bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

The Circle Of Life

Dear Rachel,

Danny is a man of many talents, which he modestly keeps hidden behind several thousand catastrophic faults. For all of these – and I could reel off seventy three major ones without pausing for breath – he is an engaging and excellent man. I consider his repeated claim that I am his ‘brother from another mother’ to be a huge compliment, and while I’m not sure how enthusiastically either of our actual mothers would embrace the implications of this, we certainly have many things in common.

While a verifiable genetic link between us seems unlikely, I also appreciate his assertions, via the early Public Enemy back catalogue, that we are a) brothers of the same mind, unblind and b) caught in the middle and not surrendering. In fact, there is almost no early hip hop rhyming couplet that Danny won’t bring to bear in order to rally us during low points, and I consider this, along with his sullen dog Marshall, to be his best feature.

Imagine, then, my dismay when he informed me that he was chucking in market life and going to work in a call centre. I was poorly at the time and engrossed in an antique jigsaw puzzle. Aghast and full of Lemsip, some of which I had spluttered into my phone as he told me the news, the best I could utter in response was a horrified ‘What would Flava Flav say?’ It was quite a moment.

I suspect that doing jigsaw puzzles might be a bit hipster. I am, however, increasingly coming to regard this as a good thing, so that doesn’t particularly trouble me. The one I was puzzling over in my feverish state – I had sweat dripping from the end of my fingers, and had to constantly blot them on a tea towel so as not to make the pieces soggy – dates from the 1920’s. It isn’t particularly challenging and the subject matter, which is two sparrows rendered in the rosy style of contemporary commercial artwork, is not gripping, either. Then again, it was intended to amuse families who had just gone through World War One, not an unwell market trader receiving shocking news from a valued if disreputable friend almost a century later, and I imagine it did this rather well. My favourite part is slightly to the right of centre. It’s is a mass of dark feathers belonging to one of the sparrows, but eight of the pieces here show signs of having suffered trauma in the line of duty, to the extent that when correctly placed together they look ill matched. I became intrigued with this, and discovered that remarkably, if you really force them, they fit together wrongly but snugly. There is also some kind of circular mark. I usually frown upon napping, but as I lapsed into a sickly snooze I started to wonder how this circumstance might have come about.

The scenario I contemplated was this: in 1924 or so, a young rascal entertaining a lady friend in his drawing room bets that he can finish the puzzle in the time it takes her to powder her nose, order a ham by telephone, nip out for iced tea at the Kit Kat Club, send a telegram to a maiden aunt, buy notepaper from Smythson of Bond Street, play tennis while smoking, or whatever else would cause a spirited girl to leave the room for a few minutes in twenties London. With the wager agreed, our hero starts jigsawing. At first, he forges ahead. The edges are completed, straight lines, prominent features and patches of colour are grouped together – the kind of forthright, textbook jigsaw puzzling that won Britain an Empire. With the wager apparently dans le sac, our hero relaxes and pours a glass of wine. Nightmare. Distracted, he fails to notice time passing until he hears his lady friend clattering up the stairs. Realising that he is about to lose his bet and become the laughing stock of Fitzrovia, he panics and hurriedly throws the puzzle together. Due to his sterling groundwork, he again makes lightning progress – we must imagine that the staircase in this scenario is either extremely long or that the lady friend has paused to chide a scullery maid or scold a charwoman – but as the drawing room door opens there still remains the eight unplaced pieces slightly to the right of centre. He jams them into the remaining gap in the puzzle at random, pounds them flat with his fist, and puts his wine glass over them to cover the join. This, of course, is the circular mark I noticed, sitting on my sofa in 2014. Our hero keeps his fingers crossed.

In a clumsy metaphor – although in my defence all I could face consuming by way of foodstuffs was evaporated milk and crème eggs, so I may have lapsed into something of a calcium/fondant stupor – I pointed out that Danny would be forever like this: yes, he could jam himself into acceptable society, but sooner or later, like all of us in the Informal Economy, he’s going to be found out. Alas, he could not be talked round. Neither of us have any education beyond GCSE, so it’s not as if we can fall back upon that. In fact, Danny’s only brush with education is a film on his phone which shows his eldest daughter at her graduation ceremony.

‘Look at the hall’ he said as he showed me the footage, shortly after the event, ‘look at all the coats of arms and that’

I was impressed. It was a lovely hall.

‘Funny thing is, she was conceived round the back of that hall. Me and my mate were putting a suspended ceiling in at the time, and her mum took a shine to me. Circle of life, eh?’

Despite things like this, a call centre job is a sad end for a man who often puts an avuncular arm around my shoulders and quietly reminds me that ‘It takes a nation of fucking millions to hold us back’. What Flava Flav would’ve said must, like the outcome of our notional 1920’s jigsaw puzzler’s efforts, remain a mystery. To the deafening accompaniment of eras ending, he reported for work on Monday morning at half past eight. At twenty to ten, I texted him to see how it was going.

‘Bollocks to this’ replied the Lion of Deptford, ‘I’d rather nick stuff and go to prison. See you at the market’, and it was all I could do to blink away tears.

NB I noticed while writing this that ‘chip shop’ is ‘hip hop’ if you remove the c and s. What can it mean?

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Photards: I think we’ve already had a couple of these, but this weeks snaps are -

Top: Dave from Chas n Dave, papped by me on an East Anglian seafront. The same evening, I babbled on to Chas about the importance of Chas n Dave to my Christmas dinner soundtrack, but was somewhat drunk and may have slightly disconcerted him. Still, he was friendly enough and didn’t seem to mind.

Middle: Shoulder board detail from my winter trading coat. This is a genuine Red Army trench coat from 1982. Usually, four stars would denote a general, but I think in this instance it’s a captain’s coat from the Soviet equivalent of the Royal Corps of Signals.

Lower: Novelty Mr Men plaster applied to a minor abrasion. ‘It’s nice how Mr Tickle is giving Mr Bump a hand job to cheer him up after the accident’, said Danny.

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