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Murders solved and cars washed.

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» Tramps

Richard of York: tramp agony aunt
My dad is a vicar. Those of you who have had bad experiences of organised religion, feel free to wave your pitchforks now. Done? Good.

But as a vicar's son, I sometimes glimpse, behind the scenes, all the good my dad does that no one ever hears about. Dealing with people's secret pain - the help he gives to those who come to him in distress. It was one such tiny act of kindness from him that sparked the following chain of events.

It begins with a phone call...

The scene: A small Yorkshire town. The time: summer of 2006. I had just graduated and was inhabiting the strange ghost world between university and real life. I had been fired from a temp job for breaching national security (but that's another story) and with the World Cup on the telly had no intention of getting another for at least a month. So I was guarding my parents' house while they were on holiday and doing a spot of gardening to keep myself busy.

*bring bring*
SELF: "Hello, this is the Vicarage."
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: "Hello, is Reverend Of-York there?"
SELF: "No, I'm his son, can I take a message?"
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: "Oh, well, I hear you've been having trouble with some kids messing around in the churchyard."
SELF: "Why yes, yes we have."
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: "Yeah, well, I've sorted it."
SELF: "Er... yay?"
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: "Yeah, I'm an old mate of your dad's and I heard in the pub you were having trouble with some kids, so I thought I'd come and sort it. I used to be in the army, so I know a few things."

Anyway, we talk a bit more and it transpires he's in town for one night but doesn't have a place to stay. So, I say - and I'm still not sure why:

"Oh, well, if you're a friend of my dad's, why not come and stay here?"

He accepts, says he'll come straight round, I put the phone down and suddenly realise that I've just invited a complete stranger to spend the night with me, and not in the good way. Did he say he was in the ARMY? He sounded pretty tough - and what did he do to 'sort out' a bunch of 15-year-old chavs, officially the scariest breed of mammal found in nature? What if he's not an officer and a gentleman, but some crazed killing machine of a squaddie? What if even now, blood-soaked strips of burberry are blowing across the churchyard?

With these terrifying thoughts in mind, I quickly hid all the family silver (well, the DVD player anyway) and was fashioning a makeshift weapon out of a broom handle and a toasting fork when the doorbell rang.

*ding dong!*

Trapped, like a lamb in a field full of bastards. With bated breath, I approached the door...

Fortunately, on the step stood, not a seven-foot Terminator, but a five-foot five middle aged chap with trace of a West Country accent. I hadn't picked up on that over the phone. His name, he said, was Steelie.

Figuring that if the worst came to the worst I could probably take an aging Bristolian shortarse in a fight, I invited him in. He had indeed been a soldier in his youth, but after leaving the forces had been homeless for many years. It was at some time during this period when my dad had, apparently, saved his life (but that's another story). Eventually, the love of a good woman set him on the right path once more, and as proof of this he showed me a photo of himself in a rather natty suit, alongside a woman who, while not exactly in her prime, was holding up well for her age and looked a pillar of respectability. She could definitely have been the head of a village WI. Steelie told me that she was off visiting her sister, and he was on the road again "for old times sake." Perhaps I should have been suspicious at this point, but I was so reassured by the picture of the WI-lady that it passed me by.

So, anyway, what do you do to pass the time with a reformed tramp who you've invited over for the evening?

We went to the pub.

Here, Steelie told me a bit about life on the streets, including some really quite interesting stuff about 'famous hobos throughout history' (or 'gentlemen of the road', as he preferred to call them). I can only remember a few of the stories now:

- Casanova tramp. This was an Irish fellow who lived in the 1800s and apparently shagged his way around the southern counties; it seems no lady of good breeding was able to resist his twinkling eye and silver tongue. He had something incredibly amusing inscribed on his tombstone but alas, it now escapes me.

- The doctor. This was a terribly sad story about a medical man who lost his wife and kids in a fire. Something went snap in his head and he took to the living on the streets. The last time Steelie saw him all his teeth had been kicked out by a gang of youths.

- These two other tramps who stood about under a tree all day waiting for some guy. Actually, I may have heard that story somewhere else.

Anyway, it gets to chucking-out time, we stagger home, I show him to my sister's room (shut up, she was away as well) and say goodnight. The next morning I haven't been murdered, he's still there, I give him a cuppa and send him on his way. End of story, or so I thought.

That night, he was back.

The old chap looked somewhat the worse for drink. "Mate," said he, "you've been generous enough already, I'll just sleep in the garden if it's all right by you." He wouldn't accept the offer of a bed, so I gave him a sleeping bag, and he laid himself out on a bench.

The next morning I awoke, looked out of my window, and saw him still down there. Being the ever-generous soul that I am, I made a cup of tea and took it out to him. Steelie, it was clear, was in a perturbed state of mind. He had a kind of dismayed expression on his face, as if he'd just heard Princess Di unexpectedly come out with a really racist joke.

"I really need to see my missus," he said. "If you give me some money I can catch the bus to York and she can pick me up from there."

'Aha!' I thought. 'Here comes the sting!' "Listen, I don't feel comfortable giving you money," I said (my generosity strangely disappears when it comes to parting with actual cash), "but you can ring your missus from here and hitch-hike to York." He agrees, and I hang around sheepishly in the garden while he makes his call. He hangs up, and comes over.

"A bit of bad news, mate. She's left me."

And THAT is how I found myself sitting on a bench in my garden, in a dressing gown, comforting a heartbroken tramp.

Turns out WI-lady had grown increasingly frustrated with Steelie's unwillingness to fully give up his hobo lifestyle - it's not something you can really do part-time - and they'd had a bit of a bust-up, hence the trip to her sister's and now her callous if understandable phone-dumping. I sat with him on that bench for the best part of four hours, listening to his thoughts on life and women. At one point he got out a little book from his bag and read me a poem. I started wondering if he was ever going to leave - if when my parents returned in a week's time I would have to make out like he was some wacky uncle who'd always lived with us, like when they write in new characters to an American sitcom. It was gone noon by the time he finally decided to depart. I gave him a couple of cans of beer for his journey, and away he trudged, out of my life, forever.

My friend who runs a charity shop in York saw him a couple of days later and gave him some clothes. Beyond that I don't know what became of Steelie. Nor do I know if any of his tale was true, but it seems an elaborate lie to tell for a place to sleep and two cans of Carling.

Personally, I don't think I'd do what I did again, but I learnt a lot about trust and human nature (and famous tramps, obviously). Steelie didn't murder me, and he didn't steal anything. And he did get rid of those kids in the churchyard - not through army skills but through genuine tramp cunning. But that is yet another story...
(Sun 5th Jul 2009, 21:56, More)

» Puns

The Bacon Tree
Two Mexicans are stuck in the desert, wandering aimlessly and close to death.

Our Hispanic heroes are just about ready to lie down and wait for the inevitable, when, all of a sudden:

"Hey Pepe, do you smell what I smell? Ees bacon, I is sure of eet."

"Si, Luis, eet smells like bacon to meee."

So, with renewed strength, the Latino amigos struggle off up the next sand dune, and there, in the distance, is a tree just loaded with bacon. There's raw bacon, dripping with moisture, there's fried bacon, back bacon, double smoked bacon... every imaginable kind of cured pig meat you can imagine.

"Pepe, Pepe, we ees saved! Eees a bacon tree."

"Luis, are you sure ees not a mirage? We ees in the desert, don' forget."

"Pepe, when deed you ever hear of a mirage that smell of bacon... ees no mirage, ees a bacon tree."

And with that, Luis races towards the tree. He gets to within 5 metres, Pepe following closely behind, when BANG! BANG! BANG! Shots ring out from all sides and Luis is cut down in his tracks.

It is clear he is mortally wounded but, true friend that he is, he manages to stagger back towards his horrified amigo, and with his dying breath gasps:

"Pepe... go back man, you was right, ees not a bacon tree...

Ees a Ham Bush..."
(Thu 5th Mar 2009, 13:58, More)

» Housemates from hell

My flatmate the terrorist...
Not so very long ago, I was a 20-something postgraduate desperately looking for somewhere to live in a strange new city. I ended up moving into a house with five 19 year-old students, none of whom I’d met before. They were a cosmopolitan lot - four lovely (and relatively wealthy) young expat ladies hailing from Dubai, Thailand, Italy and Egypt, and a working class lad from Blackburn. They had a few of the requisite quirks that sharing a flat with strangers always entails, but they were for the most part easy-going and clean living. Which was a good thing, as there were six people crammed into a house meant for four, the landlord ingeniously having managed to convert various closets into bedrooms.

After about six weeks, the Egyptian girl (we’ll call her Sara, for ‘twas her name) mentions that her boyfriend will be coming over from Rome to stay for a while. Sadir. Age 26. Half Italian, half Iraqi. “Oh right”, I say. “Coming for the week is he?”

“No, actually, he’ll be staying about a month,” Sara replies.

Not wanting to rock the boat with a bunch of people I was still getting to know, I acted all cool, although the prospect of a month making small talk with another stranger didn’t really thrill me. Fortunately however, Sadir was a nice guy and just as into football as me and the Blackburn lad so all was well. Well, almost.

Being from the Middle East, he and Sara had some views about the Western world. Capitalist pigs. Corrupt. Decadent. That sort of thing (didn’t stop Sara taking advantage of the finest education Britain had to offer and Sadir stuffing his gob with Burger King though). I had some of those Iraqi playing cards - you know, the ones given to soldiers with pictures of Saddam and his cronies on them. He went through them, sharing anecdotes about Iraq’s most wanted, most of whom were “friends of the family.” Hmmm.

Anyway, Sadir’s holiday lengthened. He arrived in October. By Christmas he was still in the flat, using our electricity, cramping our space and turning the heating up to the sweltering Mediterranean climate he was used to. And I’m not a petty man, but coming home in the evening after a hard days work to find him just out of bed did get a little galling sometimes.

“Don’t worry,” said Sara. “He’ll get a job after Christmas, and he’ll be gone by Easter.”

He didn’t, and he wasn’t.

He did get a job, speaking Italian at a Call Centre, but lasted two days. We asked for rent or at least something towards the bills, but Sara and Sadir, hospitable Arabs that they were, couldn’t quite grasp the notion of a guest paying for his keep. Even if that ‘guest’ had been there four months and now got more mail than I did. Eventually, in April, he decided to go. We bid him a fond but firm farewell as he got in the taxi to the airport.

Two hours later he was back. They wouldn’t let him on the flight due to ‘irregularities’ with his identity documents, apparently.

The next day I was woken by banging at our door. Wandering downstairs in my dressing gown, I found my flatmates sitting on the sofa looking extremely worried and two burly plain clothes detectives escorting Sadir to the police station for questioning. In one of my rare displays of cool, I gave a nonchalant “morning” and proceeded to make breakfast, as if dawn raids from the fuzz seizing suspicious Iraqis were an everyday occurrence for me.

He wasn’t a terrorist, of course. Too lazy. And not even a particularly devout Muslim. During his entire stay he did little except sit around in his pyjamas and play Pro-Evolution Soccer 4, which I’m sure Osama bin Laden would have frowned upon.

Anyway, he finally went home in May, seven months after his arrival, having barely left the house and not paid a penny for his upkeep. He speaks three languages fluently and has an influential family, so he may well be working for the UN by now. Or possibly he’s bumming around in the flat of some other unfortunate students.

He didn’t apologise for length (of stay), so nor will I.
(Sun 8th Apr 2007, 15:59, More)

» I met a weirdo on the interweb

Is there anyone here who isn't an internet whore?
I know b3tans aren't exactly your average internet users, but wow, I had no idea!

The thing that surprises me the most though is what you're willing to do just for the sake of politeness. You're not OBLIGATED to sleep with the spawn of Beelzebub just because you've exchanged filthly messages online, you know!

Anyway, for this reason I haven't got much of a weirdo story. However, last night I did find myself counselling a 16 year old called Ryan. He was signing on to an online game with names such as i.want.sex and i.want.girl, and proceeding to ask if there were any hot girls here? You know the type. Anyway, I questioned him as to this, and he admitted he was "so lonly" because girls don't like him. Cue me with my big heart advising him to be himself, enjoy life and the girls will come, etc.

I know, I'm a wonderful person.
(Tue 21st Mar 2006, 22:05, More)

» Crazy Relatives

Crazy relative number 2
I do have a lot of eccentric great uncles - it makes me feel like I'm Bertie Wooster.

You have already heard tell of Great Uncle Stanley, mystic and Glastonbury elder elsewhere on this board - that's my dad's side of the family. Not to be outdone, my mum's lot have come up with Great Uncle Edmund, fraudster and, according to one historian, "pornographic diarist."

This was back in the day when you could, apparently, knock up at a major corporation's doorstep, pretend you're from the Chinese Imperial court, get them to give you a big wad of cash in return for some imaginary business deal, and then bugger off to live as a hermit in Peking before anyone catches on.

He also claimed to have had affairs with, among others, British Prime Minister Lord Rosebury, an Ottoman princess, Oscar Wilde and the Empress Dowager Cixi of China. These have been fairly widely dismissed as a figment of his imagiation.

On Wikipedia:
(Sat 7th Jul 2007, 20:41, More)
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