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» Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics

My grandfather
Villan? No. Rogue? Depends on who you ask. Eccentric? Probably.

Married to my grandmother, he begat my mother (yes, begat) 10 years before deciding to add more to the clan. Three more. Being the Swinging Sixties, he then decided it would be proper to have another family, begetting another three offspring by another lady. Which means that I have uncles and an aunt my age (or younger). Then let's add another (allegedly) by the au-pair. Off we go.

I got to know about this all around my grandmother died. After this (married to his second wife), he would then make various visits, normally by boat as he had lost his driving licence due to inebriation, and had worked out that most of his family lived near the river. The phone would ring, and a gruff but friendly voice would say "Friend" (all grandchildren were addressed as friend, either as a friendly term or because he had lost count) "I am here, will you come aboard?" A trip down to the river would then be organised, probably involving wine, more wine, and possibly something French cooked on the boat's single gas ring.

Trips to the boat resulted in cracked ribs (pissed, failing to negotiate turn on bike on way back), river police charging up on a RIB (after an occupant of the boat had mooned at the riverside crowd laughing at attempts to get the boat going after running aground after a trip for beer) or a fine for being over the limit in charge of the boat (the fine was 70p; he asked for time to pay, and was granted it).

I have two lasting memories of him, one of helming a sailing boat he had somehow got his hands on over to the Isle of Wight and being passed endless glasses of wine and lit fags, the other of a little voice which asked "Friend, will you help me?" only to see my seventy-year-old grandfather in his kecks, up to his waist in the Thames, trying to shove the boat off another low-lying pile of gravel, broken pint glasses and shopping trolleys. What do you do? Jump in- there was always a glass of wine to reward you afterwards.

At his funeral wake, not a dry affair, I was invited upstairs by my uncles and aunts for a smoke. The joint was smooth and strong. In my innocence, I asked where it had come from. "Oh, this is the last of your grandfather's stuff" was the answer.

A, you were a legend. The best grandfather out.
(Thu 27th Sep 2012, 22:24, More)

» Workplace Boredom

Ah, yes, dear Marion.

Marion was a tall, heavily-built German girl who occupied the cubicle next to mine. She had horn-rimmed glasses and a permanently serious look on her face, which collided badly with a comedy hairstyle- two cones of curly black hair which stuck mysteriously to the sides of her head (think Gary Larson, and then some). Not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, she kept herself to herself (apart from letting on that, rather enjoy the southern European summer here, she preferred to sit in a room with the windows closed and sweat. Nice.)

Marion would get locked into things, and would let parts of the day drift by in repetitive actions. You could walk by her desk on the way to send a fax (this was a while ago) and find her industriously polishing her glasses. You send the fax, wander off for a coffee and a smoke, and come back, and she would still be there, still polishing the same lens on her glasses. with the same vacant serious expression on her face.

Her only vice was tea. She would boil the kettle on her desk, and brew up a cup. From the other side of the partition, you could hear the tea bag drop into the bin, and then there would be an agonising wait as she put a spoonful of honey into the brew.

And then she would stir.

Metal spoon in an earthenware mug.

And get locked into stirring.

It was only a short while until the idea of timing this performance came up. The other cubicle rats were quickly irritated by the noise, but became less so as I would post the day's result. A silence would descend, everyone waiting to see how long she could last.

Metal spoon, earthenware mug, the varnish on the inside of the mug presumably getting thinner and thinner as time wore on.

Just before the office was reorganised, I was able to leap to my feet, fists in the air, screaming "RECORD!" as Marion at last woke up after a mammoth two minute, seven second stirring stint.

It wasn't to last. The office was redistributed, and Marion, after a peculiarly out-of-character screaming fight with a colleague (who she apparently tried to brain with a metal stapler) eventually moved back to the cool of her homeland.

To while away the long days at work, I sometimes like to think of her, contentedly stirring away, the ceramic on her mug worn to a paper-thin wall holding the cooling honeyed tea in...
(Thu 8th Jan 2009, 21:38, More)

» More Pet Stories

Not my pet, but...

As a child, I suffered from eczema. It went round my body, appearing in unexpected (and unwanted places) and would keep me scratching during the day (I was a nightmare to sit next to in the cinema) and tossing and turing at night, only to wake up to find more patches of skin worn bare. Not nice (but not nearly as bad as some people get it).

With this complaint, I needed constant access to creams that would calm things down, soothe the itching and let me get on with life, albeit with bits of flaky skin coming off one body part or other (lost an eyebrow to it at one point, Lost some hair on my head. Hands a constant nightmare. And other bits, you know...)

On holiday in France, we arrived at a hotel somewhere in the Ardeche. As we got out of the car, we were greeted by an enthusiastic and large boxer, who decided I was the sexiest thing on the planet, and started to lick the backs of my legs- just where the eczema was worst. Obviously the cream was alluring, and needed to be tamed. We managed to get the bags out of the car and check in, with the owner of the hotel holding a good few kilos of boxer at bay. The dog's name was Urss, somewhere between "bear" and the French for the USSR, which was sending similar-looking female athletes our way at the time.

In the room, I discovered that my much-needed cream had been left in the car. I grabbed the car keys, and went down to the car park to get the cream back and attend to my dog-licked legs. This much I managed, before being cornered by Urss, who pinned me against the car and proceeded to try and shag me in every position possible, growling in a way which made me know that escape would be punished. Savagely.

Which is how I was found by the hotel owner, being rogered against a car by a large boxer, whimpering quietly to myself.

I have never been the same since, but still praise the resilience of M&S underwear.
(Thu 31st Jan 2013, 20:17, More)

» Homemade Booze

My grandfather, a chemist by trade (but bon-viveur, pisshead, stoner and serial adulterer by personality) built a still in the shed in his back garden. I was working at the time for a well-known wine warehouse, and he would often call by to pick up the dregs from the tasting counter, which he would cart off, mix with oranges, distill, and turn into Kewntreau (named after the leafy suburb he lived in). He was amused by the fact that the employees of the bank above which he lived would traipse through the garden every day, unaware of the desperate acts of criminality that were being committed in the shed (Breaking Bad was a long time off, and I don't think the plod were particularly interested in a small-time maker of undrinkable liqueurs).

The produce was sweet, orangey and dangerously strong, and invariably offered as a Christmas treat in place of a present. My parents would normally try and flush the stuff down the toilet as soon as he left, but the odd bottle was sampled- the effects were slightly hallucinogenic, and you would invariably have the impression of having had caramelised Tango sprayed on your teeth the morning after.

I once asked him why he bothered making it, after he had admitted that it was pretty hard stuff to like . He replied, "Well, friend, you and I, we'll drink pretty well anything so long as it's alcoholic".

Damn. Rumbled.
(Fri 12th Dec 2014, 21:47, More)

» Good Advice

I was doing a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course. A friend was staying with me- he'd just come back from a year doing exactly that, badly and not without some odd experiences which, I think, lead to him getting fired.

I passed the course, and his advice for the first job I got was the following:

Don't drink too much.
Don't screw the other teachers.
Don't screw your students.

The first two went out of the window on the second night of the new job. The third took a little longer.

Good advice can unfortunately sometimes be negative guidance.
(Thu 20th May 2010, 22:48, More)
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