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Archive for 2010

Glories Stream From Heaven Afar

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Dear Rachel

I love Christmas carols, and so was enchanted at hearing them played slightly too slowly by twenty eight year olds with violins at Greenwich market yesterday.  My stall was facing away from the awful noise, and at first I assumed that glory to the new born King and the subsequent reconciling of God and sinners was being heralded by the erratic pumping of bellows to which kazoos had been attached.   There was, of course, the usual adaptation of lyrics to suit the occasion – the occasion being the bullying of Keith – hence good king Wenceslas, looking out across frost deep and crisp and even, was not moved when ‘a poor man came in sight / Gathering winter fuuu-eeel‘ but ‘when old Keefy was observed / A-playing with his tooooo-el‘.   I was particularly pleased with ‘a-playing’, which I felt lent a contemporary and authentic feel.   Having read that paragraph back, I’d like to clarify that it was twenty members of a primary school orchestra, not a bunch of wandering twenty eight year old carol butchers.

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A Frame Of Useless Limbs

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Dear Rachel,

I find it’s best not to think about the things you are idly scratching off the ceiling of Northern Line tube carriages with your thumbnail as you travel southbound through the City.  Last week, however, I was scratching in this manner, vaguely aware that the substance I was idly flaking had very probably been in someone at some point in the recent past, and contemplating how a lady sitting nearby had managed to get her tights on while only having one arm.   The inoperative arm was still attached and there and everything, but in a sling, so I suppose she had a fighting chance, but it must still have been a bit tricky unless she had a husband to help.   I wondered what she would’ve done if she had hurt her arm halfway through putting her tights on, and whether in that situation you would either try and get them fully on or fully off before the ambulance arrived.  I like to think I would damn the torpedoes and finish the job, but I suppose I’ll never know for sure.

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Teeth Is The Word

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Dear Rachel,

A friend of mine, who is also an old ally of the business and a working prostitute, advised me that the way to deal with having things forced into your mouth without choking on them is to relax, breathe through your nose, and think about something else.   This was useful for me, as I have a sensitive gag reflex which doesn’t enjoy being annoyed by dental work administered at the back of my lovely lower jaws.   It doesn’t do for a grown man – a grown Englishman at that – to vomit on a dentist, and this has always been my only concern in what is an otherwise relaxed and sanguine attitude towards dental surgery.

I actually quite enjoy going – they refer to me as ‘Mr Smith’ for a start, which seems somehow right – and I am fond of my dentist.  He always indulges the essential set piece opening Dad Joke – the deathless ‘Take a seat, Mr Smith’ to which the only correct response is to point to the dentists’ chair and say ‘This one?’.  I suppose if you were going to freestyle at this point, which my own late father would assuredly have done, you could then go on with the ‘Just a little bit off the top and could you tidy the sides up please’ dentist-as-barber routine, but this is not for me.  I am content to answer the question ‘And how are you, Mr Smith’ with ‘Well, I’m talking to a dentist, so I could be happier’ or something similar, and leave it at that.  With these joshing rituals complete, I was offered a choice of telly to watch to take my mind off the imminent drilling and scorching: on this occasion I asked for the BBC Dentistry channel, and we had another little chuckle.   He said he quite fancied watching the Ashes, to which I assented, reflecting upon how often I had said that I would rather go to the dentist than watch cricket, and here I was managing to do both without throwing up at either.   To take my mind off everything that was happening, I tapped out the opening drum pattern from the Buzzcocks’ I Don’t Mind over and over again on my chest.   During a filling, a bit of a tooth pinged out, ricocheted off the dentist, and landed in my ear at exactly the same instant as the rest of the band would come in.  It might still be there, come to think of it.

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Conversations With The Surplus

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Dear Rachel

I am writing this on a train, in First Class as is my custom.  I would be more able to write about what I originally intended – which was eggs that taste of fish and former girlfriends who look like Louise Weiner – if I were not currently semi-entertaining a man called Julian.   Julian is drunk, and has chosen me to be his pal.   He has just gone for a fag out of the window, which is why I’m quickly knocking out a couple of paragraphs.  Just this second the guard offered to shift him into the next carriage for me, which I said wasn’t necessary.  My new drunken companion has no malice in him, and while I could do without the urgent explanation of his work – he runs a small business that repaints 747s at Heathrow – as an ex-publican I feel confident among the inebriated.    He’s just come back to the carriage, sneezed several times, started mucking about with his iPhone, and will probably fall asleep if we all just leave him alone.

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Fun With Electricity

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Dear Rachel,

Anyone who can remember the documentary that Channel 4 unexpectedly made about us will recall the first heat press we ever had, with which Gerry and I prepared t shirt stock for that summers’ festival season.   It had a strange malevolence about it, and would crackle and hiss of its own accord, which as I nervously explained to the watching millions gave it a certain charm, like a vinyl record.   The other thing it would do is play the Chinese national anthem every time the pressing process was complete, meaning of course you had to stand to attention and observe it, and which got a bit tiring after the several thousandth rendition.

As annoying as it was, however, we needed to have it, because you can’t not have one in our line of work.  For the unfamiliar, a heat press is not a complex piece of machinery: it comprises two heavy iron plates, each containing a heating element, thermostat and timer, so that a desired temperature (200 degrees centigrade in our case) and time (fifteen seconds for us) can be set.   The iron plates are then clamped together, usually by a hydraulic assembly or physical force (if you’re me) while steam and (fingers crossed) non toxic fumes go all over the place.    I have been known to take my underwear from the washing machine and speed dry it in the heat press, a process which also renders it pleasingly warm.

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Hiding Bacon Behind Pictures

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Dear Rachel

I love dogs, and although bull mastiffs would not be in my top five favourite breeds – I’m a terrier man at heart and by temperament – Danny and I have discovered that if you hide bits of bacon burger in a confined area such as Keith’s stall and let a hungry one off the lead, it goes surprisingly mental.   As Keith rebuilt his pitch, I pointed out that the bull mastiff is a good natured breed – docile, gentle and highly suitable for families with small children, which already pretty much hands it the moral high ground in any bacon related market stall misunderstanding between the two of them.  I can’t use the ‘c’ word on this part of an entry, as it’ll be on the front page and work filters everywhere will block the site, but I estimate that Keith called me it at least seventeen times in the ensuing exchange.

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Man With A Printer

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Dear Rachel

While not a gifted mathematician, I do know what a Venn diagram is.   A Venn diagram is, of course, a method of expressing differences and similarities between groups with overlapping circles.   Therefore, areas of similarity between groups will show as overlapping areas.  If you draw a Venn diagram of all the people you know who say ‘Carpe Diem’ a lot and all the people you know who you’d secretly like to punch in the face, an interesting thing happens:  it is not a Venn diagram at all, but a simple list.   Incidentally, I’m not a gifted Latin scholar either, but I have managed to work out that ‘Carpe Diem’ means ‘Do what I want’ in Latin.   If you somehow manage to not punch the next person who says ‘Carpe Diem’ at you in the face, you’ll see the truth in this.

Coincidentally, Mike says ‘Carpe Diem’ a great deal.  I may very well be punching him in the face soon – and taking a run up, to demonstrate that at least one of us can do a job properly – because we are rapidly reaching the point at which not to do so would be considered rude.   Mike, for those of you who may be unaware, is the bloke I employ as and when necessary to provide what we like to refer to as our ‘flat media’ – prints primarily, but also the glass place settings you’ll have seen if you’ve ever wandered past one of our stalls.   Mike generously refers to himself as a printer.   My right hand man and the builder of this very website, Gary, sagely refers to him as ’someone with a printer’, which is far more accurate.   Repeat offenders will recall my efforts to variously set fire to and castrate Mike over the course of this year, as a result of his attempts to end sentences announcing his persistent failures with irrelevant sweeteners – ‘I’ve not done what you pay me to do again, but at least you won’t have to pay me’ – and so forth.

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Fruity Veg Trader

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Dear Rachel

As is widely acknowledged, the worlds of filth and commerce seldom meld together more effortlessly than in the arena of fruit and veg retail.  I’ve done a fair bit of this in my time and, let me assure you, it’s like being possessed by some kind of demon.  And I do think ‘possession’ is the correct word, as you don’t make a conscious decision to spray foulness upon the grocery buying public.  It just pours out of you.  Buying fruit and veg from me is like buying fruit and veg from the girl out of the Exorcist.  Also, stepping behind a busy fruit and veg stall is, as far as I am concerned, the Wembley Stadium or Madison Square Gardens of casual retail.  You have to up your game accordingly, even if it means not only combining the worlds of filth and commerce as mentioned, but also the worlds of customer service and rape.

Quite recently, for example, I was ninety seconds into minding someone else’s fruit and veg stall when I informed a lady that the look on her face told me that she was dying to look at my plums.  She confirmed that I did indeed keep them smooth as silk, which is nicer for everyone, and that she shouldn’t squeeze them too hard in case they get bruised.

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Here Comes Autumn!

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Dear Rachel

It is the end of summer, a time of which I am rather fond.   Not that I don’t like summer – I do, it’s fine – it’s just that I will always take cosy over hot, and summer is not a cosy season.   It’s just hot.   Also, summer just happens to you, and if you don’t like it you can’t escape it.  You don’t get the  sense of achievement that you feel when sitting hammered in a pub in a howling gale.  As I think I have said before, summer is generally for people who look better the less clothes they have on, a category into which only the most kindhearted observer would continue to place me.

That said, the winter wind can really whip round a market, along the alleys and aisles formed by the rows of stalls, and the abrasive effect can be quite a trial for those of us with good cheekbones.   You soon learn cold weather survival tricks though: standing  on cardboard, for example, which keeps a surprising amount of heat in.   This is such a good trick that these days I recommend it for almost any potentially tricky or problematic situation, such as algebra, jury service, coming under sniper fire, ordering wine, and childbirth.

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The Places Where We Fall To Bits

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Dear Rachel

If you come out of Gillingham station – Gillingham in Kent, not the Gillingham in Dorset – you will find a chemist which sells balls of wool.  Venturing further down the High Street which lies adjacent, you will find Hair Pavilion, Nail Palace, and a pet shop, on the wall of which someone has written the word ‘Whore.’.  Just like that, with the full stop and everything.  To reach the pet shop you’d have walked past a cafe, which, due to a catastrophic apostrophe miscalculation, has the word ‘Caf’e’ emblazoned in gold lettering across the window.

By the time you have walked the length of the High Street, which will take you six minutes, you will have noticed that this is a very run down place indeed.  Gillingham is part of the Medway Towns, and the three Medway Towns have traditionally been built upon the military; Rochester has a castle and is the administrative centre, Chatham had a dockyard, and Gillingham had the Royal Engineers.  There is no university in the Medway Towns.  It is not therefore a region used to producing academics or skilled workers, although Charles Dickens lived here and Samuel Pepys got off with a chambermaid in Rochester Castle.   There is a MacDonald’s at the station end of the High Street, but that’s as far as the franchises have ventured.  Everyone is old, or weirdly, arguing – six minutes in Gillingham High Street took me past three separate arguing couples.  There has been a lot of south east London overspill in the area, and it is strange to consider that it’s so out of touch that the chav kids are yelling at each other in the London accent not heard in actual London since 2001.  In fact, the phrase ‘chav’ itself was coined in Chatham and used to describe the otherwise indescribable people who would collect in and around the Pentagon shopping centre, which looks from the outside like the sort of building where thought criminals are taken to confess and disappear.

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