to lulling new music.  Catching up on emails then exerted continued stress about work and my ongoing failure to secure much needed support. 

Lunch was being served as I arrived, my nephew glorying in the attention of his pirate-themed 3rd birthday.  We bid each other happy birthday and exchanged gifts before playing with his latest plastic.  Already there were both sets of confusingly named grandparents (I’m yet to completely memorise who’s Nan and who’s Grandma).  I opened my own gifts and cards before taking him around the suburban block on his new scooter.  When hoards of children aged from ten months to five years appeared in the house, I disappeared to take a work call.  Standing in a three year old’s bedroom as screams peeled from the floor below, I wore an ear-ring, false eye-patch, held a toy cutlass, but sounded consummately professional.  Back downstairs the children appeared to be multiplying.  I walked to the next room to see a previously unnoticed baby crawling along the floor, or a slightly older tot charging at precarious pace with a polystyrene sword.  There was a sprinkling if not directly proportionate number of mums now too.  It alarmed me how instantly the unknown children wanted to play with me, trust and distrust something not yet learned.  Frightening.  I almost wanted to teach them there and then.  I enjoyed a watery bland conversation with one of the mothers; she had friends near where I live, which was nice.  The kids ate their pirate party meal and the host parents spontaneously put on an elaborate pirate sketch where my brother played a scary evil pirate.  The children bought into it completely, terrified by his creepy leering as he suddenly appeared behind the patio window. 

Children and parents began to dissipate around half five and I was gone not long after.  A cumbersome cardboard box containing newly framed pictures offered a not inconsiderable challenge during my many-legged return trip: coach, walk, tube, tube, bus, walk.  By the end, it was on the point of disintegration, and my arm on the point of falling off.  Having returned to the flat, I immediately adorned my walls with the new, still intact pictures, opened the first beer of my birthday and admired their effect.  A half hour break from travel, then town summoned me again. 

A friend insisted on heading for the swanky bar of a client: it’d be cool, and good. It’ll probably be quite expensive but don’t worry, it’s your birthday so I’ll pay for the first round of drinks then we’ll go, he said.  We joined a short line outside the venue.  Twenny pand admission, a stony faced female doorwoman said once we’d advanced to the head of the queue.  Dyou wanna?  My friend asked.  Not much, my shaking head, flared nostrils and pursed lips told him.  Aw, c’mon! he persuaded.  It’ll be fun.  Hrm, if we must.  We entered and a cashier told him they didn’t take cards.  I gave her forty pounds.  Forty fucking pounds.  The bar was impossibly loud, ludicrously expensive and full of shiny young hipsters.  I realised I’d actually been there before for an equally ghastly work event and felt every single one of my years.  We chanced upon professional contacts and began impromptu networking.  A couple of drinks and many closely cupped ears later, the guys left us, I expressed my misgivings and we left. 

A cashpoint visit, payback and dithery squeltch around a rainy Soho later saw us settle on a marginally more sedate late license bar.  Here we chatted to a range of people, the first of whom were attracted by my eager friend’s fast-handed card tricks: attractive Australians, two female who we chatted with, two male who we didn’t; a pair of attractive but extremely cold young Norwegian girls – one looked permanently disgusted; and another pair of young, not so attractive locals.  By this time my energy levels were waining.  My friend was his regular supercharged, duracell bunny-style self, still rapidly talking in ebullient fashion to practically anyone.  When we’d met earlier in the evening he was closing a conversation with two elderly theatregoers on the street.  They’d considered him warmly on parting, although it was obvious their acquaintance hadn’t extended longer than ten minutes.  At 3am lights came on in the bar and we left, swaying up towards Oxford Street, coming dangerously close to the “I love you mate” cliché before parting with a manly clinch at my nightbus stop. 

Leaning sleepily against a shuttered shop front window behind the bus stop, two men approached at pace, cutting strangely skittish, bedraggled shapes.  Their short fight broke out under my nose in frittering flapping style, like birds competing over a breadcrumb.  None of those movie fist-to-face noises.  No shpucks, more like a large flag flapping in a strong wind.  People stepped back and away, nervous of the sudden violence.  I stayed leaning against the shop, rather too close, feeling tired, drunk and oddly removed.  The stockier, more confident man took the upper hand as his wiry rival fell, floored, taking more blows as he went and delivering few counters.  It was over, the winner was clear and he took a step back.  The loser managed to quickly rise and flee as his assailant accepted a fallen mobile from one of the three score of onlookers.  However, the device appeared not to have been his.  He held it high then smashed it down hard onto Oxford Street, yelling more threatening abuse as his vanishing competitor disappeared beyond Tottenham Court Road tube station.  Brief entertainment in what turned out to be a long wait, and even longer night bus ride back.  A couple of old school 80s punks with appropriately flamboyant hair had a falling out around Kensington.  The female became vocal and hit the window hard in frustration, stirring a number of passed out passengers from drunken slumber.  Her mohicaned partner looked away, head in hands, crestfallen.


culpability strain

It was hard not to feel culpable yesterday, disappointing in a new way.  We’d been solid and organised for over an hour, my central defensive partner was a robust player I trusted, we’d both had decent games in an evenly contested match which remained goalless.  Then I extended my legs to chase an opposition striker.  Quad muscles stretched and moaned, snagged painfully.  It was the same weakness and set of muscles which forced me off several weeks ago, and which I believed I’d recovered from.  Shortly after I went to ground in a tackle, again overstretching the same set.  And so it incrementally became more painful to run flat out, rather than in one smash.  I could trot about with tolerable pain, but snapping into a sprint to keep with a nippy striker soon became a no-no. 

A cross was whipped in, my man dodged and left me, I physically couldn’t turn and run to get near him – whereas in the first half his small frame posed little threat.  He got on the end of the cross and scored.  A few minutes later a gangly athletic striker collected the ball on the left and went on a run, beat our full back, who I’d tried to arc in behind and cover, failed then found myself swearing in frustration and pain.  The striker outstripped me with ease and popped the ball in the near post.  Two nil.  Having only eleven players, I agreed to move myself to centre forward, where I loped around ineffectively.  For over an hour we’d been a far cry from the team who were so comprehensively demolished last week: compact, organised and able, we moved the ball around ok in the midfield, despite similar impotence up front.  It may sound arrogant to think I was that influential on the goals and the whole game’s outcome.  In this instance though, it seemed the obvious turning point.  The damage was done.

I left straightaway after the game, not even bothering to shower: grouchy and disappointed at the recurring injury and its impact, unlike the flat-out depression which immediately followed the week previous – but which soon turned to a nonchalant, Guinness-fuelled ambivalence.  Yesterday was different.  To be so solid and come quite close, and to feel so responsible after having a strong hour my best of the season.  Not to mention the new fitness doubts.  Could this be the beginning of an ongoing struggle?  Arse.

on attention and affection

Diving head-first back into the bracingly choppy ocean of self-absorption…

Two separate occurences this week struck home how pathetically grateful I am for attention.

A good part of yesterday was spent with my nephew, the best quality time we’ve had together for some time, possibly ever.  Next Friday we share a birthday, he’ll be three, I’ll be a bit older.  We’re having a joint party.  It will doubtless be wild.

With his Dad, my brother, we walked in the nearby woods, chased each other, climbed trees, pretended to be bears, hid, then later at home played with toys, read stories and watched Finding Nemo.  When we curled up on the sofa and watched the cartoon film together, his two-week old sister was gently given to him and I cradled them both on my lap feeling a bizarrely alien sense of multigenerational domesticity and close family.

That the child seemed to return this feeling, demanding play and cuddles before bed, seemingly unaided or persuaded by his parents, made me feel ridiculously warm and fuzzy – another sensation I’m not well acquainted with.

Earlier on this week I attended a trade show and its post-event themed party at a nearby bar.  It was dark, loud and packed tight; drinks flowed freely and plentiful finger food was distributed by waitresses who barely spoke English.  I was comfortable enough in not knowing anybody at this show, or even the sector it represented that well; used to unhinging, breaking and entering conversations from cold without appearing too much like a twat.

After a couple of such unfruitful businessy chats I turned to a table of food and a recently deserted sparkly young blonde who had been filming interviews throughout the day.  Clearly happy bathing in attention in front of the camera, a very girly girl, possibly a precious princess, she was ostensibly absolutely nothing which attracted me.  And yet, she was attractive and, I had to grudgingly admit, rather entertaining in her animated passion for her subject.  Fun.  Not the norm, but in a good way.  We chatted awhile, I kept expecting her to leave me and mingle, for her hyperactive neediness to want more – she was used to fraternising with flash successful model types, attending fashion shows.

I wasn’t that bothered anyway, I told myself, yet all the while being infected and brainwashed.  I realised I was reflecting her mannerisms and we were probably, yes, definitely, maybe, flirting.  Frequent touch, suggestive comments, playful banter, excessively deliberate sucking chocolate from her fingers, maintaining eye contact.  Crap, she was hot, and was she really interes-..?  No.  Impossible.  Likely just a dicktease used to ruffling sad saps like me.

Her cameraman left and she said she had to go soon, though she didn’t sound hugely committed about her next destination and it was still early.  We left the bar together and walked down the street a short distance.  I pointed her to the large, unmissable tube entrance she needed.  At the time I didn’t even consider feigning need of a tube journey.  “Will you be ok from here, dyou think?” I asked.  “Ooh, you might need to hold my hand,” she replied.  I smiled as she rose to offer her cheek, I kissed it, missing the proffered other, causing momentary awkwardness.  Two cheek kisses make me feel like a pretentious twat.  We chimed a couple of nice to meet yous, then I crossed the busy road towards the bus station.  Should I have tried harder?

She’ll fade as these temporary fixations always eventually do, but most of this week she’s been irritatingly difficult to rid from my brain.

And that’s largely to do with how ridiculously flattered I am by attention.  I don’t go out and seek it, have always shirked it or been made uncomfortable by it.  So when it suddenly finds me, I’m paralysed. A three year-old can sit on my lap, display apparently spontaneous affection and reduce me to soppy goo.  An attractive young lady can playfully bat her eyelashes, flirt, then take off, reducing me to the tragedy of teenage fluster.

It’s symptomatic of being serially alone and being acclimatised to that state.  You forget about attention and affection; what it is and how it feels; those popularly held and enjoyed notions of family and relationships which you haven’t necessarily shunned, but which just haven’t worked out.  You almost try to distance yourself from it in an attempt to feel less inadequate.  All that’s not for me.  I’ll just get a dog one day.

So attention is subsequently magnified and exaggerated, you’re pathetically grateful for sustained consideration, however much it clashes with the self image of a restless, wandering, invisible ghost.

Micro stories – update

As mentioned in an earlier post, I submitted a couple of micro short stories via the popular microblogging network, Twitter.

This week those lovely Liars’ League chaps listed one of mine in their top ten.  Through this link you can read the full list, on the topic of Blood and Thunder, and download audio from the event where they were read. 

Obviously I’m indebted to the reader, but the audio reception from the event was especially gratifying.


I’d only just flopped open my book when they arrived.  They could have been father and son, but didn’t appear to have that level of familiarity.  Nor did they look particularly similar.  The younger was in his early thirties and seemed to have decided it was his job to do the talking; the elder was knocking a well worn looking sixty.

“Tell me I haven’t forgotten my fags,” the young one said.  I groaned a bit inside.  Great.  They were going to disturb me from my book by talking, and they were going to poison my oxygen as well.  I hoped he had forgotten his fags.  “Nope, here they are.”  Bugger.  “Aah, that’s better,” he said, slumping onto his garden chair, belying an exhaustion at the end of a hard day’s toil.  It was half past two on a weekday afternoon though, so I cruelly judged that he and his companion had just come from the jobcentre, or possibly an alcoholics anonymous meeting.  They sat close by at the next table.  I sat with my back to them, annoyed that I couldn’t fail to hear them when I wanted to read.  “I think a holiday’s in order,” the younger continued, encouraged on in his monologue by no more than the faintest of acquiescent murmurs from his companion.  I’d read the same short paragraph in my book around four times.  “Yeah, Amsterdam I think.  Been there loads of times, of course.  You ever been?  No, lived there for a time.  Was still drawing my giro and getting it sent over.  Had a girlfriend out there, you see.”
“Ah, did ya..”
Yeah, did you?  Really?  Your Amsterdam girlfriend?
“Yeah, we lived together for a while in her Dad’s flat, so there was no rent to bother about, nothing like that.  She never asked me for no rent anyway.  Would’ve given her some if she’d asked, like.  But she never.  All ended quite abruptly though.”
“Ohh, why’s that then?” the older man softly drawled, exhaling tobacco smoke and capuccino breath with his words.
“We argued all the time.  She never liked me going out on the piss.  I weren’t playing around or nothing.  Just going to the bars and getting stoned, you know.  Think she got fed up and just kicked me out in the end.  Lovely girl, she was.”  A brief silence as they both reflected.  “Ah, hello Rosa.”

Their food came, served by the beautiful but distant eastern european waitress.  I put some music in my ears.


Today I spent an unpleasant afternoon at the centre of a football team defence which was comprehensively taken apart.  We lost heavily, with the main protagonist a graceful young black guy who, as well as being outrageously skillful for the level we were playing at, was also sporting and without an ounce of malice or ego.  Everything this guy touched turned to goals.  He sliced an attempted switch pass across the penalty area in the first half, me again a yard off his gazelle-like stride.  It looped over our goalkeeper’s head and into the goal.

It was a horrendous, ghastly, car crash of a performance to cap a crappy week.

In the clubhouse afterwards, watching the England match by virtue of our dodgy access to an Albanian sports channel, I chatted with a team-mate. 

He works at an airport loading and unloading aircraft.  Apropos of nothing, he regaled a story from this morning.  He has colleagues: superiors who aggravate him by being excessively stressed and picky about aspects of the job he feels aren’t worth getting that stressed about.  Yet he stil enjoys good working relationships with them, tolerates them, is professional. 

This morning, however, waiting to clock off with his immediate colleagues, he felt he was in relative safe company, and so he vented.  He said they were jobsworth wankers, only too late alerted to the fact that the obvious subject of his allegation was sitting just a few feet away.  And had heard.  This probably wouldn’t threaten his position, but it was deeply uncomfortable.

I listened, nodded, growing more aware of the parallels to my own week.  Precisely the same thing had happened, just within the nerdy Twitter domain which he probably wouldn’t empathise with, and which would make me appear a geeky prick.

Jobsworth wankers versus gonad crushingly annoying.  Which was worse?  But people do this.  It’s a natural symptom of having colleagues.  Over a career you’ll have some colleagues which will be harder to work with than others, but you will still work with them.  How well you handle it, and if you can restrain yourself from venting or ensure your annoyances aren’t transparent: that makes a difference in your progression. 

Keep your defence tight, make no concessions, go far?

Bastard / not bastard

Esteem is a fickle thing.  Last week, on two consecutive evenings I enjoyed that rare feeling of genuine connection with people.  The platform of little shared experience, industry knowledge, football fandom segued into banter, drinks exchanged, a sense of being on the same wavelength and reciprocal free mockery.  I left both feeling that maybe not all people are crap.  And hell, maybe I’m not either.  I’m actually ok.  I can relate with my fellow man well, providing they’re not idiots.  I can make them like me by just being myself, easily enough.  Engaging with them, showing basic interest, being human.  It’s not difficult.

Aweek later I’m wondering if I’m actually a cunt.

I highlighted an industry contact early on in my freelance life as being potentially useful.  Well connected, smartish if guarded, good reputation, something weirdly impenetrable, but still worth aligning with.  So I did.  My reservations fluctuated at each time of meeting.  Though nice and genuine enough, she never asked a single question about me which wasn’t to do with work.  Where are you from, what are your interests, where are you going on holiday.. ? – I consider that kind of fluff important in initially forging relationships, so I asked those questions, received willing-sounding answers, but the questions were never returned.  We spoke of work things.  She also reveals excessive detail through prodigious, largely dull tweeting and Facebook updates, and carries this air of confidence and a consumingly smug verisimilitude.  She extols the virtues of having an opinion, whatever that opinion is, so people remember you.  Even if it’s dubious-to-bollocks, which hers often are.  I frequently found myself tongue-biting, not inclined to argue with her.  She adopts a veneer of smiley fluffyness which is actually quite hollow and difficult to get to know.  Mid 40s, single, advertising her availability to all via Twitter: a sign of rigid self belief and don’t-give-a-shit confidence, or deep insecurity?

I wear that ambiguity too though.  Well, maybe a bit.  Look around.  That’s why I have this account, and did have another which I tweeted anonymously through and brought on this whole sorry palaver.  I believed not many people read it, as this one.  After much of yesterday being annoyed by her, I tweeted through it that I’d spent the day in a city office with quite posh people, who’s first names I critically and stupidly named.  They were very posh names, but not outlandish, unique names.

I shan’t copy verbatim, or even close as I’m nervous that the words may be Googled and lead to this site, forcing another deletion.

The second message was the more indicting, but led to by those first names – which was how the lady somehow found the account.  I said that I wondered why I chose to work with them, because they were annoying, and I used a silly adverb before annoying.  I mentioned no names.  In doing this I slit my throat. 

(Although me saying that something’s annoying isn’t uncommon.  Most things and people annoy me in some way: I’m a sad, sorry, miserable misanthropic twat.  In fact, it’d probably be more unnerving if Iwasn’t annoyed in any way.  But that’s all quite tricky to convey).

Earlyish this morning my mobile buzzed with the name of the posh lady.  I answered brightly, wondering what she wanted.  I had no problem at all with the poshness thing really; it just amused me and I liked the lady.  And there was the potential of some freelance work through her agency, as well as the work I’d been doing at her premises with the other annoying one.  She told me that the other one had sent her a message, flagging my tweets, and she said it was best if we don’t work together or pursue our professional relationship. 

This struck me hard, winded me.  What?!  Why?  How?  What the fuck had I done?  Did send it in the wrong account..?  No.  It was made stranger by the fact that my sleep had been interrupted by a persistently nagging dream that I’d dropped such a Twitter clanger.  Was I actually still asleep?  Nope, definitely not.  Damn.  Just coincidence or did I subconsciously do something, notice something the day before?  A freaky cosmic premonition?  I hadn’t posted to the wrong account or linked it.  It was still on that silly anonymous account.  How had she then found it?  The names?  A search?  It was quite creepy that she had, however she had.  Did I even want to know?  Why didn’t she come directly to me rather than report it through a message to the posh lady, like a telltale schoolgirl snitch?  I flushed hot and cold, panicked, in shock, apologised profusely, expressed my embarrassment, said “I understand” too much.  What more could I do?  I’d been hung out to dry.  Plus, two potential contracts snuffed out.

After leaving a message on her voicemail in the morning, she returned my call at lunchtime, no doubt keen to get it over with.  Disgusted and disappointed were words she used a lot.  Disgusted?!  Really?  I’d tweeted that I found some colleagues quite annoying.  A betrayal of trust, perhaps.  But was that really disgusting?  Sling me onto death row with all the paedos immedately.  She beat me to the punch in verbally severing our business ties.  I said I wanted to be civil and amicable in public, should we come across each other at events.  This was rejected.

So, from a decent, likeable chap to disgusting bastard in one week.  I should do makeunders for the nice and sell them to ITV2.