At Work


Where I work, I’m part of a supposedly senior team of very experienced advisors, who use their knowledge and experience to resolve issues other agents can’t. That was true, until a few months ago, but most of the time we’re now an AOS team (‘Any Old Shit’) and have very little to take price in about the job.

We are supposedly a single team but, because of our numbers, we have two managers, each of whom directly manage about half the agents. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when most of the team is in, we’re supposed to sit in separate bays, but the rest of the week, when overall numbers are reduced, we tend to sit wherever we feel comfortable.

I even have my (temporary) manager’s blessing to sit where I am comfortable, in view of the issues I am currently confronting, and which I try not to bring to work.

But today, when I went to sit where I usually sit on Mondays, I was told, firmly, to get round into the next bay, my team’s bay. There are currently about eight of us in, occupying about twenty-four seats. I’m not in the mood for this petty fucking bullshit, this idea that we are not one team but two, and that the two teams mustn’t meet.

I’m disoriented enough to begin with: this is the week of my monthly working Sunday but I was off ill on Friday, so try as I might I cannot persuade myself that this is Monday and not Tuesday, and I am starting to hate this job and being here, when we are treated in this stupid and divisive fashion.

Am I some sort of pollutant? Do I have some sort of negative effect on the people who don’t share the same manager as me? Of course I don’t, but the totalitarian stupidity of this has got seriously up my nose, and once I have got home and have posted this, I shall once again turn to the most recent e-mail from CV Library, and check what job vacancies they have for people of my seniority, competence and temperament.

And another one leaves us: RIP Tony Haygarth


If you were as old as I, you’d know who I mean immediately. Tony Haygarth was a consummate comedy actor, forever turning up in sitcoms as boorish, slobbish, sexist eccentrics that you’d shudder from in real life, and who, by all accounts, were a world away from his intelligent, cultured, gentle real self.

His biggest success was as the co-star of Rosie, about which I once wrote here. Haygarth relished the part of PC Wilmot, young PC Penrose’s patrol car partner in the three series of the revised format, and what a great joy he was, every week. I close my eyes and I see him and hear him: lazy, unwashed, prowling around pretty women, blustering about making do with the willing-but-lumpish WPC Whatmough, as if she were beneath him, when there probably wasn’t a woman in the world Wilmot wouldn’t have had to look up to.

We accept them in comic fiction, because we can look at them and laugh and pretend that because they’re extremes, they don’t represent us, but we are all of us men in the Wilmots, and Tony Haygarth one was one the best bloody Wilmots there ever was.

There was never anything he wasn’t perfect in. Go on ahead, mate, and get the beer in ready. We know you’ll be ogling the barmaid whilst you wait.

Another Good Man… RIP Murray Ball


When I was an active comics fan, I used to pride myself on getting in ahead of the crowds on new American newspaper strips, before they’d achieve public consciousness over here. I had the first three Far Side collections on import through Comics Conventions and Marts before a single Desk Calendar appeared on a single UK desk, I was up to my ears in the hilarity of Calvin & Hobbes before it made it big over here. I wasn’t smug or anything, as nobody cared, but being tuned into that world meant picking up on things sooner.

That was the case with the only New Zealand newspaper strip I’ve ever seen. Murray Ball had lived and worked in the UK in the Seventies but gone home, set up a farm, and started writing and drawing a daily strip about one. Footrot Flats was simple, direct, at times relatively earthy. It grew out of its culture, but its jokes were mostly universal. It was frequently hilarious. And it had the Dog.

I may be a cat-lover, but there’s something about dogs in strip cartoons. Snoopy is, of course, the doyen, and Charles Schulz himself called Earl, in Mutts, perfect. He might only be a mongrel, and rather more interested in mating with Jess, Cooch Windgrass’s bitch, than any other cartoon dog around, but Ball’s Dog is worthy of standing in that company (though knowing the Dog, he’ll have been rolling around in the crutchings first).

The Dog has a name, but no-one uses it. he hates it and will go to great lengths to ensure it doesn’t get out. Ball was canny enough never to reveal what that name actually is.

And now he’s passed away, at the age of 78, after eight years with Alzheimers. It’s a bastard, being crook like that. Ball ended Footrot Flats in 1994, after nearly twenty years. I used to have fifteen collections of it. Ironically, the report of his death comes the day that a buyer on eBay will win the last couple of these from me.

Times change, tastes change. Humour is especially vulnerable to that. You can’t always keep laughing at the same jokes all the time. But there are some gags you’ll keep in your mind forever. I wish I could show you my favourite but I don’t have a copy so I’ll have to explain it.

Wal Footrot has just installed a new electric sheep fence but doesn’t know if it’s switched on or not. To test, he forces the Dog to lay a paw on it. The Dog touches it without reaction. Assuming it’s inert, Wal lays a hand on it. The shock flips him head over heels. Cut to the Dog trotting away, thinking, “It’s worth taking 10,000 volts for a sight like that.”

Another good man gone. Do we have enough of them left?

Officially Dead: The UK Singles Chart. RIP 10 March 2017


I know that after a virtually silent week, this is just a whelter of posts, but I’ve just carried out my weekly check of the UK Singles Chart, just as I’ve done every week since May 1970, even though I haven’t had any serious interest in it for twenty plus years.

Every track from Ed Sheeran’s latest album has charted in streaming. He occupies all the Top 6 places, he occupies nine places in the Top 10, and sixteen in the top 19. This sets all manner of records, and simultaneously makes those records, and the Singles Chart, completely meaningless.

Rest in Peace.

A name from the past: RIP John Surtees


As my Dad would remember him

It’s been announced that John Surtees, former World Champion racer both on motorbikes and in Formula 1, and the only man to have been world Champion in both disciplines, has died at the age of 83.

To be honest, I knew and know very little of him and his accomplishments, and was surprised to learn that he was still alive until this year, but it’s a name that instantly rings in my memories.

My Dad was an avid motorcycling fan, who had his own bike into the mid-Sixties, when I was ten. He had courted my mother on the bike, had won a shield for amateur moto-cross in Ashton-under-Lyme in the early fifties, before I was born, and would each year without fail be absent overnight on a visit to the Isle of Man and the TT Races.

I grew up with names like Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood and John Surtees. I know Geoff Duke was Dad’s favourite, just like I have a special place in my heart for the likes of Eric Cantona and Paul Scholes. I have no idea what he thought of John Surtees, though I don’t doubt he applauded a man who won the World Championship four times on two wheels, and went on to win it on four, ahead of the likes of Graham Hill and Jim Clark.

He was a man who was part of my Dad’s life and world. I salute him for my Dad.

Ave, Lisbon Lion: hail Tommy Gemmell


Long before Manchester United stirred up so much fervour about winning the Treble, an unlikely team secured not only that signal success, but one better. In 1967, Glasgow Celtic won not just theĀ  Scottish League, the Scottish FA Cup and the European Cup in the same season, but they also won the Scottish League Cup. In fact, that season Celtic won every trophy they entered. Top that!

What’s more, when it came to that splendid European Cup Final against AC Milan in Portugal, and I’ve no doubt for the majority of the season, this being in days of your where rotation was a concept that applied only to crops and a winning team only changed when someone was injured, Celtic did it all with eleven players who were born within a thirty mile radius of their ground. Ten of them were born within ten miles.

Celtic had to come from behind, to an Italian team well-practiced in the art of defence: score a goal, shut up shop. But Celtic did it. First, left back Tommy Gemmell drove a twenty yard equaliser past the Milan keeper, then another of his raids forward created the chance that Stevie Chalmers turned in for the winner.

They called them the Lisbon Lions, and what they did will never be achieved again in football as we experience it today.

Now the Lisbon Lions have been reduced in number by one, for Tommy Gemmell has died, after a long illness, aged 73. Age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety. Tommy Gemmell plays forever under a hot Lisbon sun, driving on his team-mates to glory.

Ave.

Chasing Ghosts


When you go chasing ghosts, there should be someone there to tell you to be careful in what you do. You might catch one.

A few days ago, I wrote about an unexpected side-effect of my current project. I am transcribing for the first time a novel I wrote thirty years ago, which is basically autobiographical. It was about a two-year period of my life when I lived away from home for the first time, and about falling heavily in love with a woman who did not return my feelings, because she already had a boyfriend (whom she married).

There are going to be no names. We were close friends back then, and I kept my feelings hidden (or so I at least thought) to be friends. Part of it is an old habit, long unpracticed, but more importantly it’s still a question of honour: I kept schtum then, as best I could, so as not to embarrass herĀ  with feelings she didn’t want, and I’ll stick to my guns now, no matter how unnecessary it might be.

The novel is full of people, almost all of whom are based on real-life equivalents, to one extent or another. Some, my best mate at the time being the main example, are pretty much wholeheartedly themselves. Others begin as similar equivalents, but develop along their own courses. Others are placeholders, standing in the shoes of real-life people but having little or no other connection.

I wrote before that the reason this novel never went beyond a first draft was because it successfully exorcised ghosts I had carried with me for the better part of a decade, and that the worst part of what I’m currently doing is that those ghosts stand in danger of being resurrected. I am becoming obsessed with the fictional people and places.

It’s almost twenty years since I had any contact with any of the friends I made away from home. Ironically, the longest lasting of these was with the woman I had known the least time, a sweet, funny, genuinely gorgeous blonde, who’d joined my firm only about four months before I left, had fitted in instantly, and who, somehow, I kept in contact with. The last I saw of her, her marriage had broken down, and one of her children would end up preferring to live with his father. I jokingly told her she’d had a great escape: if it weren’t for the fact I had only just met the woman I was to marry, I’d have been after her!

Not long after, she met a man who was a Born Again Christian, became Born Again herself, converted her daughter, and they moved to London to be with him. She became a different person, and we lost touch.

But that’s an irrelevance, really. The point is that the novel is full of the shadows of people I once knew, people whose lives have been lived, people who probably don’t even remember me. Some, I know, have passed on. Others were sufficiently older than me that the odds are that they are no longer with us. But there are some who I have tried to locate, in real life, with mixed results.

The first I looked for was my best mate. He was a local lad, the senior, as I was the junior, of the firm’s four Articled Clerks, but not much more than six weeks ahead of me. He was a great guy, obviously very good at his job, confident, easy-going, friendly. As much as any 23 year old can do for another, he took me under his wing at times, and helped knock off a few rough edges (though I had more rough edges than a polydodecahedron, and the seemingly mystical ability to sprout several more every time I started to feel self-confident). We hardly agreed about anything but got in like a house on fire.

He was always going to be a success. The firm wanted to keep him after he qualified, and it was only a few years before he became a Partner. Some years later, my old firm merged with another of the big firms in Nottingham, as the undercard, so to speak. That firm still exists, though all trace of my old firm’s name has gone with the years, and their website is easy to locate.

There are familiar names there, among their Partners. There’s the guy who was my old firm’s junior Partner, and the bloke who came to us as a Student in the summer of 1979, and who was one of my successors the following year, and who I knew had gone on to succeed there. But no mention of my mate.

I have tried various combinations of his name and his firm(s) and his city on Google, but the only thing I could find was a 2006 newspaper report of a major case he had handled, which clarified the law in relation to licensing Festivals. He was a Partner with the merged firm then, but ten years later I can find no trace with my limited search skills.

Of course, I could e-mail either of those two Partners I knew, reintroduce themselves, ask to be put into contact, but I am already worried about what I might find. There are many reasons why a successful, intelligent Solicitor of my generation might have left his firm and many of them are good, but one of them isn’t. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in pretty much thirty-five years, but my memories are of a healthy, fit young man, whose big game was tennis, who would only play me at squash in the brief period of the year when tennis couldn’t be played, in case the different styles of the game ‘threw’ his tennis arm off, and it is horrible to think that he might not have had at least the same least of life that I have had so far, that he might not be there to enjoy the good things his deserved success has brought him.

The other ghost, and certainly the most significant one, is my former love. And that is a very different story.

I’d foregone trying to track her down. We exchanged cards and occasional letters for a couple of years after she left, but since that petered out, I’ve had no contact whatsoever with her. And whereas she used to dominate my thoughts on a daily basis, it’s now decades since I thought of her more than occasionally. Sometimes I wonder about how life treated her, sometimes we bump into each other in my imagination, though the fantasy never goes beyond the delight of recognition: I’m not my former self any more, and she surely won’t be.

Besides, her name is a commonplace name, especially since she married. It’s the kind of name that, if googled, would bring up hundreds and hundreds of references to hundreds and hundreds of women. I’d have more chance if she’d stuck to her maiden name, which was rather more distinctive, but married? No chance.

As for her husband, he’s equally commonplace in my name. More than that, he shares it with a man who’s been in the public eye: google that name and see how many references to this man you’d have to wade through before even scratching the surface of those myriad others.

An impossible task, suitable only to an obsessive, and for what reason? To locate a woman with whom I shared a brief period of time, nearly two-thirds of the way back along our joint lives?

But last night, when I should have been switching off this laptop and going to sleep, I followed up an e-mail Link to LinkedIn: one of my small circle has got a new post. And while I was there, on a whim, I decided to search the name of my ex-love’s husband.

There were several, of course. I scanned the list for a couple of pages, and stopped when I saw an entry with a photo. I wouldn’t recognise the guy n w if I fell over him, but this bloke was the right age, so I clicked on his link.

Very successful businessman. Founded his own company in 1992, grown into a major international company with offices in every corner of the world. Celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary pretty much now. There was a profile of him, and I immediately noticed one thing that tallied: right thing, right time. I started googling him in relation to his company. Bits of other information dropped into place like jigsaw puzzle pieces. A Welsh University. Somewhere he’d been for an extended period. A sporting hobby. All in very general terms, and nothing that would make it an implausible coincidence, but it was growing steadily clearer that this was the right man, this was who she married.

But what of her? I started googling hm again, this time with wife linked into the search. He was married, but was it still to her? Then a very familiar first name popped out of a search item relating to Company Directorships. Same company, right name.

Even then it could all have been coincidence. These are common names, not an unusual combination. When I knew her, there was a hit single with his name in it, and I can still remember the frisson I felt when I played the other side, and her name was there.

But there were the middle names. Unusual, somewhat old-fashioned names. The same names. It was my former love, and I even had her address, and I could now contact her, if so so chose. I could bring a ghost back to life.

All rather creepy, in its way. The astonishing thing was that, after all this time, I found her and where she is in only twenty minutes.

I’m not going to contact her. Why should I? I have nothing of any value to her except an old memory (I’m going to assume she still remembers me). Her life has been a success, they are successful in business, they live in a house in a totally different part of the country that’s probably worth well over half a million since they bought it. They travel the world. If she had ever have been foolish enough to think that my naive charms outweighed his, she would not have had this life.

Most of all, though, what I’ve learned is that she’s been happy with him. A mutual friend went to her wedding, brought back photos. I’d never seen anyone looking so radiantly happy before (though my perspective may have been a bit blurred on the subject). And that marriage is still there, thirty-seven years later. It worked for them. It worked for her. I long since gave up any hopes for myself when it came to her: I’m glad to know that there was a point to that.

I’ll still keep looking, tentatively, for my old mate, in hopes of finding him and his wife in happy and glorious retirement or something equally fulfilling, and there are other names I’ll gently google, out of curiosity. Chasing ghosts can be dangerous, especially if you find them, but whereas I can be weak-willed about things that relate to me only, I have the strength of mind to keep to decisions I make that affect others, and I will not go back. Let chance bring old names and faces back across my path: I will not force myself into the lives of anyone I no longer know. Even if I catch sight of their ghost.

I have a fiction in which I can share that old life. The people in that are more real now.