Bad Boy

I sometimes get asked whether there’s anything I’d change about my life if I could live it again.This is hard. Apart from the problem of analysing five decades of adult life on the spur of the moment, my response would depend on who’s asking the question and why.

The last person to ask (between mouthfuls of home-made steak and kidney pie, and completely out of the blue) was my 94 year old mum. Earlier I’d asked how often she thought of dad who’d died eight years before. She’d replied, ‘Every day,’ and seemed glad to talk about him for a while. Perhaps, buoyed by this, she’d felt confident to ask me something equally personal. Or maybe she’d realised that even though I’m still ‘her boy’, at 67 I too have a life story to tap into. Anyway, feeling as unprepared as ever and not wishing to offend someone so key to my upbringing, I bumbled a suitable response.

She then gave her own answer to the question by hinting at my behaviour as an angry late-teen fifty years earlier. Perhaps this had been nagging her ever since – one of life’s blemishes she wanted to clear up. To prevent the steak and kidney pie from getting cold, I found it easiest to (rather belatedly) acknowledge any former wrongdoing whilst insisting that my happiness today was the sum total of all experiences, good and bad, throughout life.

There really is very little I would change. In each phase I’ve risen (or fallen) to the opportunities presented, and not looked back. I wasn’t disappointed at being expelled from school (and nearly from home), and I liked my early jobs in bars and bakeries, farms and fisheries. For the first time I had money, new friends and a sense of independence – just what I needed at the time. And later, when I decided to go to university, I wasn’t worried about getting a particular grade or not knowing what I wanted to do afterwards or why I’d chosen economics in the first place. More than anything I was, and still am, stimulated by travel – building a picture of what’s ‘out there’ and revelling in the unpredictable situations travel gives rise to. When at one stage I felt the need to ‘belong’ to an organisation, I happily drifted into paper-pushing in high-rise blocks. And at 40 I did the best thing of all – setting up and running a successful Bed and Breakfast in Shropshire, greeting and pleasing hundreds of lovely visitors and becoming my own boss.

Other than to work for myself, I had no career goals or vocation. I certainly wasn’t cunning or conforming enough to be a corporate success and would ultimately have hated myself for becoming like some of the people I shunned. A steadier path would no doubt have pleased my parents, whose perceived straightness I vehemently rejected in my youth. I’m now accepting of this as having come from a military-minded father himself raised in Victorian ways, and at least it created a secure environment from which I could express myself and prepare for the independence I craved. We each find our own way, and I’m happy with the route I chose.

Nor would I have changed much about my personal life. Two marriages and a number of other serious relationships, interspersed with extended periods alone, were all good in their time. Even my unhappiest live-in relationship served to convince me that I preferred living by myself – for as long as I can remember I’ve been content in my own company. And I feel privileged, following an early adulthood during which I professed a desire for anything but a family, to have landed up with such a lovely daughter.

I’ve often wished that, as a younger adult discovering sex and sexuality and finding my place in life, I’d already had the knowledge and self-assurance that only came later. I might have offered greater respect to certain people and sought fairer treatment from others. But it’s chicken and egg. Without the maturing effect of exploration, learning from each success and failure – each delightful do and disappointing don’t – I might not feel so at ease with life now.

Bad Boy 1966

Bad Boy 1966

But if only I could eradicate some specific incidents from that fraught period of 16 to 18 …

Bad things I did – which really don’t matter now except that they’re a blot, like a tiny chip on a valuable old vase. Mum had alluded only to my general teenage behaviour, but these other ‘things’ are for me alone to know – and be haunted by.

Of course, if someone plied me with copious amounts of alcohol, fine cuisine and other favours, I might spill.

Or am I being bad suggesting this?

Copyright © Paul Costello October 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website:       Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Chance Encounters

What’s the chance of meeting someone you know in a random location miles from home? Well, the odds might be surprisingly high. A couple of Saturdays ago I had my fourth such experience in recent years.

Tessa and I were in The Albert, a busy gastro-pub in Llandudno, on the first night of a short break. The menu looked promising and with real ales called Try Time and Scrum Down we were all set to watch England v Wales rugby on the big screen. As I headed to the bar a figure stepped in front of me and said,

‘Hello Paul, how are you?’

I recognised him immediately as the former manager of Boscobel House, an English Heritage site near Telford where I’d worked as gardener. Peter had lived in staff accommodation at Boscobel although his home was in Lincoln. We’d got to know each other well, but since our relationship had never extended beyond work we hadn’t stayed in touch after he left.

In the 60s Peter had been drummer in a band playing covers in dance halls across the UK. Periodically he’d pull out a set of drumsticks and perform elaborate rhythms on the oak counter of Boscobel’s reception. It was still in his blood. And only he knew the tune he was tapping along to. Before he retired from English Heritage he insisted on tailor-making me a CD from his enormous vinyl collection – Helen Shapiro, Bobby Vee and the like, plus a bonus track by his own band. His wife told us that even now he played the kitchen work surface at home.  Strangely, Peter looks a lot like the Shadows drummer Brian Bennett. Maybe he missed his true vocation.

Tessa and I had travelled the 150 miles from Ledbury to Llandudno and Peter and his wife the 170 miles from Lincoln on the same weekend. Of the many restaurants in Llandudno, we’d chosen to eat in the same pub on the same night at the same time, having not seen each other for eight years.

Around the time Peter left Boscobel I took a week’s holiday with my brother in Goa. As we tucked into a spicy Indian lunch on our first day, a voice called from a table across the small dining area,

‘Hello Paul, what are you doing here?’

Geoff and Colleen had been neighbours and good friends for seventeen years, although I’d not seen them for three years since I left the B&B I’d run near Shrewsbury. They’d retired from farming a few years before I left and visited warmer climes whenever they could. Goa is 6,600 miles from Shrewsbury and has a holiday season of eight months – between monsoons. There are many resorts in Goa and hotel growth had proliferated over the previous ten years. What therefore were the chances of our staying in the same hotel at the same time? We only got together once or twice during our stay, but the conversation was rich with nostalgia and gossip – as if I’d never moved away.

One summer a few years ago I went on a family coach outing with Ledbury Community Choir to Sidmouth. Late afternoon, as the sun came out after a violent thunderstorm, my teenage daughter and I made our way towards a teashop in the town’s colourful clifftop garden. Coming through an archway a man stepped across my path and said,

‘Look who it isn’t!’

Chris had been stage manager for a Malvern Theatre group with whom I’d performed a few years earlier. During the three months of rehearsal and performance we’d become well acquainted. Now we’d met again, randomly, under a stone arch in the small garden of a seaside resort 130 miles from home.

Less convivial was a bizarre happenstance in the late noughties on the packed concourse of London Victoria railway station. It had been five years since my acrimonious parting with a Shrewsbury girlfriend and there’d been no contact since. En route from Ledbury to visit my mother in Brighton I was scanning the departure board when a voice next to me said,

‘Fancy seeing you here!’

Luckily, after an awkward three minute exchange the lady had to dash for an imminent train to West Sussex where she now lived. But it didn’t end there. Having initially earmarked her train for my trip, I abandoned the idea in favour of a train leaving ten minutes later. With great relief I settled in a carriage halfway along my twelve-coach train. Glancing, as you do, into the window of the adjacent train (delayed, as it turned out) I was shocked to see her sitting opposite! She hadn’t spotted me so I ducked below window level and waddled to another seat – a precious snippet for Southern Rail CCTV.

Her journey was 220 miles to Sussex from Shrewsbury where she’d been visiting friends. Mine was 170 miles. We’d crossed Victoria at exactly the same time. There was no evidence that I’d been stalked, though for a while I chose that interpretation. It was simply a preposterous (double) coincidence.

That episode aside, I find these chance meetings reassuring. Past friends and acquaintances never seem totally lost, and compared with dreams or déja vu the experience is at least tangible, albeit fleeting. I now keep a lookout on the off chance that an old friend is on the same plane or is sitting a few rows down watching the same West End matinée.

Perhaps like-minded people with similar backgrounds tread common social paths, making the chances of meeting greater than we think. In any case, despite a world surface of 510 million square kilometres and more than 525 thousand minutes in a year it’s bound to happen sometime!

So cheerio for now. I’m sure we’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when.


Copyright © Paul Costello October 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website:       Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Battered Hat

Giant stacks of crisp new hats
Beg to be rescued from endless racks
Of dreary seaside tack.
 Porkpies and trilbies,
Leather fedoras,
And Wimbledon’s uniform –
Pure-white straw hats.


Too bad, I say back.
I was once pristine,
But now I’m battered,
A concertina
With history and charisma,
And you can’t beat that!
He’s taken me places that you still dream of –
Australia, Malta,
Hyde Park, Gibraltar,
Gatwick and Catterick.
In fact, any place
Where the sun puts on its flame-throwing act.
Squeezed in the rack on train and plane,
Scrunched in his rucksack when it starts to rain,
Or is plain cloudy.
I gladly soak up Factor 30 each day,
And Vanish to take the stains away.
It’s all in a day to be blasted with sand on breezy beaches,
Blown into puddles on platforms or pavements.
And I always spring back!
My straw is rotting and starting to snap,
My weave is fraying, my rim is splaying,
But I can’t be discarded, I’m not finished yet.
I’m him, he is me;
A battered hat,
A comfort blanket that won’t be sacked.


Copyright © Paul Costello August 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website:       Twitter: @PaulCostello8


Internet dating laid bare in this unflinching comedy-drama
click mouse heart
Exposing matching sites in such an entertaining way makes them far less embarrassing to own up to, says Olla Poltescu
From the off CLICK.COM gallops into the world of internet dating with Paul Smith’s  side-splitting portrayals of farmer Geoff and outrageous medallion man Donald – ‘don’t call me Donny or I’ll mimic The Osmonds’.
Recently divorced Hannah bats aside the attention of these suitors only to leave a void for other suspect characters, Vivienne Evans’ accomplished performance exposing the dilemma of a jilted woman intent on getting a life.
Janet, Deirdre and the cloying Betty, through dates with Harvey (a solid performance by promising Giles Lantos), show that problems finding a suitable partner are felt equally by both genders; I sensed a clear ‘there but for the grace of God’ murmur filtering around a crowded Bosbury Parish Hall.
With online matching sites firmly in the dating mainstream, I’d wondered what I could learn from this preview of aspiring local playwright Paul Costello’s new comedy-drama. Any doubts evaporated when, no spring chicken myself, I found it addressing the particular plight of women of a certain age; knowing nods across the room told me I was not alone. Hannah’s experiences place the sensitivity of ‘mature’ people in stark perspective. Not for them the ‘find-follow-and possibly forget’ formula that young generations arguably see as the norm; more one of a longing driven by hope eternal.
Despite its priceless humour, CLICK.COM never becomes a gratuitous exposé of dodgy dating and people behaving badly. When things aren’t going quite as they should a clever counterplot develops which, with the play’s reassuring romantic undertone, keeps the audience feeling as optimistic as feisty Hannah.
The notion of being supported by trusted others is particularly helpful. Hannah’s daughter Ellie, expertly played byHettie Guilding, (‘just chill, mum’) will be recognised by mothers across the land. The tough role of Sarah, Hannah’s fragile friend and confidante, is superbly delivered by Hilary Benoit, and even Hannah’s taxi driver (Dave Pollard) offers sound moral support.
As the plot unravels through a beautifully-worked, Ayckbournish piece of farce, it becomes clear that no-one can guarantee true love running smooth and has no absolute right that it should. Director Bob Maynard’s refreshingly funny production of this true-to-life drama undoubtedly gets that message across.
CLICK .COM is showing at Bosbury Parish Hall, near Ledbury                                     
Friday 24th/Saturday 25th July at 7.30pm    (£10)                                                           
Online:  In Person: Ledbury Books and Maps, 20 High Street, Ledbury 


I wasn’t settled enough for BBC Springwatch or Dinner Date on ITV. A few Butty Bachs in the Talbot Inn had energised me like Duracells. I needed to keep going, and a pack of San Miguel was a good place to start.

The pub music still circles round my head – Sister Sledge, Donna Summer, Bee Gees. I know every word and note. Cue for a rare dip into my vinyl collection. CDs are easier, but tonight only vinyl will do. Not just the sound, but remembering when and where I acquired these wonderful 33s and 45s. And what mattered to me at the time – in life and love.

San Miguel to hand, I sift through alphabetical LPs in the black trunk which serves as a side table. 70s/80s disco perhaps – carrying on where the pub left off. Sister Sledge – ‘Music Makes Me Feel Good’ – great track! Andy Gibb’s Shadow Dancing and Saturday Night Fever. And Real People by Chic, a 1980 album whose sleeve sports a young guitarist Nile Rodgers, dazzling us still on Daft Punk’s 2014 hit Get Lucky.

I swig beer and sway to the beat, wildly, like ‘Dad at the Wedding’. Tweaking the volume to 23, I recall people I shared these sounds with way back, wondering which of today’s friends might enjoy them. Julie and Dave are always singing. And Carol – she knows the words to every tune written. I could invite them round to reminisce. Eight or ten people perhaps – dinner and nostalgia! Tim and Cathy – they’re fun! Me and Tessa of course, and Michael – he’d be up for it. Oh, and the Johnsons. I make a note of the ideal ten!

Four Tops Greatest Hits is next. I open another can, party plans and San Miguel in full flow. I’ll do that crabby/prawny starter with spicy mayonnaise; they’ll love that. And a chilli con carne with veg chilli option. Basmati rice and toasted pitta. And my prize-winning Lemon and Orange Cheesecake!

Four Tops have finished ‘reaching out’, so time for 45s. My singles, skimpy paper sleeves long perished, are protected between the glossy pages of old ‘Personnel Management’ magazines. You can tell how old they are – it’s been called ‘Human Resources’ for decades. The collection has moved home about twenty times, in a battered Mackenzie Whisky box.

I discover Michael Jackson, some early Stones and Beatles, and Barry White’s Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe for which I nudge the volume to 27. Retro! Perfect party music! Trouble is the tracks only last a few minutes. Part of their charm, but it does tie you to the turntable. I’m lucky my 1980s music centre has a turntable; an added party novelty! Shame there’s no drop-down feature where you stack a dozen singles and they fall in turn, like my first record player – a Bush.

I fetch a new beer. As I swig and jig madly on the red rug dance area I remember Don and Jenny. Of course they must come too. And the Wilsons, and Frank and June. That’s sixteen. Perhaps a buffet would be better; food in the kitchen and dancing in the living room. A soirée. I could ask all the neighbours – that’s another  fourteen. And people at choir. And the man who runs the garage opposite – he’s friendly. And people I once worked with – a sort of reunion. I slurp excitedly. And the folk at Ledbury in Bloom, and the Canal Trust in Worcester. And my friends in Sussex, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Scotland and London. And my brother in Haywards Heath, and all my nephews and nieces. I could put them up. They’d love to come!

Vying with max volume 31, I shout along to Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through The Grapevine, which like the other singles takes me back to a particular time and place – when life was perfect. Pausing only for liquid refreshment, and a frequent change of 45s, I keep adding to the list. I’m up to seventy-five, but assuming a third can’t make it that’d leave fiftyish – just right!

A last San Miguel. Batteries are running down. Finish planning tomorrow. Perhaps a spam sandwich before I crash out. I eventually hear the front door bell on repeat. The lady next door in off-white dressing gown.

‘Hello,’ I say, keen to reinforce my newfound neighbourliness.

‘Can you please turn it down?’ she says, doing a switching hand movement while mouthing the words. I bid her goodnight with reciprocal sign language and turn the music down. It’s not even ten – bit early to complain? Perhaps I’ll knock her off the list.

Next morning, after a gallon of tea, I fire up the laptop. Nearby I see a list of names. A few look familiar, most are like doctor’s writing – impossible to decipher. Who are these people?

My eye is drawn towards a browning paper note taped to the laptop lid.

“No texts, emails, Facebook or any communications late at night!”

With trepidation, I go into Outlook and check my ‘sent’ folder. Phew, nothing for two days! I slip the list into the recycling along with loads of empty cans – leftovers from a terrific party.

Paul Costello Copyright © July 2015

 CLICK .COM showing at Bosbury Parish Hall, near Ledbury                                          Friday 24th/Saturday 25th July at 7.30pm                                                                    Tickets:       Online:                                                         In Person:   Ledbury Books and Maps, 20 High Street, Ledbury

Online dating grid
 Paul Costello – Writer       Website:       Twitter: @PaulCostello8





From the team that brought you last year’s hit comedy Terms and Conditions Apply, a new comedy drama:   – a frolic through the highs and lows of online dating

With clever use of skittish humour and farce, this original comedy drama explores the place of online matching sites in finding a partner. With particular reference to mature people and the risks for women, offers a playful insight into the benefits and pitfalls of a pursuit where emotions, whether joy or despair, are driven by hope eternal. poster

‘… side-splitting farce’

‘… a preposterous yet cautionary story line – look, learn and inevitably laugh!’

‘… truly outrageous characters’

‘… a cheeky tale with an undercurrent of pure romance’

Tickets now on sale:
In Person:   Ledbury Books and Maps, 20 High Street, Ledbury


Paul Costello – Writer       Website:       Twitter: @PaulCostello8


Moving On

I once called at my mother’s house to find her on hands and knees deep into the small cupboard under the stairs.

‘Hello Mum! What are you doing under there?’ I called.

Wriggling her rump out of the dingy den, she said,

‘I’m making sure there’s enough drink for my wake.’

That was seven years ago. Aware of her age and still grieving after Dad’s death a year earlier, she probably felt it timely to check the wine and whisky. She’s now 94, and her inner strength has been a great source of inspiration for all of us. No doubt she still checks the booze stock and, more than once, has taken me through her formal documents, explaining meticulously what I’d need to do.

The only phrase missing in her explanation was ‘When I die.’ Okay, in the circumstances it wasn’t essential since it was obvious what she was referring to. But isn’t it also because talking to someone about death, yours or other people’s, is very hard?

It’s particularly so across generations. The younger you are, the further you are from dying and the more distractions you have. Death is not on the agenda. In The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a 72 year old lighthouse keeper tells his grandson how growing old and dying is perceived during three broad periods of life.

“During the first it doesn’t even occur to us that one day we will grow old. We don’t think that time passes or that from the day we are born we’re all walking towards a common end. After the first years of youth comes the second period, in which a person becomes aware of the fragility of life and what begins like a simple niggling doubt rises inside you like a flood of uncertainties that will stay with you for the rest of your days. Finally, towards the end of life, we reach the period of acceptance and, consequently, of resignation. A time of waiting.

This is where readers in their ‘first period’ might choose to skip the rest of my article – fair enough! Indeed, the lighthouse keeper’s story would probably have been lost on his grandson.

Yet dying is the only certain thing about life. Something we can all be confident will happen. All right, there’s the famous quotation,

“ … in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

In fact, celebrities and large corporations have proved that taxation is far from certain. I prefer my ex-father-in-law’s assertion that the only two certain things in life are 1) Death and 2) If you take your scissors to be sharpened by a scissor grinder they’ll always come back blunter than before.

When Mum calmly declared she was preparing for her wake, perhaps she was hinting at a wish to talk about it. But the discussion was one-way. Because I’m a generation behind and leading a busy life, my instinctive reaction was to close the conversation down.

‘Oh, you’ll be with us a long time yet, mum!’

Whilst it might have been harsh to have said, ‘Good idea – won’t be long now, will it?’ or ‘Don’t worry – leave some cash handy and I’ll pop down the offy if we run short,’ my actual response was little better in the sense that it only left me feeling more comfortable. It wasn’t particularly helpful to her. With hindsight I could have asked how she felt and helped count the bottles. But I didn’t. And even now I feel a tinge of guilt writing about the episode – despite the fact that dying is normal, natural, certain, and a common end for all of us.

What is it about the word ‘die’? In spite of its certainty it somehow poses a threat – as if saying the word will hasten the event. Instead we choose euphemistic terms like passed away, no longer with us or demise. Softer in tone, these words seem to help us cope.

Sometimes humour replaces euphemism. Popping your clogs or meeting your maker are harmless terms if used generically. I particularly liked a recent comment by Peter McParland, scorer of the two goals that gave Aston Villa their last FA Cup Final win in 1957. In a recent TV interview about this year’s final between Arsenal and Aston Villa, the sprightly 81year old said,

‘It’d be great to see them do it again before I move on.’

Move on! Sweet!

I accept that in our culture some topics are filed in the drawer labelled ‘unmentionables’. Many prefer to hold their counsel on matters of income, religion and which Party they vote for. Sadly, some also find conversations about cancer or mental health too awkward to handle.

But why death when it’s so inescapable? To me, dying is as important as being born in the sense that respect for life should not have diminished. With the exception of sudden unexpected death, and say dementia or severe illness where people might not be best placed to articulate thoughts, the emotional impact could be softened by more open discussion between those in their last years and those to be left behind. A kind of ‘living’ celebration rather than a funereal one.

I’ve just read a wonderful book by Caitlin Doughty called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. A qualified US mortician, she offers a compassionate, respectful, yet hilarious account of her thirteen years experience with dead people and their loved ones. Her well-considered views help me realise that I too am well into the third period – the ‘period of acceptance’. For some time I’ve held no fear of death; only a niggling concern for those I leave behind. I keep my Will in order, and from time to time, when a natural opportunity arises, I try to be open about my feelings with relatives or close friends. Some are happy to join in, others treat death as an ‘unmentionable’, pausing diplomatically before saying,

‘Er, did I tell you we were going to Corfu this year?’

Yes, I try. But I don’t always get my timing right. I recently met up with my other half after being away a few days. We had plenty of catching up to do, but so taken was I by the mortician’s story I’d been reading on the train that my opening gambit was,

‘I must tell you! I’ve bought a great new book!’

‘Oh yes. What’s it about?’

‘Death,’ I said.

‘Thanks for that,’ she said. ‘Please can we start this conversation again?’


Copyright © Paul Costello May 2015


Addendum  August 2015

Since writing this article I’ve read another book based on crematorium work, this time a funny, sad, yet ultimately optimistic novel called “A Trick I Learned from Dead Men” by Kitty Aldridge. I felt this section had the same tone as my piece. The main character, Lee Hart, is reflecting on the earlier, premature loss of his mother and the more recent sudden demise of his stepfather Lester:

“I sit in the room. I’m supposed to be hoovering, but. Here she died. Here Lester lay. Facts unfit for airing in the presence of prospective house buyers, under the rug they must be brushed, pronto.

Framed photographs. Us when we were young. I stare at us. Me and Ned with freckles, gaps in our teeth. Mum and Les leaning, laughing up at the camera, surprised, sun-kissed. We seem alive, more than we are now. Who are these people and what are they doing? And where have they gone? I lie on the bed.

I wonder if I lie here long enough whether I might slope off too. I close my eyes. I don’t mind, make a change. Buenos noches. Adios. Not that it’s easy of course. It isn’t. Death: the most natural thing in the world is unnaturally tough to do if you’re trying too hard. And certainly not if you are clocking it before it’s had a chance to clock you. A watched pot, etcetera. Stare death in the face and watch it paralyse. Death would rather take you by surprise, creep up sideways and bosh.”