Monthly Archives: May 2012

Do it yourself.

As a child I used to love going to those massive DIY shops, Homebase, B & Q and there used to be one called Texas. Probably the first automatic doors I ever went through. There was something appealing about the high ceilings, the polished floor of the wide aisles, the glamour of the lighting section, the simple free entertainment of the doorbell section. The heady thrill of being in a kitchen in a shop? Or a bathroom in a shop? You could sit on a toilet and say to your sisters – “hey look at me!” A shop so big it always seemed empty, a shop with more tills than customers, It felt like a shop that was completely safe to get lost in. A shop that played background music. There was even a vending machine at the exit, as if to say “Look pal you’ve got some honest graft ahead of you, an afternoon spent bettering your own environment, why not have some hula hoops to keep you going?” All these things I remember.


Nowadays it’s not so fun. I have to park a full mile from the entrance no matter what time of day or which day of the week I go. It is permanently full. Principally because some chancer has parked the world’s biggest burger van across 20 prime spaces and is frying onions at 8am on a Sunday morning. Catering for precisely no-one. Yes it smells nice, I suppose, but how low would your self-esteem have to be to visit that van? In full view of everyone else?


“I’d like a DIY carpark burger at 8 o’clock on a sunday morning and the number for the samaritans please”


Now there are not one but two sets of automatic doors. Automatic doors which act like a charity air-lock. The first set close behind you and you then realise that you have been effectively trapped, the only way out is forward where at least 2 charity muggers rattle collection tins threateningly. A classic charity pincer movement. Precisely what the correlation between DIY and charity is escapes me, it’s not as if they are collecting for “Save the Sheds” or something. And they’re canny these days: “would you like a sticker?” they say to my son, which is the same as asking a grown man if he’d like fellatio, of course he’d like a sticker – he lives for stickers!!! Stickers are heroin for toddlers and you know it, they can never have enough. And then they give you that look which says “I believe courtesy dictates that in exchange for the sticker I have cunningly sold your son, there is a small matter of a donation to be addressed before you can actually enter the shop”. Now, if you find yourself in this position and for whatever reason decide, under those circumstances,that you would rather not donate, do what I do and turn the tables: extreme politeness, over effusiveness has no known defence so fight fire with fire and say “Oh a sticker! Thank you sooooo much that reeeeaaallly is jolly jolly kind of you” and just walk past them.


And once inside, as an adult, it’s just not the same.  Because you’ll have to ask someone that works there something. This is guaranteed, no-one has ever gone in, found what they are looking for and left. Oh no, not without giving an old man wearing dungarees the chance to humiliate you. That’s right, he’s wearing a badge and dungarees and he’s humiliating you? How has this happened? What’s going on? Why is he wearing dungarees as if it’s the most normal thing in the world? Why did they give me this massive skateboard rather than a proper trolley? Why are they selling swingball here? What the fuck is happening?


“I’m looking for MDF – can you point me in the right direction?”

“Ah yes the old medium density fibreboard” he sighs and for a moment he looks off into the distance, as if remembering a sixties love affair in Paris with a piece of MDF.

“That’s it, MDF – which aisle is it in?”

“What’s the job sir?”

“I’m sorry”

“What do you need the MDF for sir? Are you sure it’s the most appropriate material, we have a wide range of timber products”

“I’m quite sure, shall I just ask someone else?”

“If you’d like to follow me Sir”


And so I do follow him. Or more precisely I have to match his infuriatingly slow pace as he plods along the longest shop in christendom – it takes a full 5 minutes. In that time I have come to the conclusion that he is mainly there for “company”, any salary is a pure bonus. I’ve had a brief history of MDF and I think he might be wearing a nappy. Other shoppers shuffle along by dungareed pensioners, we don’t look at each other. The dignity holocaust. The worst thing about this is that he takes me back to where I originally looked, or at least where I thought I looked? It’s like that Harry Potter train platform, I was actually in aisle 9 and three quarters.


“There you are Sir” he says smugly “Now can I help you with anything else?”

“I wonder if you can,” I say “ What’s the group noun for sheds?”


I leave him chewing that one over, load up my skateboard with MDF and join a queue of thousands at the one till that is open. The cashier cannot find a single bar code on anything. It becomes clear that the aisles are this wide so we can queue up them while others continue to shop.


On the way out I buy a chamois leather that I don’t need.


A vending machine hulks at the exit, it’s sad chrome spirals are all empty.


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Toilet Humour…………..

As a parent you give up nappies like you give up cigarettes – you wait till the end of the packet. So when we reached the end of my son’s nappies there was a sense of sad theatre in throwing the green plastic away – another little chapter gone forever. 


But I’d failed to consider the chapters that follow – the “pull-ups and potty” period and the less familiar “portable potty” period. 


At home, it’s all very straightforward, but when you are out and about it becomes more interesting. For a start, it meant carrying a potty around with me whenever we left the house, one that could be deployed at a moments notice, always ready for action: much like the SAS. As you can imagine, it was a socially awkward period: my son would suddenly shout “Poo Poo coming!” and wherever we were, within 20 seconds, he would be naked from the waist down and sitting on a potty that appeared as if by magic. Wherever we were. Like a Formula 1 pitstop. The whole process was slick, we each knew our role and you get so used to doing it that you rarely stop to think whether the location might be anything less than appropriate. Y’know for an impromptu dump. Occasionally it took bystanders by surprise. One moment we are a normal looking family and the next one of us has shouted “poo”,we’ve pulled a mobile toilet out of thin air, stripped a child to the waist and are ready with moist and dry wipes for the clean up operation. It’s the sort of behaviour that has, in the past, put other diners right off their tapas. We are “no longer welcome” at La Tosca. But we don’t care – who dares wins.


The potty itself resembled an upturned plastic cowboy hat, and once full, I would carefully wander the streets with it held at arms length, looking for somewhere safe to empty it. That was my least favourite part, trying not to spill anything in a shopping centre or supermarket whilst affecting an air of nonchalance, “Sure I’ve got a white plastic Stetson full of wee and unspeakables – what of it?”.  I even stopped wearing checked shirts for a while, suspicious, that to the general public, I looked like some kind of awful country and western busker. 


Anyway, we turned the page on another chapter of childhood (although no doubt my daughter will enjoy the freedom of flash dumping in the near future) and he now insists on using “big boy” toilets. Which, for me, is much worse…………



We’d found a passable public toilet which lacked glamour but more importantly – occupants. There were just 2 cubicles. We picked the one on the left. Now you and I know that there is an etiquette, that once in a cubicle, you remain, vocally at least, silent. Let me tell you right now that It’s a social convention that 3 year olds do not respect. Perhaps it’s because usually there are 2 of us in the cubicle? I honestly don’t know. Whatever the reason my son has failed to adopt my long held belief that there is no need for commentary of any kind, that under the circumstances narration is, at best, distasteful, I am not taking confession. Anyway, I was waiting patiently to hear the words “I’ve finished” in amongst the usual toilet waffle and reading a particularly surreal piece of graffitum when I heard the door outside slam open and somebody rush in to the cubicle next to ours. Without being able to see who had just burst inI knew we were in for an unpleasant experience: being out of breath through exercise and being out of breath through “panic” sound very different. What I could hear next door was beyond “need”, it was hyperventilation through sudden glorious proximity to a toilet, the most dangerous time when the body thinks it has reached the finishing line but has failed to take into account those precious few seconds required to undo belts and jeans and get any underwear well out of the way. I could hear as they struggled with their belt, the desperate snarl of frustration that such a simple garment could betray them like this. “GAH!!” 

I moved my son’s legs and my own away from the shared wall. Unconsciously I took a deep breath. He was actually whispering to himself. The brain was begging the body for a few more seconds. And then. And then we heard the metal of the belt hit the tiled floor, followed by a whimper of gratitude to God, followed by pure evil. Liquid wrongness, and then a relentless stuttering mixture of liquid and gas: like somebody refused to believe they’d come to the end of a squeezy Ketchup bottle.


“Aw dad somebody’s doing a really long blow off aren’t they dad”

“Yes. Yes they are Alex”

“I don’t do that dad”

“No. No you don’t Alex”

“You sound funny dad – is because you are holding your nose?”


Satan’s expulsions had suddenly stopped next door. I could hear the sort of silence you get when a person’s entire being is clenching. 


“Have you finished Alex?”

“No dad – it’s gone back up”

“Oh okay – shall we go then?”

“Okay dad”


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Going to the doctors can make you feel better…..

Nobody has moved for 25 long stale minutes and the “surgery” waiting room smells of patient misery. Or piss, there is a distinct possibility it might just be piss. A mother in the corner is smothering her screaming child against her pink duffle coat, the child has just suffered it’s first ever injection. Which must hurt when you’ve only ever known kindness and the needle is the length of your chubby little leg. They don’t even bother to hide the violence of it, it’s a “jab”. People shake their head as if the crying is the mother’s fault, they’re wondering why she doesn’t just leave? But the rules say they have to stay here, one screaming and the other silently screaming, for a whole 15 minutes in case the infant has an “adverse reaction” to the injection. Looking at the child’s shaking purple head I wonder how you’d tell. The mother hunts the room with a defiant squint, eager for an outlet for the frustration within. Her pink duffel coat is badly thought out, one of those double breasted ones, it has 2 coloumns of 3 red buttons, arranged like pig’s nipples. And it’s pink. The baby suddenly looks like a squealing human piglet. I think I’m going mad.

“Do not touch anything!” I hiss at my son, he’s started rummaging through the toy box in the corner of the room. The toys are all damaged and broken, like the people around us, they’re all covered in invisible germs. I am breathing through my teeth. Confused, he looks at me and asks why? But I can’t answer him because everybody is listening. I can’t explain to him it’s “because the things in that box have the toy equivalent of AIDS”. My buttocks hover above the only available plastic chair – a chair the colour of sadness. The chairs all have an oval hole in the back and I can see a fat man’s backfat oozing through like playdough. Opposite me an old woman starts to cough again. With a silverback’s haughty dignity between phlegmy bouts, her challenging glare sweeps the room. I assume it’s because she has embraced the modern age and is coughing “hands free”. Worryingly I have little flecks of rain on my jeans and it’s not rained yet today. On her lap is a Woman’s Realm or a Bella or a Family Circle, I can’t tell because the front cover is gone, has been gone for a decade probably. The table in the corner groans under other ancient magazines, the patients ignore them, know them all by heart. Anne Diamond is on the cover of one of them, she looks younger than I am now. I feel like I’m drowning. The red LED tickertape of despair scrolls above our heads, warning us that if we miss an appointment we risk delaying “others”. Given that I am sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, the message is somewhat redundant. Given that the “appointment” was for 45 minutes ago, I have to conclude that somebody who couldn’t read this helpful reminder (principally because they failed to turn up for their appointment) is currently scratching their flaps in front of the telly at home and couldn’t give a shit about “others”. 

Heads are moving at different speeds and in different directions, avoiding everyone’s gaze becomes very important, like dodging prison floodlights. A Double Denim walks in and the room tries to guess what he’s in for. There’s nothing else to do. There’s a cockiness to him which is at odds with his appearance, an intriguing swagger we all doubt he’s earned. When he turns to the reception we see a thin ponytail and everyone silently concludes the same thing: he’s got a sexually transmitted disease. A mexican sneer travels round the room and legs clamp tight.
For reasons unfathomable my son has perked up so much in the hour we’ve been here that I know our visit will be futile, the Doctor has better things to spend his time on than youth and vitality, he has a never-ending parade of misery, aches and unspeakable discharge between him and his cuppa soup lunch. I gather up my boy and go over to reception, avoiding the roadie with herpes who quickly slips in to my seat and wonders why it isn’t as warm as he’d hoped. 

“I think we are going to go home” I say to the receptionist, a severe looking woman, her only distinguishing feature is a pair of glittering cherries dangling from each lobe. She is aiming for glamour and missing. When she talks they jiggle alarmingly and bring to mind the testicles of a small dog bouncing jauntily along. 

“I’ll take you off the list” she says slowly. 

I push the heavy doors open and we go out into the fresh air and quivering puddles.

My son says “Thanks Dad I feel better now”

And so do I.

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Cereal Killers

Cereal Killers.

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