Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Classic FM will start to play Christmas music tomorrow. I remember sitting writing years ago, listening to the station, and noticing the silence before a piece was played; the piece being Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. I'd never heard it before and it was immediately one of my favourite pieces of music. Here it is:
I hope you like it.
I hope you like it.
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
...examiner, with these tips from a Master Driver...
On Boxing Day Stacks, Royal Marine, drove from Manchester to my panto digs in Blackpool to cook for me. I was Mother Goose that year and, as usual, couldn't get home and back between shows on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. As he got out of his car carrying bulging Sainsburys bags, the ripped jeans and Aran sweater were a surprise (I'm used to seeing him in desert combats) as was his height. There's always a moment when I'm wondering what he's remembering about the times we were out in Iraq and Afghanistan together, and I think he might be doing the same. 'Princess...'
As I was due to take my driving test, and he's master driver trained, after lunch he took me out in his Lexus IS.
'You can drive round the block and I can see if I'm going to let you go further, Iestyn.' He handed me the keys. 'Do not prang my pride and joy, or I'll shoot you. Let's do the engine check. How do you open the bonnet?'
'No idea. But I'd have read the car's instructions.'
'Try and put your examiner's mind at rest a little by calling it the owners manual. Also, make sure to take your driving test already looking like an experienced driver. Don't wear anything that can impede foot movement, sight, hearing, hands on the wheel.'
'So, no S and M bondage gear but a High Vis vest?'
'Concentrate. You've got the bonnet up...I'll do that for you...now, show me the brake fluid.'
See, I did notice that he seemed to wave his hand over the engine like he was performing a magic trick...
I guessed wrong.
'Lesson number one, an examiner will make doubly sure you know by, like I did, making a misdirecting movement. You just pointed to the window wash.'
I guessed correctly.
'Now, your examiner will know full well that your instructor has been taking you time and again round the highways and byways of - where's your test going to be? - the highways and byways of Barnet. So, just at random in a lesson ask to take a turning you never do. Just in case you end up being directed down there on the day. Up your anti, so to speak.'
I did just that. During my next official lesson I insisted on taking the first right turn opposite the test centre. My instructor said, 'Nobody ever gets asked to take this route in their test.' Well, on the day of my test, blow me down if I didn't get asked to take that first right hand turn.
Stacks and I got in the car. I did my car checks. Moved the seat forward.
He said, 'Also move at least one of the mirrors. Even if it's just a touch from where it was and back again. Show you're doing the right stuff to prepare for a driving test. And catch his eye in the rearview mirror so he knows you know he knows. Don't go overkill and clean the wing mirrors with Windolene. Another good little trick is to show you've developed little habits in your driving. Putting gloves on, taking a sweet out of the glove box, that sort of thing. And check that your passenger - your examiner - has his seat belt on. Right, test-taker, if you would just start your engine. And can you park up again behind that blue Volvo, please? Then we can do the distance sight test and lights.'
I did so.
'Excellent parking, mate. But gotcha. Major fault. You can't get safely out of this spot, with the turning behind you, car in front. Sight lines. All of the above. That's a thing they do, first off. Tell the examiner no, you'll go ahead to a suitable place to park up. You can always say no to something, as long as you have a reason you can give. While we're here, check your rear hazard lights.'
I didn't have a car behind me to reflect them, so I switched on the hazards and got out to look.
'Excellent. Check the reflection if you can, if not get out and look. Number plate on that Fiat? Correct. Drive on up the road and await further instructions.'
He decided that my drive up the road was okay, watching me closely, but still (his breathing was unsteady) checking how close I was getting to parked cars. 'Turn left.' I sensed him looking at my hands on the wheel. 'Good. Onward, and take the right at the junction. Don't sit so tensely. Onto the dual carriageway. Yep. You're in control of your driving. One thing - pull away sharper. Get through first and second to third quicker. Hang on, let me just teach you to pull away in third, so's you know...'
Which later terrified my official driving instructor.
‘Really, all you did wrong was not waiting pull up in a safe and convenient place that really was,’ Stacks said. 'Say no, remember, but back yourself up.'
In my test, I would tell the examiner not to hold his breath: ‘We’re on a hill, approaching a blind bend, there’s a school crossing, a very splurgey junction and that church.’
Perhaps the church needn't have been in the mix.
Over cheese and port, Stacks said I'd been in perfect control of my/his vehicle. ‘You just need to stop shouting “hill start” every time you do one. And have better manners. Let alone some Christmas spirit. The pleasant old lady crossing, yes in the wrong place, was clearly a local character, waving and smiling – not an atrocious old trout who should get out of your fucking way.’ He tutted. ‘And talking of better manners: can you please pass the port to your left – did I teach you nothing in the Basra APOD mess?’
Saturday, 19 November 2016
Thursday, 10 November 2016
Saturday, 5 November 2016
Nan was sitting in the Solar cafe with granddaughter. Both wore slacks and fleeces and had the same nose: fleshy, the colour of nictotine- stained cornice and appearing triangular viewed from any angle. No, nan was saying, she wasn't going to let go of the responsibility for the Christmas biscuits and cakes, even though the process of laying hands on them changed from year to year. No, she certainly wouldn't be disturbed in her usual run up to the Festive season to go all the way to Halesworth...what for? She didn't care that she would only have to go all that way (quite the whole hour and a quarter) in just the one direction, as Jean would be finishing in Beccles just at the right time and could drive them back. She might think about going after Christmas, when she could concentrate on it. What? No, she would not enjoy toasting marshmallows over the fire with the guard moved when they got back from uncle Peter's on Christmas Day. Since when had anyone been suggesting starting on something like that? Her early evening on a Christmas Day was given over annually to the sleeping-off of the Queen's Speech. Now, there was the meat business. She'd seen some for fifty quid where you got all you could possibly want. Your birds, your joints and your off cuts. You could get it cheaper if you had less, apparently. What? No, she would be sorting the meat. Why would she need help? Hadn't needed help these part forty-six years with the meat buying. Ipswich? Was what Ipswich? She didn't believe that's where she saw the meat offer, no. Norwich? When would she have had time to go up Norwich with her legs? Colchester, the same. No, now, funnily enough she couldn't for the life of her just then remember where she'd seen that blessed offer of all the meat you could need for fifty quid.
Then nan got up and set off with her shopping basket on wheels. Granddaughter she that was funny, nan hadn't gone through her usual counting aloud 1-2-3-4-5 to get herself stood up. Nan looked at her with intent to throttle. Actually, her usual - if anyone had to refer to it - was 1-2-3-4-5-6. Walking on again she pushed her basket on wheels neatly through a gap between two chairs. Look at that now, she said, beaming, she would never have expected to have got it through that gap. Thought she'd be forced to go all the way around the whole table!