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Indelicate Moment

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Dear Rachel

I arrived at Greenwich Market on Saturday to find Danny shouting at Keith. This is not an unusual occurrence; as I’ve mentioned before, so well-known is their animosity that the phrase ‘Danny and Keith’ has evolved into localised rhyming slang for ‘teeth’, as in ‘I must nip to the dentist – me Dannies are playing up’. Danny’s threats towards Keith have also evolved in recent months, from offers to go round to Keith’s house and give his wife Barbara ‘…the full half pint’ to not only killing him, but burying him, dancing on his grave, digging him up, reanimating him, cloning him, and then killing each clone in turn in front of the others to teach them a lesson.

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The Unsecret Code

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Dear Rachel,

Keith’s coffee van at Greenwich Market is so small that when he’s driving it, it looks as though it’s been painted onto his jacket. If it were mine, I would save petrol by bouncing it there like a basketball. It is in fact so very miniscule that my only involvement with it on Sunday – I wasn’t trading due to a state visit to the east end – was to almost run over it as I cycled past him at Elephant and Castle, causing it to flurry about in my slipstream like a Kit Kat wrapper.

If you are unfamiliar, Elephant and Castle is a joyless mess in south London, through which I cycle often and as quickly as I can. The nicest building there is the Imperial War Museum, which housed Bedlam lunatic asylum when it left Whitechapel, and the only cheery feature are the tube station lifts, which play the same sound when the doors open as Pacman does when he eats a power pill and runs about chasing ghosts. I assume this is a deliberate feature, as Elephant and Castle is a stupidly complex maze of tunnels and subways – not unlike that which Pacman has to charge around – and the station itself is one of the most haunted places in London. If they were any more similar, your reward for clearing a screen on Pacman would be a Bakerloo Line train to Regent’s Park or Marylebone, both of which are much nicer places to be on a Sunday afternoon then Elephant and Castle.

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The Girl With The OMG Handbag

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Dear Rachel

There have always been widespread reports of ghostly passengers on the tube, especially for some reason on the Bakerloo Line between Paddington and Oxford Circus.   I think I know how they have come about.   This accidental ghostbusting occurred last Thursday while removing a pair of gloves at Holland Park.  Around Christmas, I suddenly took to glove removal by gently tugging at each gloved finger in turn, before removing the glove proper, for no other reason than I felt it might lend me an air of sinister gravitas, in the manner of a Bond villain.   Catching myself doing this in the reflection of the window opposite revealed that actually it makes you look like a preposterous homosexual weirdo and I immediately resolved to never do it again, but not before I had noticed the reflection of the girl sitting next to me.   She had a canvas shoulder bag with ‘OMG’ written on it in giant letters, which I thought was quite a larf, and more crucially was wearing the commuter classic office clothes with trainers combination, which I have always found strangely endearing.

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Margarine Dreams

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Dear Rachel

Whenever I think of supermarkets, I think of slow people with fat arms putting huge bags of crisps into trolleys, and I therefore avoid going into them whenever possible.   This means that until last Wednesday I had no idea that you can’t buy margarine anymore.   This in turn means that an austere speciality of my old dear’s and feature of my childhood – dry Weetabix with margarine on top – can sadly no longer be prepared.   It’s difficult to spread margarine on dry Weetabix, as they are fragile and break easily, with the result that the recipient of such bounty is often left sitting in front of Blue Peter with a joyless bowl of wheat dust and hydrogenated fat.   As I write this, it’s just come to mind that I also ate dripping as a child, which is revolting.   If you’ve never eaten dripping, think of things that drip, and then think about how hungry they make you feel.   It isn’t even an appetising word.   How my arteries survived adolescence continues to baffle the medical community.

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Collins, Hughes, and the Camden Nepalese

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Dear Rachel

Some years ago, I consumed an estimated seventy bottles of vodka and five hundred Kit Kats on a ninety day festival trading tour with the Camden Nepalese.  Midway through, concerned that we hadn’t had quite enough vodka yet and remembering that it’s always better to be safe than sorry, we blagged our way backstage at V and swiped most of Babyshambles’, too.

Although I found myself happily free of lasting health problems when the whole remarkable jaunt finally shambled to a close, I retained the Nepalese habit of rubbing the proceeds of the first sale of the day across my forehead in order to – so the superstition goes – encourage more to follow.   I was explaining this last week during idle discourse with a common shop-girl of my acquaintance.   Our conversation was made more interesting than usual on account of the fact that she’d had some stitches in her mouth earlier that morning, which rendered her unable to move her jaw or tongue in order to facilitate speech.   A side effect of this was that she spoke in exactly the same way as one of the endless parade of Yorkshire terriers trained to say ’sausages’ on demand through bared teeth that were a staple of early evening light entertainment shows in the 1980s, which is an unfortunate look for someone working in a patisserie.

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Goodbye, American Jeff

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Dear Rachel

When Camden is as unfashionable as it is at the moment, the Good Mixer – a well known Camdenite pub at the end of Inverness Street, midway between the market and the tube station – is an enjoyable place in which to take refreshment. I myself often do this of a Saturday evening, having first attended to commercial interests in the Lock market, and usually find myself in the company of the Goat Bag Man, American Jeff, Wolverhampton Mike, Bibbsy and sundry other traders. The evening is usually punctuated by a wandering Camden victim called Blue, who simply isn’t funny enough to be as intrusive as he is although, to his credit – and I have a soft spot for the relentless – this does little or nothing to stop him.

However, it is to American Jeff that our attention must turn on this occasion. Jeff has the ultimate showbiz marriage of abrasive voice and ill-advised subject matter, the overall social effect of which is quite remarkable. A conversation with him is strangely like being repeatedly slapped round the face, and you find yourself unwilling to disengage in case he jumps on you and continues to shout words into your ear as you walk off towards the tube station, go down the escalator, and make your way home.

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Adventures With The Aspirational Poor

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Dear Rachel

Until this Christmas Day, I had assumed that the word ’scrage’ – pronounced to rhyme with ‘rage’, and used to describe a minor skin abrasion – was the sole linguistic property of my old dear and, by association, myself.   It turns out to be Bristol slang, according to a book on the subject being bandied about the Christmas dining table along with an inventive and eyewateringly potent butter collection which consisted of brandy, cherry brandy, and amarula cream variants.   I dislike alcoholic butter, and instead familiarised myself with sundry other Bristolian phrases, which enabled me to safely arrive at the conclusion that I was in no danger of being stung by a macky buzzer if I was of a mind to go outside and see if the snow was pitchen yet.  

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Lullaby Of Tooting Broadway

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Dear Rachel

A couple of Saturday mornings ago in Greenwich Market, volley after volley of threats, curses and expletives of all flavours and descriptions being hurled at Danny were my first indication that Keith had returned from an eight week sojourn in Cuba, where he is the guest lecturer in photography at Havana State University. I pride myself on an eye for good tailoring and a confident, understated sartorial style, and to this end was giving a full length cashmere overcoat from Liberty’s of Regent Street rare market airing.   It is a fine garment supplied by a fine English company, and both Keith and Danny know that I do not tolerate profanity or foul language in front of it.  I once made Childbrain apologise to it for swearing, to the amusement of Cartoon Ben, and indicated my displeasure with Keith’s tone by addressing him with a stern look and tapping a lapel with my forefinger.  I’m afraid to report that he responded with further recourse to the language of the gutter, with which I shall not trouble you.   Informing Keith that he was a very common fellow indeed, I retired to what seems to have become my regular pitch near the lesbian cake ladies – who have taken to providing me with shortbread so sugary that it actually makes me shake – and waited to see what all the fuss was about.

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Tiramisu And The Dyspraxic Diner

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Dear Rachel

Dyspraxia is often accurately, if unkindly, known as ‘clumsy child syndrome’, but adults have it too: Harry Potter has the condition, as did Albert Einstein.   If Winston Churchill had had it, his famous broadcast to the Empire and Commonwealth as the Germans threatened seabourne invasion would’ve been ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets; we shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.  Blast it, I’ve knocked my bloody brandy over’.  It’s that kind of a thing, really.

If you had your house rewired so that you could drive a bumper car from room to room, or even across rooms to feed the goldfish or put the kettle on, it would be similar to the interactions that a dyspraxic child has with their environment.   I don’t have children and I don’t have dyspraxia, and while the former would appear to be creeping up the agenda, the latter is unlikely to change.  I would suggest, however, that our allegedly impoverished public sector could save a great deal of money spent on conventional testing for infant dyspraxia by simply getting children to walk through a wide doorway with no distractions whatsoever, and seeing what happens.  I myself was sitting near a doorway of this type at a dinner party recently.   Had I not already known the the daughter of my host had very mild dyspraxia, I would’ve offered a prognosis to this end with no paediatric training whatsoever, on account of the number of times she charged into the back of my chair while walking through at steady pace with no distractions at all, then pinballed into the doorframe while trying to correct her trajectory.   This was before the dinner had started.   After the dinner had started, and in support of a conversational point, I managed to say ”Basically, I just can’t stand children’, offering a quick ‘No offence’ to all the people seated on my right, none of whom were over 10.

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Awkward Moment

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I would not list the Duke of Wellington public house, Toynbee Street, London E1 alongside the Houses of Parliament or the Oxford Society as a white hot crucible of enlightened debate.   However, the fact remains that many decisions of vast importance in the lives and businesses of the people who drink there have taken place around the circular table by the dart board, the oblong table between the Gents’ and the Ladies’, and my personal favourite table beneath the portrait of the Iron Duke himself.

It was at this table, at about the time when a long evening has turned into an early morning which has in turn given way to the irrefutable truth that actual people with real jobs are on their way to work, and that very soon you’ll have to dawdle down to Liverpool Street station and take the Central Line to Soho to see your wholesaler, that I had to inform Lou that I knew nothing whatsoever about comic book art.   There are several reasons that the exact sequence of events surrounding my revelation can never be replicated, not least because Vinny the landlord has recently replaced the Duke of Wellington portrait with yet another telly, on the curious grounds that life is too short to look at anything more than eight feet away. (more…)

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