In The Best Possible Taste

All around, the audience goes silent as a tender drama unfolds on stage. Shoulders are shaking, tissues handed round. Here are 10 great ways you can liven up those pin-drop moments at the theatre.

  1. Test the call sounds on your phone.
  2. Rustle deep in the plastic bag containing all you need on a theatre visit (see below).
  3. Slowly open a Werther’s Original wrapper (other brands okay), or the tightly sealed top of a packet of digestives.
  4. Crunch, not suck, the Werther’s or digestives.
  5. Develop a tickly cough – frog-at-back-of-throat style.audience-silhouette
  6. Pretend to answer your phone, loudly, with: Sorry, the signal’s bad – I’m in the theatre. Hello … hello …
  7. Very slowly open the top of a well-shaken bottle of Coca Cola. Repeat frequently. For a more instant effect, try a can or two.
  8. Tell the hard-of-hearing people next to you what’s happening up on stage.
  9. Play solitaire with a wooden board and marbles. Drop marbles in a metal tin when spent. If you prefer Scrabble, the tin can be used for shaking the letters.
  10. Deal with any tutting from audience or actors with: Oh, get a life! It’s a free world, isn’t it?

Then, why not review your experience on www.maverickmonsters.com? All reviews will be entered into a random draw, with the winning entry published in the next edition of Trump’s Tasteless Titbits.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello December 2016

www.paulcostello.me

 

 

Cool and Angry

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote:

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. Travel for travel’s sake. And to write about it afterwards, if only the public will be so condescending as to read.”

I’m no Stevenson, but it’s true that escaping from daily routines into unfamiliar territory does create writing opportunities. I mean, if I were to write repeatedly along the lines of, “Today I vacuumed upstairs, and then cleaned the loo” – well, I know what it would do to my readership figures. If, on the other hand, I told people about a tearaway Tenby pensioner on a souped up mobility scooter, or a man chasing a chihuahua in Chichester – well, people might want to read more.

My earliest recollection of travel, from the 50s and 60s, is family holidays in the West Country. We often stayed in a Tintagel B&B – dear old Mrs Hooper, she made lovely jam tarts. I remember as much about the seven-hour journeys on minor roads, five of us hot and bothered in an Austin A40, as I do about the places we went.

At 17, self-determined escapism took over as I became cool and angry. I no longer wanted to be at school, and grabbed every opportunity not to be. In the space of a year I went from something of a ‘golden boy’ destined for Oxbridge to a pupil who “constantly refused to be roused, led or driven”.

For me, but not many others, this was great. Instead of attending 8.45 register, which I likened to a prisoner of war roll call, I’d be on my way to the Dyke Road Café to enjoy much-deserved thick tea and a Wills Woodbine fag (unfiltered) which the be-slippered Gladys sold singly at a penny a time. My accomplice, Pete Blanch, and I could be cool and angry together, and only repair to school when we felt ready.

The teacher taking the register was Mr Pratt. Today that name would make him a sitting duck, but the word prat as a put-down was not as commonly used then as it is now. Instead, he was known as Nolly, a play on the alcoholic beverage called Noilly Prat. This was intellectual grammar school humour at its finest. Bring back grammar schools, I say, so that more of us can be intellectually humorous. Yes – follow the lead of ex-grammar school Theresa May. She’s a bundle of laughs.

“… cocktails have exotic names like Shag on the Beach …”

Noilly Prat was one of those drinks like Martini and Dubonnet in vogue at the time. Nowadays it’s shots or cocktails. Shots come in tiny glasses I’d happily buy as egg cups in my local kitchen shop. The suspiciously-coloured contents, with names like Raspberry Ripple or Choc Mint, presumably taste like medicine, going by the speed at which young people knock them back and their screwed-up faces afterwards.

Cocktails are much more sophisticated. They come with exotic names like Three Times a Night, A Good Shag and Shag on the Beach. Or at least that’s what I heard young people offering each other when I inadvertently stumbled into a music bar the last time I was in Torremolinos, believing from the giant neon sign THROB and the rhythmic pulse from within that’d I’d finally found the heart clinic I’d been reading about in a magazine on the flight over.

About the same time as the Tintagel trips I’d had my first drinking encounter. One Saturday night when my parents were ensconced in the living room with Grandma and Grandpa watching the Billy Cotton Band Show (“Wakey Wakey!” for the initiated) I conducted an experiment in the dining room next door, taking great swigs from each bottle in the sideboard to see what this drinking thing was all about. After all, they were always at it and seemed very happy in consequence.

I remember becoming very flu-like and unable to stand properly, and braved interrupting Billy Cotton to tell mum I felt poorly. She soon spotted the cause, and like any good mum helped me through a dreadful few hours.

Another favourite escape from the tedium of education was nearby Seven Dials, a busy roundabout with seven exits. To me this exuded life in a way that school didn’t. Where exactly was the Corona Drinks truck going? What number bus would arrive next, where would it stop and what was its destination?

One of the seven roads led to Brighton Railway Station, a place of great bustle and excitement where, with steam hanging on alongside electric trains, I’d once spent many an hour with my Ian Allan book of Southern Locomotives.

A second road led past the wonderful but now-defunct Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, where I’d had a kidney operation as a young boy. My consultant, Mr Laust, was a household name for years, such had been my parents’ understandable concern for me at the time.

“Mr Laust – what a wonderful man. We owe him so much.”

This was true, though I suppose that ten years later, as a cool and angry young man, it didn’t cut quite the same ice rolled out time after time in front of visiting uncles and aunts.

Another road led to the intellectual school for girls, Brighton and Hove High School. Swapping my Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School scarf for Pauline Dove’s High School one was to prove one of many factors that in themselves didn’t amount to much but strung together made a watertight case for my expulsion – in the school’s eyes anyway.

“… Blanch never got caught, the little shit …”

Here’s the thing – Blanch never got caught. It was always me. Blanch boxed clever, sometimes registering with Nolly Pratt before joining me for a cuppa, and sometimes getting his amenable mum to phone him in sick before handing him the cash for a bus direct to the café. He wanted to tag along all right, and reap the kudos. And don’t get me wrong, he was okay as an accomplice. But apart from one memorable bike ride he never really initiated anything. And never got caught, the little shit.

Late one evening Blanch pointed at a dirty old motorbike and said:

“Look – it’s a Triumph Bonneville! Let’s ’ave it!”

After glancing round furtively, we hopped on and headed away from his dark and dead Rottingdean estate towards the bright lights. Whenever Blanch accelerated I hurtled backwards on pillion, trying to hang on to something, anything.  A cool and angry young man would never grasp the boy in front, and there was no frame to grab at the rear, so my poor legs were left to do all the gripping. We roared along the seafront road, and before reaching Brighton, reckoning that word of the bike’s disappearance might soon get round, parked it neatly kerbside in Marine Drive before sauntering into the town centre for a late coffee. That was the only time I’ve ridden pillion; somehow it held no further appeal.

The summer after I was given permanent school leave, Blanch and I hitch-hiked to Malmö in Sweden. Hitching was popular in those days, and relatively safe. I thumbed lifts for almost a decade, and apart from a cleric in West Germany whose conversation turned quickly to small boys, and a dapper old man in a Jag near Reigate who wasn’t entirely sure where to find the gear lever, I was never troubled. You’d see queues of young people at every roundabout and slip-road, and though there’d be long periods of waiting you’d eventually get to your destination. It might not be the place you first planned – but that’s the unpredictability of travelling!

“… philately wasn’t cool and angry … losing virginity was…”

Ostensibly Blanch and I were in pursuit of two Swedish birds we’d befriended at the Starlight Rooms, a pleasantly gloomy basement club in a charmingly grubby Brighton back street. Still looking to lose my virginity, the only thing I actually lost was my stamp collection, which I’d taken Ingrid’s dad as a present after she told me he was a keen collector. I suppose I thought if I took him the stamps then I could take Ingrid. A small price, since philately was not for the cool and angry, whereas losing virginity was. It was of course a matter of days before Ingrid and I lost touch, leaving me feeling a little foolish.

When Blanch and I started arguing I hitched home separately, never to see him again. Some time afterwards I heard he’d got heavily into drugs. Serves him right, the little shit. I suppose I should be grateful he helped point me to the school exit, but it would’ve been nice if just once it had been him, not me, being hauled into the headmaster’s office.

After three terms of misdemeanour, on a day when I’d not only been spotted hanging around the Seven Dials again but was wearing an alien scarf, I received my ultimate summons. On this occasion, instead of heading for the cane rack Mr Brogden simply said:

“Costello, I don’t want you here any more. Goodbye.”

Understandably, my parents weren’t impressed, although they’d no doubt been kept informed of my wrongdoings and had witnessed their own share of ‘cool and angry’ at home.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “I can now go to the Dyke Road Café or the Seven Dials all day, and no-one will mind.”

Which for some considerable time I’m sure I did.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello October 2016

www.paulcostello.me

 

Passing People By

I’m never sure what to say when asked for ‘a few pence’ by people on the street. Usually I say no, sometimes I give something, and only occasionally do I offer money without being asked. My emotions swing between guilt and self-satisfaction depending on how I’ve responded. But the underlying feelings are irritation for being put in that position and confusion about how to handle it.

I think to myself: Should I respond to people sitting in doorways differently from those who walk up to me? Does it matter whether people offer a reason, however unoriginal, like they have to pay for a fare home? If I knew their circumstances, should I distinguish between those who left home by choice and those forced by circumstances? Or between the mentally ill and the not, and whether mental illness led to their homelessness or is because of it? Should I take account of how they ask or what they look like or their personal hygiene? And does self-help carry any weight – are Big Issue sellers more worthy because they have to pay for a supply of magazines to sell onwards?

Some passers-by offer street people food and drink instead of cash, perhaps not trusting how they’d spend it. If I did this, should I ask what they’d like and take them with me to the shop? Given that they might be alcoholic, should I buy them the bottle of wine they crave? And who am I anyway to specify how another human should spend their money, given that my donation is their income?

Then there’s the question of what to say when I give money. Given that humanity might be all we have in common, a courteous ‘hello’ seems enough, and let the money speak for itself. But I wonder if I should offer more, get into a conversation, recognise rather than ignore someone. And if so, should I offer the same cash and conversation to others along the road or, having given to one, is it now okay to ignore the rest?

And how to say no when asked for money. ‘Sorry mate’ sounds over-friendly and a little patronising; a brisk ‘good morning’ is blatantly ignoring their request; and pretending I haven’t seen them feels cold. Should I be upset if they say something rude or sarcastic, and am I entitled to be rude back? Their blitzing of passers-by carries little personal feeling, so why should I feel bad? Can’t I be as mechanical to them as they are to me? Or if it’s usually the same person, can’t I say: ‘We discussed this yesterday, if you remember?’

But talking would in any case be awkward, I think to myself, and they might resent me for being better off or they might be drunk or violent and threaten me, particularly if they thought I was being patronising and they have a dog. In any case, do I really want to build a relationship? No – so saying nothing is perhaps the safest bet. In reality, anything I do say is trying to make me feel better, not them.

For sure, homelessness and begging is a worldwide issue, perhaps even more prevalent in other cultures. It’s been that way throughout history – except during an event like the Olympics when entire city centres are miraculously cleared of ‘undesirables’ to give visitors a good impression. Isn’t it part of nature’s pecking order? Can’t I simply accept that street people have their world and I mine, and that individually trying to change things would make no difference?

Anyway, in the absence of government interest, aren’t there charities that support homeless people? Isn’t their focussed approach better than anything I can offer? Aren’t they responsible? Oh, and if I contributed to such bodies I could deflect street approaches by saying: ‘It’s okay mate, I’ve already got a direct debit with Shelter – good eh?’

Yes – I think I see clearly now. Street people are not my problem, so I can ignore them with a clear conscience.

Except, I wonder what drove me to such self-examination …

 

Copyright © Paul Costello August 2016

http://www.paulcostello.me

 

Daresay

two_old_ladies-at_bus_stop_western_rd_brighton_uk_p_maton_14-06-15

Chilly this morning, they give rain later

They’m usually wrong, don’t know why they bother

No point sayin’ something that turns out another

Overpaid’s what they are them weather forecasters

They should be ashamed, payin’ all that money

To them as should know if it’s rainin’ or sunny

While we all get wet, it’s usually pourin’

Then get on the bus sittin’ an’ drippin’

Still – ha ha – they’m trying their hardest, daresay

’Ee’m late today, held up in traffic

I expect, that’s the trouble, them roads full of potholes

The Council won’t fix ’em, no money they say

Austerity they say, not like in my day

It’s them politicians, that one like a weasel

Wears builders’ helmets to get in the papers

Tighten our belts he says, bloomin’ cheek

I’ll tighten ’is belt and then watch ’im squeak

Disgraceful it is in this day and age

Still – ha ha – they know what they’m doing, daresay

My appointment’s ten thirty, ’ee’d better come soon

You know what they’m like in them hospital rooms

Waitin’ an age to get in in the first place

Then sittin’ five hours with all them strange faces

Not knowin’ who’s next, doors openin’ and closin’

Trolleys and scurryin’, no sense to it all

Until your name’s called

More and more people and most of ’em foreigners

Not enough money for nurses and doctors

It was never like this before

Still – ha ha – least we’ve got a Health Service, daresay

The doctor’s surgery, that’s another thing

Whenever I ring it rings and rings

And then when it answers I’m told to ring back

In the morning, didn’t used to be like that

I could see my doctor whenever I wanted

It’s all them foreigners that’s what it is

There’s too many now, they come over here

Take up all the places, and schools it’s the same

They should stay where they come from

That’s what I think

Still – ha ha – most of ’em’s decent, daresay

Where’m ’ee got to, ’ee’m never this late

Bet it’s a crash, someone goin’ too fast

Them young lads is worst, my neighbour ’ee says

They’m doin’ a hundred along the bypass

They’m too young to drive, they don’t care you know

They’m just showin’ off to the girls in the back

It’s all very well but think what they do

To their families and friends when the the car hits a tree

They should stop ’em before they get killed or maimed

I dunna remember it being the same

When we were first startin’

Still – ha ha – that terry-ostrone, daresay

I sees in the paper they’m gettin’ a new Aldi

Comin’ next summer, cheap they are too

We’ll be better off, mind you foreign stuff

You just don’t know where things come from do you

Africa ’n that, don’t matter really

Long as it’s fresh and don’t cost too much

We need a new one, there isn’t enough

What with them foreigners

And all them new houses they’m buildin’

I dunna know where it’s all leadin’

Still – ha ha – we’ll always get by, daresay

Ah ’ere’s the bus now, not before time

Was startin’ to worry and I’m runnin’ out

Of things we all like talkin’ about

Someone point out that we was ’ere

Before them people over there

Don’t let them on first, it isn’t fair

Foreigners an’ all, they’m pushin’ in,

They dunna use the bus like us

We’m here every day, if they makes a fuss

Someone should tell ’em it’s our bus

And they can wait their turn

Still – ha ha – they’m polite enough, daresay

Copyright © Paul Costello June 2016

 www.paulcostello.me

 

Fashionista

There – I’ve done it!  I now have a rip in each knee of my Marks and Spencer black jeans!

It took a while to twig on that torn trousers aren’t the outcome of an unfortunate scrape with an ill-fitted screwhead or the perishing of cheap cotton, but are actually designed like that. And I’m not one to miss out on a fashion!

Admittedly, the tear is not as neat as some. The left knee in particular has a hanging flap of material rather than a slit; admirers would be entitled to wonder if the jeans were torn or part-cut to shorts. But they draw the eye – and that’s the point!

And the knees that now protrude are not, I suppose, my most endearing feature. Bulbous and veiny, they don’t quite replicate the smoothness of younger people’s. More like a barnacled whale surfacing. But I’ve not overheard anyone saying, ‘Take a look at that – what does he think he looks like?’ And in the grand scheme of living a life, would I care anyway?

In fact, I’ve gone as far as cutting a tinier slit at the top of the right thigh. One of those that gets passers-by thinking, ‘Was that a tear, or was it my imagination?’ More discreet than the knees and right up there with the trend, methinks.

The top slit also offers a teasing taste of the dragon tattoo I had installed a few weeks back. Designed by yours truly and pretty damn original, the dragon circles the entire thigh – fiery nose-to-tail  so to speak! I’m getting some great looks down the gym, although that could just be curiosity about the set of hoop earrings along my left ear. Individually they’d be nothing, but fitted as they are like the Olympic symbol they look great! Only the lucky ones get to see the matching navel stud!

The only thing with an earring set is keeping the ear clear to view. No point otherwise. My hair’s quite long, and I’ve been using a man bun for the last year or so. But I’m now seriously thinking of getting a one sided shave style and keeping it long and pointy on the right side only. I bet the bouncers at ‘Hard’ (my all-time favourite club) will love it! They still won’t let me in wearing my green Doc Martens or furry parka though. I’m working on it! Incidentally, the parka is identical to the one I wore on my Lambretta in the mid-60s. What goes round, eh?

Anyway, must dash. I’m well ready for a vape. Photos to follow; there’s only a couple of pictures left in my Box Brownie, then I’ll pop the film into Boots for developing.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello May 2016

 

Free as an Old Bird

Perched on the plinth of the Captain Matthew Flinders bronze at Euston Station, he of fame for circumnavigating Australia and now offering a resting place for travellers’ bums and Burger King bags, I make light work of my Upper Crust ham baguette. I’ve picked one art installation from which to observe another – hundreds of upturned faces, all ages, colours and destinies, frozen, waiting for their platform numbers to appear on the electronic board above.

Young travellers and business people predominate. I wonder where the young people are off to, who they’re meeting and what life holds for them. I think: does their energy and fashion mean they’re having a better time than me? Do their smiles as they text and talk mean they have richer relationships? Are they totally worry-free as I must surely have been at their age?

Wouldn’t these young people and I have something in common? They’re probably itching to invite me into their social circles. Wouldn’t they be anxious to draw on my life to affirm their own – hear about the myriad experiences they’ll have before earning their entitlement to a gammy hip? I could even trade some of my warfarin tablets for whatever they were passing around.

My thoughts dwindle as Platform 14 flashes and the installation sparks to life in a full battle charge towards the Virgin train for Birmingham. We know we’ll all get a seat yet we all want to front the attack.

From B 48 I can see the full length of the carriage as its likely occupants tumble aboard. Unlike train companies whose ancient rolling stock uses printed cards for reservations, these Pendolinos have tiny electronic booking tabs above each pair of seats. You need a fine pair of eyes and a magnifier, which means a lot of bumping, grumping and general mayhem as people try to find their reserved seat, or anything available. Having spearheaded the platform assault I’m in situ to witness this volatile behaviour.

A pair of tight-pin-striped, middle-aged businessmen in shiny slip-ons sit opposite. Already on their phones as they bump themselves and their polyester computer cases along the aisle, they devote the first thirty minutes of the journey to reporting back to bosses, secretaries and wives.

With bosses it’s assertive and purposeful – distribution networks, pallet-loads and call frequencies. Serious stuff – laptops and iPads whirring, successful meetings, no weaknesses at all, apparently. With secretaries – Amanda and Amy respectively – it’s appointments and mild flirtation. With wives it’s luv, vets, kids and supper, softly tuned. With all of them it’s sorry for ‘just going through a tunnel’.

Symphonies in three movements, performed with panache and aplomb. Daily. Do they really like doing this, I wonder?

They unwittingly reaffirm my retirement – in which I don’t have to learn alien languages and follow grey paths, but indulge my time for intrinsic not monetary reward. I don’t gloat, except perhaps when lying in bed listening to icy windscreens being scraped and engines revved for work. Nor does the vibrancy of younger people make me feel the passing of time. I’m well aware that life for them too can often be hard, emotionally and materially.

I am simply keen to enjoy the time I’ve earned, and grateful for having the choice. For as long as my hip holds up, my heart keeps pumping and the resident weasel at 11 Downing Street leaves me enough cash, I’ll carry on soaking up life’s bright side. And hopefully my contentment will spill over to those around me – young or old, at work or retired.

Hm – I wonder if my pin-striped passengers will be talking so fondly of sales forecasts twenty years from now …

Copyright © Paul Costello January 2016

www.paulcostello.me 

Ferrero Rocher

For a number of years I’ve sung with a group called Sounds Familiar. About twelve of us regularly sing at residential care homes and day centres, aiming to bring greater enjoyment to the lives of those perhaps less fortunate than ourselves. As the name suggests our songs, from the 30s to the 60s, hopefully sound familiar and people can easily join in if they wish. We love singing and it’s great seeing our passion shared by the people we sing for, either by singing along or just tapping their feet.

We’ve never charged to sing, but any donations we’re offered go to the local Alzheimer’s Association – so far we’ve raised about £3,000.

Occasionally I adapt the lyrics of a well-known song to offer a more entertaining performance both for audiences and ourselves. For the month of December we switch to our Christmas repertoire of traditional songs and carols, and for Christmas 2015 I adapted the words of We Wish You a Merry Christmas to depict what a typical Christmas Day might be like! Entitled Ferrero Rocher, the following lyrics were well received, though because of its mildly rude connotation we only included the ‘Aunty’ verse in settings where we knew it would be appreciated!

You are welcome to use these lyrics in your own performances, in which case it would be nice please if you’d mention my name and website.

Rocher_Ferrero

Ferrero Rocher  

(To the tune of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’)

 Your poor tree has started flopping

The needles already dropping

The light lead is in a tangle

And a bulb doesn’t work

 

(Chorus)    Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

A scarf knitted by your grandma

A book that you never asked for

Some socks that you’ll never wear, and

The gloves are too tight

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

Cheap crackers that won’t ignite, pa-per

Hats always very tight, cor-ny

Jokes only make you sigh, and

A small plastic frog

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

The table is fully loaded

You eat till you’ve all exploded

There’s no money in the pudding

And you have to wash up

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

The Queen’s message now of course is

Just before Only Fools and Horses

And a fire starting in East Enders

Brings festive good cheer

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

Your aunty is soon departing

Spent hours on the sofa far … (tiny pause)

Too much food, and it won’t be long till

You can all go to bed

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

(Chorus

 tune)         And wherever you are

Both near and afar

We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year

 

Merry_Christmas

Copyright © Paul Costello November 2015

www.paulcostello.me

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Costello – Writer       Website: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8