You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

My name’s Jake, and I’m here to make your life more secure,

For which I’ll take some of your money.

Any trouble with a domestic appliance

At ‘Great Big Insurance’ we’ll see you’re all right.

Imagine your Hoover packing up,

And the dust and grime getting thicker and thicker,

And the bugs in the grime make you sicker and sicker

Till you’re too ill to cope; it’s a slippery slope.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

Well for only seven ninety-nine, payable monthly for each appliance,

A total amount of a hundred and four,

The pleasure is mine. Can I take it that’s fine?

 

Yes please.

 

I’ll retail your details to friends in the business.

They’ll soon be in touch to see how you’re doing,

Make sure you’re not rueing a miserable life

With a faulty spin drier or a bulb that’s gone on the living room fire.

 

Thank you.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

My name’s Davey-Boy; Jake retailed your details.

How are you today? Good, good – you can’t get away

From the need to insure anything that may go wrong when you least expect it.

Say, if you detected a leaking tap or an iron that wouldn’t press things flat.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

You need to know where you’re at, keep things safe,

And that’s where we at ‘Phenomenal Premiums’

Can help you out. Let’s have a chat.

A hundred a month is all you’ll pay to hold domestic risks at bay.

What do you say?

 

Yes please.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

My name’s Mikey from ‘Crikey Full Cover’.

Are you insured for each household appliance?

They often go wrong, you must be prepared; it’s not rocket science.

Imagine a faulty fridge thermostat stops keeping your cheese at the proper degree.

The rotting camembert starts to waft up through the house and into the loft,

A volatile mix building up to the point where the roof blows off.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

If you’re happy to pay ten pounds a day, the risk of explosion will soon go away.

What do you say?

 

Yes please.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

It’s Terry here, but call me Tel. Jake said to call; I trust you’re well?

But it might not always be like that.

Can you imagine a faulty TV,

Nothing to watch, sitting alone with a cup of tea, a silent room and a stale old scone.

No stimulation, nobody calling, life becoming quite appalling

Till you wonder if it’s worth carrying on.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

Through ‘Warranty Wonders’ you overcome this.

We’ll make sure you don’t miss the TV programmes that keep you alive,

For a monthly nineteen ninety-five you’d have total reliance on every appliance.

I could sign you up now.

 

Yes please.

 

And to show that we mean it, you’ll receive in the post

A dustpan and brush, a gift from us to a customer we trust.

 

Thank you.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

It’s Tel here again.

Regarding the gift of a dustpan and brush,

I forgot to mention at ‘Warranty Wonders’ we recognise

The risk of bending to gather up crumbs can put undue pressure on people’s thumbs,

Causing poor circulation, enhanced vegetation and everyday problems with inhalation.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

So shall we say fifty-nine ninety-nine payable monthly, to help you feel fine

And lower the risk of thumb amputation and perhaps suffocation?

 

Yes please.

 

On and on drove the hundreds, round and round they passed her name.

Railroading, frightening, charming, bamboozling,

Ducking and diving and dodging morality, skirting close to gross illegality.

The frail old lady was not respected, in spite of the comfort of feeling protected.

 

Until, until,

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

 

Who’s calling? Are you one of those appalling people who blighted the lady every day?

Well she died last night, possibly of fright,

I wonder you can sleep at night after what you made her pay.

 

Ah, condolences, condolences, most sincere.

(Thinks)

But while you’re here –

Did you realise the phone to your ear might cause radiation, degradation,

Even lead to your last exhalation?

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Hell-o, hell-o,

Hell-o, hell-o,

Hell-o, hell-o,

Oh.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello  April 2017

http://www.paulcostello.me

YB Poster Main Proof5 030417

 

 

Advertisements

Above The Call

A waiter slops asparagus soup over my mum’s posh top, spits on my steak tartare and asks my dad if that’s a wig he’s wearing – which it isn’t. He now presents the bill for around £80 and asks dad if everything has been to his liking.

‘Splendid, thank you,’ says dad, making out a cheque for £90.

I witnessed this scenario hundreds of times during dad’s life. A routine addition of about ten per cent, rounded up, regardless of the experience.

‘It’s for the service,’ he would explain.

‘But what if that’s not very good?’ I’d say, trying to fathom it out. ‘And isn’t cooking the food and bringing it to the table what you’re already paying for?’

waiterThere seemed a touch of master-servant about the whole thing, a leftover from Victorian times – doffing the hat and placing a penny in the palm.

Dad’s benevolence especially showed at Christmas. People you never normally saw would knock at the door. The dustman (as he was then affectionately known) touched his forelock and dad handed him a small brown envelope; the milkman would find something similar in an empty milk bottle; and it was the only time the postman actually took an envelope away with him.

Tipping in taxis was also de rigueur. Failure to do so might mean the driver retracing his route a mile before letting dad out. Ten per cent to the hairdresser prevented an unwanted bald patch. And generosity towards chambermaids and bar staff during a hotel stay guaranteed clean beds and proper whisky measures.

While all this was going on, the doctor’s receptionist, sales assistant, bus conductor, deck chair attendant, train driver, signalman, street sweeper, telesales operator, left luggage handler, airline pilot, local government officer, hospital porter, travelling salesman, car mechanic, farmer, footballer, formula one driver, lifeguard, gardener, soldier, gravedigger and balloonist, and many, many others simply had to get by on basic wages, since their services were clearly of less importance.

Class distinctions are increasingly blurred. Christmas door-knocking is no longer fashionable. But tipping in the traditional trades continues, more under the guise of mock friendship than master-servant, but with scant regard for what it really means. Clearly, it’s not in the interest of those sectors to disavow people of the custom.

When I was younger I found myself following dad’s ‘easy route’, expressing gratitude and adding percentages regardless of the circumstances – a comfortable way out, making me feel kind of important and stupid at the same time. Annual Christmas cards from the Indian Restaurant (address written at their request on an Excel sheet during a November visit) reassured me that a lasting friendship had indeed been forged.

But as social rebellion kicked in I steeled myself to experiment with paying the asking price only. I was terrified that abandoning tips would mean losing these friendships. I expected the chef to come running from the kitchen with a machete, or the manager to ban me from his establishment. I waited for the taxi man to warn other drivers by radio. I feared a Sweeney Todd incident at the barbers.

barber Instead I was offered a loyalty card by the barber, placed on the priority list by the taxi firm and welcomed back to the curry house with open arms. I realised it was my continuing custom and that of my entourage they wanted, not the small change in my pocket. We remained friends.So, although tipping is still widely practised, in my world the random and pointless custom ended years ago. But I still feel bad about all those who remain tipless while the same old people cream off the ten-percentages. And I’m trying to do something about it.

At Greggs yesterday a woman passed me my 85p sausage roll, asking if I wanted anything else and wishing me a nice rest of the day.

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘I must say this is the most exquisitely wrapped sausage roll I’ve ever had. You presented it with utter professionalism and a beautiful smile – more than I could possibly have asked for. Here’s a pound, and I want you to keep the change.’

As I left the bakers, trying not to catch the eye of the homeless people blocking my exit, it was ample reward hearing the woman enthusiastically recount our conversation to the girl on doughnuts.

Back at home, concluding a telephone conversation with the MakerMint Water Company, I said to the assistant, Trudy:

‘Frankly, I’ve never known someone handle a direct debit application with such grace and aplomb, offering me all the information I could possibly want, and making the experience so enjoyable. Trudy, you have performed over and above the call of duty. Please give me your BACS details immediately and I shall place £5 in your bank account.’

And on the London train today, when I’d felt compelled to mention the state of the toilet to the train manager, and he’d apologised profusely before single-handedly restoring the cubicle to its pristine condition, I said as he called me to inspect his work:

‘Young man. I know you didn’t make this mess yourself, but you stepped up to the bowl and took full responsibility. Watching you don those Marigolds and plunge wholeheartedly into the matter of the moment has restored my faith in young people and in the entire railway industry. I paid £29 for this journey. Here – take this additional £2.90 to spend as you wish.’

So far, so good. And three new friends already!

Next week: Part 2. Fly Tipping – What To Give Bluebottles.

Copyright © Paul Costello January 2017

http://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

 

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 

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