Thursday, July 20, 2006

Escape from Kings Lynn

Dear Blog friends

Once again I must apologise for not keeping you informed of my life events. For some reason that I can't get my head round, my daily life has developed into something of a soap opera. So many things happen that I just keep getting into serious backlogs. What's happening now, for example, probably won't get blogged till next month. If Dolores allows me to blog it all.

You may like to read her latest post. She thinks I'm being melodramatic and clutching at straws. Yeah right. She should try sharing the bed with someone who thinks they own the mattress and has 15 different variants on the basic snore that can be issued willium nillium.

Anyway, as she would say, I digress. Actually, that's my phrase.

You may be interested to know what happened next, the moment after I came face to face with my former childhood nemesis, Toby, in a hotel in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, England. I'd taken Dolores there on a mission of peace and reconciliation. Perhaps I shouldn't have bothered. Here then, is the next installment.....

What fire?

I stood, mainly because I was unable to run anywhere, two feet in front of him, and stared intently at his swarthy, stubble ridden face as he began to interrogate his mind as to where he knew the name of McCrumble. I could tell he was thinking by the way he curled his upper lip - an affectation I never dared make fun of as a child. Somewhat abstractly, given the circumstances, I wondered momentarily if adrenalin rushes were supposed to make me fight or flight. In previous years, faced with the prospect of being pummelled by Toby's right hand fist, I would have run, and kept running until he caught up with me before smacking my head into a lampost whilst cackling. But this was twenty years later. Was history simply going to repeat itself?

I couldn't decide what to do, and time was running out. I knew that Toby was a slow thinker, and I reckoned that twenty years of separation might have introduced some extra haze into his memeory banks, but at the same time I could see the lights of recognition slowly lighting up in his eyes, and instead of his lip curling it was now taking on more of a lopsided sneer. I knew from bitter experience that this meant physical violence was due, any second now...

Oh fuck, here it comes. Better duck!



It was too late. The decision had been made for me. I swear, I was not responsible. It was the adrenalin. Toby hit the floor like he was scared of standing up. He clung to it.


Now I'm not a man of violence, but the sight of my former tormentor lying on the floor, bleeding from his previously snarled lip, grabbing hold of his crotch, a look of twisted agony and surprise on his face, brought forth a shot of testosterone so strong that I had the sudden urge to pummel him into the quarry stone floor beneath. It was only the shrieking interruption of the hotel receptionist urging me to stop that prevented my foot making contact with his crotch for a third time.

The red mist evaporated as quickly as it had descended, and my shoulders slumped even as Toby began to rise. He was quickly back on his feet despite the injury to his nether regions and almost instantly regained his menacing demenaour. Except this time it was magnified to grotesque proportions.

'I'll call the police!' shrieked the receptionist, just as Toby began to launch himself at my midriff, head first. He was distracted by this threat in mid flight, and just managed to twist himself away in time, tripping up in the process and landing in a heap at my feet. It was an opportunity too good to miss. His prematurely balding head turned up to look at me just at the same moment my left foot caught his right cheek. Not too hard I thought - just enough to give him mild whiplash.

The door to the hotel was directly in front. I didn't want to go upstairs for fear of leading him to Dolores, so I legged it. Without looking to see if he was following, I ran down the side of the hotel and into the garden. The fire escape was immediately to my right. I ran up it to the second floor, two steps at a time, checked again that he wasn't following, and pulled on the fire door handle.

Have you ever heard a modern door alarm at close quarters?

The pressure waves are enough to make you feel dizzy. Then there is the sound. Each ear popping pulse makes you want to scream. The door had been armed, and my act of forcibly pulling on it had set off the alarm. Fortunately, it also released the catch, and I was able to slip inside.

Dolores met me half way down the corridor. Her face gave away her astonishment at seeing me somewhat red and angy eyed but all she said was 'Do we have to leave now Joseph?'

'Yes' I said. 'We must leave right now. There is.....there is.....'

'A fire?' she offered helpfully.

'Yes love. A fire. Downstairs. In the lobby. Big fire. We can't go that way. We have to go this way.' I was speaking far too fast, but she got the gist.

'Stay here' she instructed, and with that disappeared into the room. Moments later she emerged with two bags, fully packed. 'Let's go' she said, flatly. So flat, in fact, that I knew I was in double trouble already.

'Put these on' she urged, handing me my jacket and sunglasses. I hesitated, as it was a warm day and the jacket would likely make me sweat. But she insisted, and I could tell she was in one of those moods where it would be foolish to argue.

We ran past the screaming door and down the stairs. The manager was at the bottom beginning his ascent. He barred our way and I thought for a minute he might challenge us, but my cool headed wife saved our skins. 'Some man came running up the stairs and forced the door open. I think he was heading for the lobby. We were just about to check out but didn't want to go in the same direction he was heading, as he looked very angry. Sorry, but do you mind, the sound from that door is hurting my ears.'

'Sorry', said the manager, averting his eyes groundwards, 'I'll turn it off.' And with that, he let us pass before running up the stairs.

'Run..' I whispered. 'I paid already. We can go.'

'No you didn't you fat liar!'

'OK, but we have to go. It was Toby. I hit him. Now let's go.'

'But we have to pay Joseph. If we leave now....'

'He's still in the lobby, waiting. He knows we have to go there eventually. He's cunning.'

'Right, on your head be it. Come on, before the manager finds out.'

We ran awkwardly towards the car, the two holdalls swinging around our bodies as if they refused to play the role of accomplice. Fortunately, the car park was partly obscured by some overgrown Leylandii, and once we were out of sight we could reduce our pace and walk calmly towards the car. We loaded the boot with the bags, unlocked the doors, got in. Dolores started the engine, and checked no-one was watching. I had elected to lie down on the back seat, and stayed there until we were well outside of Kings Lynn.

'Pull over', I said, when I had finally calmed down enough to lift my head off the rear seat. To my surprise, we weren't heading towards the A1, but instead on the road to Hunstanton.

'Don't worry,' said Dolores, as I clambered into the seat and before I had chance to protest. 'I saw it all happening from the top of the stairs. I wrote a cheque out to the hotel and a note of apology whilst you were kicking the shit out of him. All you have to worry about is whether he reports you to the police.'

With that she squeezed my hand, which I took to mean that really she was quite proud. And as we continued on our planned journey to Hunstanton I thought that in descending to the level of a thug, I had actually, somehow, shaken off my school demons. I experienced a feeling of release and freedom, almost as if by giving Toby a good thwack in his balls I had emasculated him and emancipated myself.

'I have just one question darling' said my wife, interrupting my philosophical reverie.

'Yes darling' I smiled.

'Didn't your mother always tell you to pick on someone your own size?'

'Yes dear'

'So was it really necessary to hit the guy when he was down? It's not like he could have done you much damage. I mean, all you had to do was hold out your arm. He couldn't even have punched you.'

She was right of course. When we were children, Toby hit puberty early and part of his power came from an early growth spurt. But adolescence clearly hadn't been kind. He must have stopped growing early, sometime after I last saw him twenty years ago. Standing in front of him in the lobby, I'd put him at about 5'3 (157.5 cm), some nineteen centimetres shorter than myself. I also noticed that he was sporting a prosthetic leg, most likey the result of a motorcycle accident. It explained why he couldn't follow us, and why he tripped up in the middle of his attack. Clearly, the poor sod still had the bulldog spirit, but, sadly for him perhaps, no longer the bulldog bite.

Did that make me feel any less of a man?

Course not. As many an English football team manager has stated, it's not how you play the game that counts, it's just the winning...

Hunstanton, here we come!

************ TO BE CONTINUED ****************

Friday, July 07, 2006

My 50th

Phew, a small milestone has been reached. If I keep going at this rate, I'll should reach 100 posts by February next year.

Those of you interested in the news and the way it is presented may like to know that the BBC have pushed some of their programme editors into the blogosphere. I get the impression this is an attempt at accountability and transparency, but you might see it akin to the internet equivalent of a good old fashioned pillorying. I say make the most of this opportunity, especially if you feel the need to rant, and let them have it with both barrels (metaphorically speaking of course). I've just made a couple of comments on the newsnight editors blog concerning their ill-advised experiment to drive a car bedecked with the English flag around parts of Scotland in the hope that it would get trashed. Tsk. Usual watershed etiquette applies, so anyone with the language skills of El B won't get on there unless they go in disguise and minds their p's and q's.

For those of you who missed the first few episodes of this blog, you can read about my last disastrous experience on the BBC breakfast news show here.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Escape to the country

Fellow Blogerati

Such are the tribulations of recent weeks that last weekend I opted to vacate the institute and treat Dolores (my doting spouse) to a long weekend away in a foreign land. Not Germany for obvious reasons, and not France either for reasons I am not prepared to reveal here. Spain is just too damned hot this time of year and Dolores refuses to go anywhere where there is even the slightest risk of unhygenic toilets.

So we ended up in Norfolk, England

Now, the East of England is not a place I know well. In fact, my only memory of the place is when I was 13 years old. It was a disastrous week on the Norfolk Broads in a narrow boat designed for 4 people but which played host to 3 families consisting of 9 people in total. I ended up being taken to hospital having been thrown overboard before swallowing a small fish which got lodged in my gullet and made me sound like I had emphysema. The doctors put a rod with retractable claws down my throat, grabbed the fish and pulled it out, scratching the back of my throat in the process and causing my eyes to water somewhat. My other abiding memory of that trip is my first sight of two adults having sex. Not too bad I suppose given that I was entering the adolescent phase of sexual development, and after all sex is neither unnatural and nor uncommon among consenting adults. Except in this case the protagnonists were both male. One of them was my uncle, recently divorced. The other man was someone we had met in a local restaurant the previous night. His name was Dennis.

Part I - Kings Lynn

Facts about Kings Lynn
1) It has the oldest Guildhall left in the country
2) Captain Vancouver was born there. He left to sail the world and left his mark on the place we now know as Canada.
3) It regularly plays host to the 'New Seekers', a fantastic ensemble of talented musicians from a bygone era, reformed and playing to packed houses around the country (mostly semi-detached I suspect, but never mind)

It just so happened that an appearence by the band coincided with our visit, and I lost no time in booking two tickets. My wife was not so keen, as she has more contemporary tastes, and indeed she snorted a couple of times whilst I was enthusing about their back catalogue. She wondered if I had not had enough of 'cash starved comeback bands desperately clinging on to their geriatric fanbase' and I had to spend some time convincing her that this would be the perfect tonic to our stresses.

We had booked ourselves into a hotel recommended by a friend of a friend. It promised 'unique styling in every room based on the concept of the Grand Tour - a popular adventure amongst romantic poets of the 19th Century. Follow in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley as you relax on genuine furniture.

We were in the 'Parisien room' (sic), which consisted of two single beds pushed together, an antique stained pine dressing table, a fake-mahogany coffee table, built in wardrobes, an armchair circa 1985 and brass effect wall mounted lampshades. The only bona fide nod towards the Grand Tour that I could detect was a picture on the wall.

Unfortunately, it was a picture of Venice.

Whilst I planned our 3-hr walking route around the city, Dolores stretched her legs across the coffee table and took forty winks sitting in the chair (the 9 hour drive down starting at 6am had sapped her of energy. I had offered to drive, but she insisted that given my 3 near misses in the last year that perhaps she might do better). Why she didn't use the bed like other people would I have no idea.

It was about 5 o'clock in the afternoon when we finally left the hotel room. Fortunately the weather was fair, and we made good speed on the walking tour recommended to us by the hotel receptionist. The route took us past a few well known spots in Kings Lynn, and everything was going well until we saw this.....

An innocuous piece of graffiti to most people, but to me it signified something else. It was a piece of graffiti I recognised. It was the tag of a someone I knew at school. He hadn't changed it one little bit since he first showed it to me on the back wall of a local pub. Not even the colour was any different. That same lurid green and red spray-paint. It was the tag of none other than my former nemesis - the school bully known as Toby Hancock-Jones.

You may remember Toby from previous posts, if not then you read about him here. The sight of his graffiti made my heart skip a jump, and my senses lept into red alert. He was someone I hadn't seen in over twenty years, and never wanted to encounter again.

'Calm down you daft pillock' said my wife soothingly. 'You don't know it's his, and he could be anywhere. There might be hundreds of these. It's been twenty years for Gods sake. Stop shaking.'

I looked at my hands. They were indeed oscillating. My head was in a flutter, and I felt vaguely nauseous. My throat dried up and a stinging bead of sweat dripped into my left eye. Dolores thought I was actually crying, and stood before me with a mocking expression.

'Come on, let's go. We don't want any upsets do we? Let's go back to the hotel and get ready for the concert yes? Here, take this hankie. There you go. Give it a good blow'

To my own astonishment, I was actually snivelling like a school boy who has just had his knees scraped by a metal rasp held by the school bully. The painful memories were now jostling for attention, and I was forced to relive, standing there on the North Quay of Kings Lynn, several moments of shame and humiliation that had been locked away for years. For a few moments I was a nine year old child again, crying because no-one believed me. Crying because Toby came from a well regarded, wealthy family and was 'simply incapable' of harming anyone else.

We trundled back to the hotel in silence, apart from occasional sob emanating from my broken school-boy's heart. Once we were safely indoors I relaxed a little, but was somewhat reluctant to venture out again. The ever-pragmatic Dolores insisted that we take in the concert to banish the blues. She suggested we take a taxi in order to avoid any potential contact with the former school bully. Feeling somewhat paranoid, I insisted she asked the taxi company to give up the name of the taxi driver. Fortunately, the taxi driver was called Jennifer. Once in the car and en-route to the Corn Exchange I made Jennifer promise to be waiting outside to pick us up after the concert finished, at 11:15pm precisely.

There was a small queue outside the venue, mainly composed of people a few years older than ourselves. Actually, the average age (exlcuding myself and Dolores) was approximately 60 years old. Some people were already getting into the mood by reminding themselves of the first/last time they had seen the New Seekers. One lady not far ahead in the queue thought she had seen one of the band members taking a leak in a back alley earlier that day and had come over all embarrassed. Not too embarassed, it emerged, that she couldn't approach the chap and ask him for his autograph. He duly obliged, but when she took the paper back, she noticed that it was a bit damp in places, and realised that not only had she gained his autograph, but also a sample of his urine. 'I'll treasure it forever!' she declared to raucous laughter from her friends.

'Probably soome poor piss-head look-a-like' whispered Dolores in my ear.

I made Dolores go first, just in case Toby was working in the foyer. Once inside the venue I kept an eagle eye on who was milling around but saw no-one that I recognised. Until, that was, the show was about to start.

I saw him.

He poked his head though the wings from backstage. Just for one moment, but it was long enough for me to recognise the mop of dark hair and dark, forboding eyes, jutting jawline. I let out a small, involuntary shriek that made Dolores jump. Then I grabbed her arm so hard that she let out a shriek of her own. This surprised the elderly woman sitting next to my wife so much that she almost jumped out of her seat. I was still grabbing hold of Dolores's arm, unable to let go. Dolores told me to stop hurting her, a statement that caught the attention of a burly looking man on my right hand side. When she told me a second time he lent towards me and told me, in no uncertain terms, to let go. His authoritative tones had the desired effect, and I managed to extricate my fingers from Dolores's forearm.

'We're going....' I hissed, not wanting to spend another minute in the building. Grabbing her arm I again I stood up. Dolores had no choice but to follow me, replete with mutterings and apologies to the people in the same row. We exited the Corn Exchange at some speed. Dolores maintained her composure until we were more or less out of earshot of the man on the door but then launched a verbal attack on my feebleness that left me speechless.

After bearing her verbal assault with good grace I fought back with something approaching a defence of my actions, but it was to no avail really. The night was cut short, and we hailed a nearby taxi. I sulked the rest of the evening, and Dolores read one of her books about damaged children that she seems to prefer (She insists I point you towards her review site here).

All was well in the morning, thankfully. We kissed and made up in a special husband-wife kind of way and I was duly sorry for my reaction. 'But look on the bright side' I said cheerfully as we snuggled in the bed. 'At least we know where he lives.'

The phone rang at this point. Dolores answered it and looked puzzled for a second. She told the caller to hang on, then checked her coat pocket. Something was clearly missing, and it turned out to be her purse. 'I'll be down in a minute' she said.

'What's up?' I asked.

'That was reception. They asked me if I left my purse at the theatre. It must have fallen out of
my jacket pocket when you yanked me out of my seat. The chap sitting next to us picked it up and turns out he saw us earlier coming out of the hotel. Nice of him don't you think?

'Sure' I said, before shrinking back under the covers. 'You go for it. The last time I saw him he was glaring at me'.

'Sorry darling, I'm busting for a pee. You go. Prove that you're a real man. Go on' With that, she lept out of bed and disappeared into the bathroom, locking the door. I had no choice but to throw on some shorts and a t-shirt and go down to reception. As I approached I saw the receptionist motion to someone who had their back to me. When they turned round, it wasn't the man who had been sitting beside me, but someone completely different.

Yes, you guessed. It was Toby Hancock-Jones. As sure I as I was of my own gender, it was himself, in the flesh. A bit leaner than he was 20 years ago, but unmistakably the former school bully. Black leather jacket, shades sitting atop his thick, mat of black hair, 3 day stubble.

'Here you go mate. Your wife dropped it I heard. Someone knew you was stayin here. I live nearby, said I would drop it in' said my former nemesis without even a flicker of recognition, handing over the purse. My hand was already shaking, something he noticed immediately. 'Heavy night was it? You alright mate? You look a bit pale'

'I'm fine' I said in a weak voice.

Just then my wife poked her head over the bannister and shouted 'Don't forget to give the nice man a tip darling!'I winced and quickly looked up to where I heard her voice, but she had already ducked behind the rail. Toby was still standing in front of me, hands in his pockets, hopeful expression on his face. As ever, he exuded menace without even apparently trying. I was at least sure he didn't recognise me. There had been nothing in his eyes to suggest any recall even when he heard my name.

'Er, sure. Here, thanks...' I removed a ten pound note with trembling hands from the purse. But I was so unsteady that I not only removed the money but also Dolores's driving licence. It fell from my grasp onto the floor and before I could reach down and pick it up he was already looking at the name. I watched in fear as his lips formed the name on the card and with abject panic rising in my gullet I watched as his eyes begin to narrow.........

*************TO BE CONTINUED******************