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

Being Alan Bennett

Me as Alan Bennett

Me as Alan Bennett

This morning I became Alan Bennett. It wasn’t a chance event but a mystery prize from one of those television game shows where the right answer sets off a klaxon and you win a pampering weekend for two in a Nottinghamshire spa – or in my case A Day as Alan Bennett.

The activating pill which lasts twenty four hours looked much like a paracetamol but with an A on it, and a smaller one with B would deactivate the process should I want to call it off.

It’s not every day one expects to behave in ways other than those one has grown used to and are comfortable with, and my new persona was soon put to the test by our postman Richard who has delivered to the neighbourhood for as long as I remember, his youthful appearance suggesting he can barely have been out of shorts when he first started, if indeed he ever has been, going by the Post Office variety he wears come snow or shine.

‘Sign there please,’ he said, holding out the electronic gadget.

‘Just here?’ I asked.

It must have been the soft Yorkshire accent that triggered his reaction, the bundle of letters destined for numbers seven to fifteen and neatly secured with a strong elastic band falling from his grasp.

‘You’re, you’re …’ he spluttered.

Not wishing to disappoint him one way or the other I nodded reassuringly and invited him to have as good a day as he’d offered me. It seemed only polite to linger on the doorstep and reciprocate his thumbs-up gesture as he turned from time to time to catch a further glance before disappearing round the corner eager no doubt to tell others of his discovery.

Keen to exploit my new identity I thought it a good idea to travel into town to show myself off, as it were. Walking to the bus stop into low winter sun reminded me of the West End stage or playing a Talking Head under the bright lights of a BBC studio. I found passers-by staring at me for longer than one normally dares, and if I looked round after they’d gone by they too were glancing back, much as you do if you like the look of a person and want a further viewing without being too apparent.

The bus driver too seemed baffled, happy that the photograph on my pass matched the face in front of him but unable I imagine to read the name without glasses.

‘Mind if I join you?’ I asked an elderly lady with a kind face and blue hair.

The intake of breath down the bus would have graced a reputable community choir such was its exact unison, and the usual hubbub of unintentionally malicious gossip and exchanges of medical diagnosis quickly died down. The lady with whom I’d sat went into a sort of trance, like a pheasant in front of a moving vehicle unsure where to go or what to do, her eyes glossing over and protruding in a way they might not have done since her more productive days.

‘Aren’t you, aren’t you …’ she stammered.

I nodded.

From across the aisle and two rows back another woman who apparently thought she knew better called out,

‘You’re whatisname, aren’t you? On the telly.’

I glanced round with a celebrity smile.

‘Alan Partridge!’ a man shouted from one of the rear seats in a way that, were one to have a conversation with him, there might be many points of disagreement. I nodded and shook my head like a toy dog on the back shelf of a car, neither denying nor acknowledging his claim. No-one was quite able to put their finger on who I was despite the bold initials A.B. on the cover of the notebook in which I jotted reminders.

Once inside the bus terminus it was no easy matter forcing my way through huddles of mesmerized shoppers.

‘I don’t think it is Alan Partridge,’ said one voice.

‘Sugar,’ said another.

‘Shall we follow him?’ said what sounded like the man from the back of the bus, upon which I scurried through the exit thinking it imprudent to encourage stalking even though it might provide handy material for a play.

With the novelty of celebrity wearing off I bought a woollen hat, rendering the stallholder unusually speechless, and with the removal of my spectacles and a large upturned collar thereby gained some degree of anonymity.

Browsing Waterstones shelves, my appearance provoking sideways glances as if I were a commercial spy for a rival book chain or was about to pocket some paperbacks, I became curious about a panting noise beside me, and found a young woman barely four foot in height jumping up and down, hands above her head as if performing a fitness exercise. Had she not been gasping I’d have had little notion she was there.

‘Are you all right?’ I asked, causing the usual turn of heads.

‘I’m trying to reach that book,’ she said, pointing to a shelf at least twice her height. ‘The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.’

‘Good choice,’ I said, feeling somewhat relieved that the book appeared more important than any hunch that the author was present. Much as I was tempted to offer my signature I decided there was more to be had from staying incognito and watching her pore over the sleeve, and that to sign it on the premise of a one-day passport would not in any case be quite in the spirit of the arrangement.

With the books shelved alphabetically from the top and Bennett positioned poorly out of reach, I wondered if I should stay on to help others of this height who might call in for my books between now and closing, which would in turn help towards my royalties – at least mine for the time being.

In the event I found a quiet bench by the river to review my notes, before ordering a much needed hot chocolate in a side street cafe offering sufficient privacy for me to remove my hat and coat. Perched at a narrow eating bar the kind of which is widely used by cafes to make the best of their seating and which usually offer a view of the street or occasionally a wall with local paintings for sale I was disturbed by a lady whose debilitated state reminded me of Miss Shepherd, the lady in the van.

‘Have you been waiting long?’ she said, presumably meaning the hot chocolate that hadn’t yet arrived.

Mindful of Miss Shepherd it looked as though this lady, who’d levered herself onto the stool next to me, did not herself have long to wait, leading me perhaps unfairly to reply,

‘Eighty-one years. How about you?’

‘That’s a long time for a drink and a biscuit, dear,’ she said, playing me at my own game. ‘You’re Alan Bennett aren’t you?’

‘Only for the day,’ I said, ‘but I’m really enjoying it.’

‘Oh that’s good dear. It’s nice being someone else sometimes.’

Late in the evening with my story almost complete and bed looming I considered staying as Alan Bennett overnight since the prize had been for a full day. The thought of delving into his dreams and learning his night customs was tempting, but in the event I felt it more respectful to leave that side of things for him alone to know. I finished writing while the A was still working, swallowed the B and went to bed.

*

Me

Me

 

I bumped into the postman on his rounds earlier today.

‘Hello Richard – nice and mild.’

‘Morning Paul,’ he called out cheerfully – as he went on his way.

 

 

Copyright © Paul Costello December 2015

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

 

 

 

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: www.paulcostello.me       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.

On another occasion, around the time Peter left Boscobel, I’d experienced a similar chance encounter on 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.

A third coincidence took place one summer a few years ago on a family coach outing to Sidmouth with Ledbury Community Choir. 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.

In an even more bizarre happenstance in the late noughties, en route from Ledbury to visit my mother in Brighton, I was scanning the departure board on the packed concourse of London Victoria railway station when a voice next to me said,

‘Fancy seeing you here!’

It had been five years since my acrimonious parting with a Shrewsbury girlfriend and there’d been no contact since. 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 a train on the adjacent platform (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: www.paulcostello.me       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.

100_3084

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.
100_3081
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: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8