Monday, November 26, 2007

Memories...fact or fiction?

Yesterday was a good day. A couple of pals from way back when paid me a surprise visit at the lodge. Now normally these things freak me out because, in spite of what you girls think, blokes do have some personal pride and inviting visitors in to a place that looks like it’s just been burgled always puts me on edge. Fortunately though, when the visitors are ex-flat mates, this doesn’t apply as ex-flatmates are never concerned about anything other than how their mate is and how much beer he has in. ‘Place is looking good’ was about the only comment passed, that from Higgy as he crouched in front of the fridge to inspect his options. We never left the kitchen, save for the obvious reason, and as the lodge is small that didn’t have to mean leaving the conversation. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t too long before the topic of that conversation came around to Recycling Jimmy. Crabber’s came across a copy in the bathroom. Neither of them had seen it nor read it and, whilst both knew that it had been published, I guess it hadn’t really meant anything until they actually held and flicked through the pages. After the initial round of piss taking (mainly targeted at the dust jacket picture which does make me look a bit like a Dale Winton impersonator) came the obvious question, asked by Crabbers but on behalf of them both.
‘So am I in it then?’
‘Nah, it’s a story mate. Pure fiction about suicide for profit. Not really our bag that was it?’
‘Well this sounds familiar Tilley. It’s my scooter isn’t it?’
Higgy read out the brief description of Kev’s scooter from the book and I had to agree; it was his scooter, something that really pissed Crabbers off. He snatched the novel, told Higgy to get more beer and began flicking through the pages. It didn’t take him too long to find a riposte.
‘Page 158. I did that. Ran off with your trousers that time in the night club.’
It was true, and Crabbers’ account of what had happened in the Tropicana that drunken, devastatingly embarrassing night opened the flood gates to another round of piss taking and, as we ploughed through our past experiences as Manchester student’s, on more than one occasion I found myself thinking, ‘hmmm, that’s in the book too.’
So here’s me thinking that I’ve consciously written a piece of dark, fictional comedy when it turns out that, in reality, a large amount of it appears to be based on flashbacks from nights best forgotten! But believe me, I am almost certain that we never dressed someone up as a rabbit and dropped them off a cliff.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

English Mutha F*!*a! Do you speak it!

Remember that scene from Pulp Fiction? The one where Jules is frustrated by the little white punk who’s stolen Marcello’s case (what was in that by the way??). Well I’ve seen that film countless times and always understood that Jules delivers the line, along with a tirade of other deliciously dark threats, because he wants the young dudes that have crossed him to feel real fear before they die. However, having recently spent a couple of days in one of Europe’s capitals, I realise that Jules’ anger was simply an expression of his frustration at not being able to communicate. Believe me, if I’d have had a gun last weekend, you would have been reading about my experience in the Daily Star and not my blog. To explain, I’m reasonably well travelled; America, Asia, Africa. I’ve seen a few places and naturally I’ve had to bumble my way through most of them using pigeon English and mimes (only any use if you want a long piece of rope or a large box by the way) but never have I been so frustrated at the local people’s lack of ability to understand me as last weekend. And where was I? London! And I’m not talking here about stopping some one in the street and asking them for directions. That I could understand. Alright, it would be bloody unlucky to pick 12 tourists in a row but statistically, I could deal with it. No, I’m talking about people working in the service industry. Taxi drivers who don’t understand ‘Covent Gardens’. Bell boys who don’t know the word for stairs (which luckily I can also mime although the first time I tried I was offered directions to a night club) and fast food joints where the people working there couldn’t say anything unless it was on the menu.
I love the fact that London is multicultural. I love the fact that people from every continent can feel confident enough to come here to live and work. But I would love it so much more if this didn’t mean that I couldn’t go to the shops unless I have a phrase book. Of course, there is another side to this. We are told time and time again that the immigrant communities are a drain on the British welfare system. Seems to me that they are the only ones doing any bloody work!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ryan Air: doing their bit to disintegrate Europe.

Budget airlines are great aren’t they? These days a person can, for example, read a book and, if sufficiently intrigued by the place that they are being shown, simply jump on a plane and experience it. And all for less than the cost of the hardback that inspired them. That’s a good thing isn’t it, integration? Opening up Europe to one and all and removing the financial borders that had until now limited access to those with the correct visa (or mastercard for that matter)? Well in principle it is, yes, but somewhere along the line things have got really screwed up. The planes that trawl western Europe, moving people indiscriminately between Liverpool, Gerone, Perpignan and Riga aren’t filled with underprivileged, decent people with a thirst for travel and knowledge. They are instead filled with undereducated scum bags with a thirst for beer and cheap fags. Offended? Well I guess you must know who you are then. You’re the cropped haired thug demanding a seventh vodka from the busy air hostess only minutes after take off. You’re the bleached blond divorcee screaming abuse at your kid in the middle of Prague as you drag him round in search of an English breakfast. You’re the stag party pissing up ancient monuments in the centre of Rome. You are a disgrace. Think I’m exaggerating here? Well try telling that to the MP from Riga who found himself with no option but to write to the city of Liverpool and plead with its leaders to stop their hooligans from trashing his city. And Liverpool’s response? Not our problem pal.

For me, the sooner oil prices drive these people back into the pubs and slums of their home towns the better because frankly, travelling in Europe these days with an English passport makes you about as welcome as bird flu.

Monday, November 19, 2007

So where the hell has France gone then?

The reason I ask is that I have just spent the last 3 weeks in a country that the sat nav’ insisted was France and that the bloke who welcomed me at the border confirmed was indeed France (‘Bienvenue au Francais’ he slurred) but that couldn’t possibly have been. My confusion arises from the fact that, during my visit France (and in particular the French people) smashed every cliché that I had squeezed in to my luggage. To be fair here, I guess this is partly because the majority of my English preconceptions were based on only two things; the French arrogance displayed at Agincourt and a Mony Python sketch I saw once. Looking back, perhaps this wasn’t such a good frame of reference; a bit like judging the Japanese nation based solely on Pearl Harbour and a Godzilla flick (….hmm, now that’s got me thinking actually). But back to the French. I spent my time travelling through the Languedoc region in the south west; dominated by the Pyrenees and defended by countless medieval walled towns and villages, each with its own cheese and boasting the best wine in the world. Who am I to argue? At the outset, I must admit that the place did initially support my conviction that the Anglo/French war was still in progress. The steep sided valleys with their crumbling walls and sharp, forbidding peaks do make you feel unwelcome, a bit like an invader, but from the moment that you stop the car and enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine surrounded by village life, those same features suddenly feel protecting and inviting. Weird feeling really that, having to unpack all my prejudice to make room for local produce, phone numbers of new friends and leaflets of houses to buy. It was an experience that also made me think a lot harder about what I write in my novels too. I mean, is it possible that if I’m not careful I could reinforce or even create new prejudices about, for example, the people of Liverpool? More on that soon.