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

Utterly Undiscovered – Talking to Yourself

Mmm, juicy king prawns …

I’d managed to get away with just buying a prawn mayo on wheat germ, despite the Greggs assistant’s relentless pitch for me to add ‘anything else’.

On a bench by the grand, soon-to-be-opened Birmingham Library, a young woman sharing the seat looked along and said:

‘You sure that’s good for you?’

‘Hm,’ I said, pausing to consider the well-worthiness of the sandwich, and glancing between it and the woman. Before I could come up with something more original, she looked me straight in the eyes and said:

‘As long as you’re okay.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m fine.’

The young woman smiled and turned away. As I homed in on the juicy prawns in the centre, which like the icing on a chocolate cupcake I’d held back for the grand finale, I sensed from her muttering that she might be unwell.

‘Do you know where they come from?’ she then asked.

‘Haven’t the faintest,’ I said, wiping away a run of Marie Rose from my chin and licking my hand. ‘The sea?’

‘Ha ha!’ she said, grinning.

‘Don’t you like prawns?’ I asked.

‘What?’ she said, tensing across to check my question.

‘Not even the giant ones?  Mmm, juicy,’ I mused.

The woman shouldered her bag and stood up. As she walked past, throwing me a measured look, she lowered her head and I heard her mutter, ‘Some old bloke on a bench … no, I’ve just left,’ the wire trailing from her left ear, previously unseen like a newscaster’s, the only clue as to what had just happened.

*

Disjointed conversations were also commonplace in my Bed and Breakfast, visitors rarely getting to hear what I was actually thinking. In this part of my new book, Utterly Undiscovered, my alter ego (My Basil) gets to work as I check with four fat Americans that they’re happy with their rooms:

‘Is everything all right for you?’ I ask.

‘Rooms are a bit small, but they’ll do,’ says the fatter of the two men.

‘I think you’ll find it’s your obesity and the cases.’

‘Tell me, do you get hot water around here?’   copy-cropped-cropped-utterly-front-cover-jpg1.jpg

‘The tap marked “H”, dickhead.’

‘It may take a minute to come through,’ I say, trying not to give away too much disdain; I’d like to hold some back for later.

Paul Costello © April 2013

Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello.

Illustrated by Emma Hames.      

Publication:  spring 2013.    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk 

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

 

Utterly Undiscovered – The Humble Garibaldi

When you read my comic Bed and Breakfast memoir, Utterly Undiscovered, you’ll see how garibaldis play a strong part in My Basil’s troubled life. For example, when he shows Kimberley, the fat American to her room:

“I lever her through the narrow upstairs corridor and, taking a sideways tack, she squeezes her way into the Tulip Room. I last see her heading for the garibaldis.”

So I thought it would be helpful to look at their origin. Garibaldi Biscuits

For those not familiar with garibaldis, they consist of currants squashed between two thin, oblong biscuits, making a kind of currant sandwich, or ‘dead fly biscuit’ as it’s sometimes known. Traditionally consumed with tea or coffee, into which they’re often dunked, garibaldis have been popular in Britain for 150 years.

But what of the name? Well, its origins lie in mid-nineteenth century Italy, where it was produced by a father and son team as a simple biscuit for troops fighting in the wars of unification. The father, Gari, or as we would have known him, Gary, oversaw manufacture of the less-than-sweet, golden brown pastry, while his son Calvo controlled the currant presses.

Following a business trip to England by Gari and Calvo, production of the biscuit sold in Italy as ‘garicalvo’ was started in London by Peek Freans in 1861 under the supervision of Jonathan Dodgson Carrfamous biscuit maker, Jonathan Dodgson Carr. Aware of the British interest in things Italian stemming from the Grand Tour, Carr set about finding a softer-sounding name than garicalvo, yet more marketable than say, ‘squashed fly sandwich’.

It so happened that his uncle had spent many years in Florence, and pointed out that calvo was Italian for bald or bald-headed. Himself follicly challenged, masking his hair loss with an astute comb-over, Carr had grown accustomed to taunts of, ‘Nice shine, Jon!’ or from the cheekier factory hands, ‘Hey – baldy!’ It all seemed to fit. By linking this most cutting of jibes to the founding father’s name, he could honour the origins of the biscuit, yet give it a new, exotic image for Victorian coffee houses. The garibaldi was born.

This exposé should increase your pleasure reading about, say, the two picky Belgians who call at Cricklewood Cottage and ask to see a room:

“Two Belgians, speaking little English, inspect the Rose Room. They pull back the bed linen, peer inside the shower cubicle, bounce on the bed, check the views and poke about on the tea tray. I half expect them to nibble the garibaldis. All the while, they pass comments in Flemish (so that’s where “phlegm” comes from), none of which I understand.”

Paul Costello © February 2013

Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello. 

Illustrated by Emma Hames.            

Publication:  spring 2013.    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

Utterly Undiscovered – On Yer Bikes

Extract from my comic Bed and Breakfast memoir Utterly Undiscovered

My Basil struggles to deal with teenage mountain bikers obsessed with fitness.

To keep themselves in tip-top racing condition, these lads have a strict eating regime, with carbohydrates the main component. I’m closely interrogated as to what I can offer. None of it is a problem for My Basil, but the way it’s demanded is.

‘Haven’t you got any brown rice?’ says Lee, a particularly stroppy adolescent.

‘Only baked beans?’ says his mate, Marvin. ‘I need pinto beans to maximise my energy level.’

‘I didn’t realise teenagers had an energy level,’ says My Basil. ‘By the way, I just went and scratched your bike.’

‘I’ll see what I can find,’ I say.

‘I’d like my porridge and yoghurt at 8.43, an hour and seven minutes before my first race, to yield maximum energy per unit of oxygen I consume,’ says Lee.

‘Will you be up by then? I thought all teenagers stayed in bed till lunchtime.’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

I feel used and abused. But that’s not the end of it; the Reading Room has turned into a harem. While one lanky lad has his legs over the arm of a chair, presumably at the prescribed angle for perfect blood circulation, the other chair is being used as a massage couch. Leighton lounges in underpants while his girlfriend Jackie (his support team) lubricates his thighs with what smells like Ambre Solaire. Little grunts trip from his lips with each upward thrust, and his legs jig uncontrollably. I daren’t look too closely but he seems really happy. It’s a lot for a forty seven year old to have to deal with in his own home.

‘Take your hands off that boy! This is not a brothel.’

Paul Costello © January 2013

You can read more about the outrageous bikers in:

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. Illustrated by Emma Hames            

Out spring 2013    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

Website: www.paulcostello.me   Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Illustrator: emjhames.wordpress.com

Utterly Undiscovered – Fur Coated Visitors

These two snippets from my book Utterly Undiscovered describe our wildlife lessons as newcomers to the countryside:

*

Having been city dwellers, it took us a while to appreciate the range of creatures that would turn up on our remote country doorstep. Our idea of wildlife was squirrels scurrying up trees, red deer grazing at the edge of verdant forests and buzzards floating on warm currents off the Stiperstones – all to the background music of some Beatrix Potter movie.

Buzzards there certainly were. Thriving in ideal terrain, their faint miaowing and graceful spirals drawing the eye, they ventured closer each year, especially in winter when foraging in the hills was less fruitful. Near the back door one morning I find a giant specimen perched on a post checking the brookside grass for signs of a decent meal. Disturbed from his vigil, he turns and stares long enough for me to get a rare close-up of his sharp eyes and iron beak, the tools of a survivor.

Of course there are plenty of squirrels, and as well as common garden birds we have goldcrests in the conifers, crying curlews each spring in Geoff’s field and dippers, herons and grey wagtails using the brook.

What we hadn’t thought was that it was also a perfect setting for the squatters of the animal kingdom – mice, moles, shrews, voles and rats – many of whom wanted equal ownership.

*

Moles come and go. Romany moles. When they arrive it’s like an army has invaded,     though it’s normally a lone explorer. I wage war with Mr Mole. I don’t need another range of hills – the Stiperstones are fine. Although we’d sacrificed a lot of grass for Jack’s soccer pitches and made gorgeous flower borders in its place, the idea was to keep the rest as lawn. If Mr Mole chose to build castles and dungeon-runs in the borders – fine. But in the lawn – let battle commence.

It can drag on for days. To make up for their poor eyesight the suspicious creatures have an extraordinary sense of smell and a strong instinct telling them something’s not right. To stay friendly with the NSPCM (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Moles), I started with humane deterrents – a child’s plastic windmill stuck in a hillock or a talking greetings card delivered first class to the entry hole. I was especially hopeful with a card from the “Moles” section in my local Spar shop (just under “Granddaughter’s Birthdays”) saying:

Hello Mr Mole. Please go away. Or else.

‘You do realise moles don’t understand English?’ Debbie said.

I hadn’t thought of that. And having also failed to discourage the little dears with a slow release gas cartridge, I resort to Jack’s country recipe:

Ingredients

One stout wooden stick

Galvanised-iron spring traps from local farm merchants

One pair well-used garden gloves

Large leaves – foxgloves etc

Method

Push stick firmly into raised grass until it goes in without resistance

Repeat in same area to determine direction of run

Excavate neat hole in run, putting turf to one side

Set trap and lower into run, wearing gloves to mask human smell

Place pieces of turf and leaf around trap handles to block out light

The trap now forms part of the run

Set remaining traps in other areas

Check daily to see if traps have been sprung (handles will be released)

It’s hit-and-miss, but always hit in the end. At first the canny fellow teases me, switching burrows, starting new ones or pushing soil ahead to trigger the finely poised trap. But eventually he gets careless. Finding the slain invader means I’ve rescued my lawn. Fair cop – I did try to warn him off. But the victory is hollow. It seems sad that a velvety, perfectly-proportioned, underground powerhouse should have to meet such a sticky end.

Note to self: find a greetings card with instructions in native mole language.

Utterly Undiscovered          Out early spring 2013  

Fineleaf Editions  www.fineleaf.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2 

Paul Costello © November 2012

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Utterly Undiscovered – My Basil and the Pigs

Been punching the air this week, ever since Fineleaf Editions said it wants to publish my first book, Utterly Undiscovered – a Fawlty-inspired relocation memoir set in deepest Shropshire.

Here’s the gist:

Council workers Paul and Debbie leave the Brighton rat race to open a Bed and Breakfast so close to the edge of civilisation that a rotting signpost at the crossroads says Shroosbury in one direction and Utterly Undiscovered in the other three. Dubbed My Basil by long-suffering Debbie, Paul fights off furry invaders, fat Americans and teenagers who hang around half-naked. How is it that neighbour Jack finds him crawling across the car park at dawn in his dressing gown? Why does he loiter in a listed Victorian urinal? And how can he discourage the visitors he most fears – winos and noisy parrots?

This extract introduces My Basil:

Four fat Americans, accustomed to fawning service in swanky New York dineries, have dinner in a twee cottage run by a country oik – who can fawn for England if he chooses.

‘Get me some water.’

‘Say please.’

‘We’re finished here – these plates can go.’

‘That’s why I’ve come to collect them, jerk.’  

No pleases, thank yous or appreciation of fine food. I am simply a conveyor belt. Back in the kitchen, self-medicated vin rouge between trips to the dining room and a good deal of ranting help me cope.

‘Bloody Americans! Who the hell do they think they are, arrogant b ––’

‘Ha ha! It’s My Basil!’ Debbie shrieks with delight, little knowing how the label would stick.

There’s no let-up at breakfast.

‘Can I get a poached egg in a cup?’ says one of the Americans.

‘You could try. I’ll hold the cup and you keep throwing the eggs.’

 ‘Your kipper fillets, are they in cans?’ asks another.

‘No, on plates, but I might have an old can in the waste bin I could use.’

The whole notion of kippers is British and slightly eccentric. An acquired taste – which like Marmite you either like or you don’t – the traditional time for eating kippers is at breakfast when you might least expect their strong flavour to be palatable. In Fawlty Towers a whole episode was devoted to the subject, linked to a guest found dead in bed. My experience with the Americans was more short-lived.

‘No, they’re fresh,’ I tell him. ‘Strong tasting, smoky flavour. You either like them or you don’t – one of those things.’

I fetch a sample from the freezer and dangle it before him. The fish brushes the tip of his nose.

‘Terribly sorry, I tried holding it steady,’ My Basil assures him.

He opts for a cupped egg instead.

And like cucumber or garlic, kippers do linger. I never actually met the man I felt most sorry for. His wife-to-be, flattering us by staying at the cottage with her friends for a few days before the wedding, studies the breakfast menu on the morning of the big day. Everything must be just as she wants it.

‘I’ll have the kippers please.’

‘You may now kiss the bride,’ says My Basil to the absent bridegroom.

‘How do you make your cauliflower cheese?’ asks a woman one morning, pointing at the chicken blackboard.

‘Er, with cauliflower – and cheese?’

My Basil is coming along nicely, especially at mealtimes. The fixed three course dinner menu is displayed at breakfast so that guests can book for the evening. Contractors generally prefer a pub meal, but as we start to attract a wider range of customers, dinner at Cricklewood becomes more popular. It’s good income but hard work.

‘Oh, the traditional way.’ I tell the woman. ‘Country herbs and spices.’

I put “country” before everything now. It sounds great! Country cottage, country views, spicy country muesli, the country hedgerow jam I make and sell. Country rats, country septic tank …

‘What? No bacon?’ she says.

‘Telling me how to cook in my own home?’ says My Basil. ‘Outrageous!’

The customer is right of course. They always are. But I have to say no or it would be unfair on others who’ve already opted for my “country” cauliflower cheese.

‘If there’s no bacon, I won’t bother,’ she says.

‘Please yourself.’

‘Have a lovely day,’ I say – with a country smile.

Paul Costello © November 2012

Utterly Undiscovered. Out spring 2013. ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2