I’m sat in my office right now with two sleeping doglets. Music in the background and I’m monitoring some issues for work.
It’s quiet and peaceful and I can see a huge section of the Shropshire Hills through the windows.
It’s genuinely a good life and sometimes i think that I could happily slow down and keep slowing down. And sometimes I remember that my blood used to sing when I was younger and that I had no self-imposed limits to what I’d do if I thought something needed to be done.
Somebody that I’ve never met died at the weekend and I became a bit-player in their last act for a few weeks as the opportunity to help them and their family was placed in front of me.
It couldn’t be ignored and I never mentioned it publicly.
The man in question was a genuine one-off who influenced thousands of people, whilst upsetting quite a few others too. The world is a poorer place without him, he was a free-thinker, a good man and a good father. Word of his death would definitely trigger strong responses.
So I volunteered to do so. I have no family connection, no emotional ties and I’m not a fragile flower.
My Twitter timeline exploded for a few days, mostly from people who were upset to hear the news, along with hundreds of people sending abuse that was boring, repetitive and ultimately pointless. I wasn’t offended or bothered even once, even the worst messages were sent by people of limited or no imagination.
It did amuse me for a while and I’ve saved some of the best / worst examples for later use at some point.
And I’m glad I did it, it drew the attention away from others for a few days – while getting the news out in a controlled fashion.
You know that you’ve had more than enough to drink when your dogs start to recite poetry at you on New Year’s Eve.
I was just finishing some rather lovely bourbon when Milo – it’s always him, he’s the deep thinker of the two. Cairo is more of a Special Forces doglet, she’s sweet and intelligent, a natural born killer, but he’s the deep one.
He looked up and just stared in that way that he does, the fire roaring behind him, the rain and the wind battering the house.
‘So then, New Year…will we all be ok ?’
Cairo’s ears perked up, it’s Year Zero for her, this is all new.
I waited for a while before answering.
‘Probably. That’s the best I can say really. I hope so and I’ll do my best to make sure’
Cairo sat next to him, I now had two sets of glowing eyes to contend with.
‘Does that mean that you’ll take us back to the sad place?’
She looked so distraught, I could feel myself welling up.
‘No. That’ll never happen whatever the future holds, that will never happen. I’ve made arrangements and you’d never want for anything- either of you’
Then it was Milo. They were teaming up.
‘What if it’s us, will you be there? You won’t leave us will you ?
Cairo nudged closer to him
I was at a loss… and then. And then.
You’ve been listening to poetry again haven’t you ? who is it this time?
And in unison, which is pretty fucking creepy when dogs do it, they recited, the fire going dimmer behind them.
‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’
I laughed. Thank fuck for that.
‘Yeats. You’ve been listening to Yeats. He’d just had a kid. That was at least the third woman that he’d proposed to. ‘
They kept staring.
‘I’m not going anywhere. Nor are you – at least not over New Year. None of us.’
They kept staring.
‘Do you promise’
‘ I promise to stay with you for as long as we all live – good enough? ‘
They ran to the back door and patrolled the grounds. I had another quick drink.
This may be a bit of a rambling post, let’s see how it goes.
I have a white shadow with me almost every hour of every day that I’m at home.
The shadow is always there and is currently sat on the sofa in my office. The shadow is watching me type right now.
In a while, the shadow will sleep, dozing quietly and contentedly in the sun while music plays and I talk to people across the world in conference calls.
I’ve been looking back on life and pondering the choices that brought me here.
‘If I’d done that thing instead of this, where would I be? Would anything at all be the same?’
It’s the sort of mental exercise that could leave you second-guessing your whole life.
The Vikings believed that much of our fate was predetermined, but not all of it.
The imagery most often used in Viking myth and literature to depict fate — three sisters, sitting at the base of the World Tree where they weave the fates of all men and gods on their looms shows that the Vikings believed our fates are an evolving, ever changing pattern that is constantly being created
So, was I always destined to be here, in this place, at this time, with a sleeping shadow opposite me?
I met an old flame for dinner in London a few weeks ago, we hadn’t seen each other for at least ten years and we spent the first hour tentatively catching up. She now has two kids and a dog, has moved house and job and seems happy. I’ve moved house more than a few times, still have no kids but have two dogs.
We then proceeded to get drunk and probe some old wounds.
Then we got drunker, went dancing til three and I put her safely into a pre-paid black cab back home.
We’ll likely go out again in a few weeks, we’re definitely in the friend zone now, but once… it could have all been different. A different thread leading to a different strand altogether.
The shadow is now asleep as I type and won’t move until I do in a few hours. It’s a very peaceful time of the day (09:30) – no calls and not a lot of work to do today.
Although I have to go to a funeral.
It’ll be a nice funeral, it’s for an old neighbour, she lived to be 95 and was fit and healthy towards the end, I’ll catch up with some old neighbours and will then move on to see my old landlord / next door neighbour and have a cup of tea.
He had a heart attack last year and has decided to make a ton of changes to his life, including selling his businesses and starting to consolidate a large property empire.
He’s also bought a Ferrari.
I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing him again, I loved living next door to him and Milo would happily follow him around the workshop all day – as long as sandwich sharing was involved.
And there’s another thread.
I’ve written too many words about him really, but suffice to say that I love the little maniac more than I ever thought I could and that he’s shaped the past few years in many ways. One of the reasons that I bought this house was the nearly two acres of land and trees that came with it. It’s a playground for dogs as well as having views across the Shropshire Hills.
My office is a new addition and sits just behind the orchard. I’m looking out at the Wrekin as I type, (the shadow is still asleep)
But a few years ago, it was massively different.
When I started This story I lived around the corner to the lady whose funeral I’ll attend later. This was two houses ago for me and I worked for an entirely different company.
In fact I hated my job and that came to a close during the Arthur and Shirley saga too, leading into a short but painful period of unemployment and then an offer for three months contract work that turned into a full time job that’s taken me back out to Malaysia and Australia and given me something very rare for me.
Actual friends in the workplace.
The last time that happened was 10 years ago or so and I’m glad to say that they’re still friends, still in touch and even joined my birthday drinks in Nottingham a few weeks ago.
Speaking of the Arthur and Shirley Saga, that came to an end as a story earlier this year https://smallthunderdog.blog/2022/03/20/put-your-lights-on and I’m happy to say that Shirley is still doing well and is being regularly visited by the family that she’d lost touch with after Susan threw away her address books. Here she is yesterday (December 20th) with photos of Cairo on the wall behind her along with a new ‘memories’ photo frame from her family.
That’s a thread that I’m glad that I took, it gave me some new friends that I hadn’t previously known in real life and showed me just how good people can be in the face of true, low level, vapid evil.
It took me to some strange places, showed me the best and worst of people and stripped away some of the things that I had been before. I’m not necessarily a better person now – in fact, I’m far from ‘good’, but I can’t ignore random chance anymore or pretend that I can’t see people in need when I can help.
My grandfather was a blacksmith and I’m not sure if my love of all things sharp and shiny comes from him or some other place deep in my ancestry, but I’m taking the opportunity in February to use a few days leave and take a three day Damascus knife-making course.
And there’s another thread.. a complete coincidence. probably ( I said this may be rambling) but on the second night of my course, I’ll be attending a black-tie award ceremony for something I kicked off here. https://smallthunderdog.blog/2022/07/12/hopeful-hound/ and it’s just ten miles down the road, just one of the many coincidences that seem to happen when you make a decision.
Is it fate? Is it all predetermined?
I have no idea.
My shadow has moved to the bed under my desk and has been joined by Milo in the office.
It’s been such a short time really, but she’s become so attached to me and I to her that it’s hard to remember life without her.
But without the decision to take Milo, fuelled by my love of another person’s dog and the need to have my own companion, triggering a seemingly random and unstoppable series of events, neither of us would be in this place at this time.
Like I said, it’s rambling, it can play with your mind a bit.
We’re living in strange and unprecedented times and it’s genuinely hard to keep up with the state of the country and the wider world beyond. If you’re above a certain age (and living in the UK) the standards that we were brought up to believe were good for all of us have been eroded to such an extent that it feels like a different country altogether.
The Police, once the people that you could rely on to be there when you needed help, have become politicised to such a degree that they’re unrecognisable. Misgender somebody or go for a walk outside during ‘lockdown’ and you’re in deep trouble. Pull down statues, vandalise property, block roads or access to foodstuffs and it’s er.. more or less ok.
Don’t get burgled or robbed in broad daylight, they’ve better things to do.
The sainted NHS, saviour to our nation is still not allowing visitors to sick relatives in some locations and we’re in for another winter of doom, despite around 40% of our GDP being paid to it.
Male sex offenders are being treated as women – because they say that they are. Eddie Izzard is running as a candidate to be a Labour MP – as a woman. He’s a biological man who hasn’t undergone surgery or any transition activities at all, but if you say this, you’re a bigot.
Child Molesters are openly supporting Transgender pressure groups and grown men are dressing as women and displaying their genitalia to children, with no penalties. They get applause instead.
Government is now just a collection of people who want to tell US what to do rather than being servants of the people.
A multi-millionaire who screwed the public finances, triggered a leadership election for the sitting Prime Minister and lost a membership vote is likely to be Prime Minister today without undergoing any form of public vote apart from as a local candidate in the 2019 General Election.
He’s done this with collusion from the media and fellow travellers from his own party, despite being fined for the same issues that killed off his previous boss
The war in Ukraine drains our finances and is threatening to bring in power-cuts for our population later this year – horribly similar to the lockdown rules.
Inflation is rising and taxpayers are being squeezed – again, while thousands of illegal immigrants flood our shores every week and are then given four-star accommodation and benefits – at our cost.
Let’s not even mention Covid-passes, Digital ID and all that entails, we narrowly squeaked through last year and they’ve had to pause.
These things may or may not be related, I’m suspicious enough of our government that I took steps to reduce my dependency on the grid last year, a few hours of power-cuts – even daily won’t hurt at all.
But it will close pubs, we’ll lose more pubs and restaurants, local shops and businesses as they won’t be able to continue to even break even. Horribly similar to lockdown.
What are we supposed to do in the face of this relentless assault on our liberties, freedoms and way of life?
I do know that the answer isn’t to demand the othering of people, I want the idiot protesters dealt with under existing laws, not to have new laws removing the right to protest.
For Izzard and his ilk, laugh at them, they hate it.
For ‘our’ government, no idea, they hold the cards today but it’s a very tenuous grip on power and could be removed in days if enough of us wanted that – except we’d need a better alternative.
So.. What to do?
Stand strong, stick to those values, I’ve let vulnerable neighbours know that I’ll have power when we lose it and that they’ll be welcome.
Keep talking to people, meet up with friends and relatives in person when you can; give something to those in need if you can, share ideas, push back at the frankly ludicrous agendas being forced upon us.
Hold your line if you think you’re doing the right thing.
Do what you think is right, not what others tell you.
Act like you’re in the middle of an invisible war.
It’s early June 1994, life as we know it was much different, the weather was massively variable, a rail strike was hurting the country and Fred West was blissfully unaware that he’d soon be huge news.
Mobile phones were in their infancy and in many ways; life was simpler.
Not for a section of the Norfolk Broads though.
The Groom – (TG)
The Best Man, an architect and otherwise intelligent man in his late 30s – referred to here as That Fucking Idiot (TFI)
The Biochemist (Bio)
The Accountant (TA)
The IT Specialist (IS)
The Builder (the wealthy one, also the drunk – TD)
The Norfolk Broads, particularly Wroxham and the surrounding area
A fifty foot long Broads Boat hired by TFI from Blake’s Boatyard, at the time a smallish independent operator. they’ve long since disappeared but the boat looked a bit like this.
Scene – Day One:Early Morning
A group of six men in their 30s meet at roadside for a minibus to take them to Norfolk, they’re all fairly well dressed, all have a small bag for extra clothes and are standing around a stack of beer that’s nearly six feet tall. There’s also a portable stereo that is already playing a mix of music that seems designed to annoy others.
TFI – ‘are we all ready for this, got all your stuff?’ He leers at The Groom
TG – ‘just remember the rules, try to tie me to anything or shave anything and I’ll murder you and dump your body overboard’
Everybody looks at their feet.
Four hours later – The Boat.
Boatyard Guide – “Right, are we all listening, you need to be really careful, this is a big boat and some of the sidings are covered in iron. You need to make sure that you undo the awning if you’re taking the roof back. This is how you go forward – and backwards, keep the speed low and steady, don’t do any sudden turns. Make sure you take the key out if you leave the boat.
Everybody – nods and ‘yeah, OK’
Boatyard Guide – ‘OK – let’s go’
He executes a flawless and very fast 180 degree turn and jumps off the boat.
TFI takes the wheel, beers are opened and everybody dumps their bags in the cabins while ‘Right Next Door To Hell’ blares from the CD Player.
Ten Minutes Later
TFI to The Groom – ‘Let’s take the roof back!”
TG- ‘Don’t forget to….’
TFI – ‘What was that?’
TG – ‘That was the awning ripping out and flying into the river, you stupid cunt’
TFI – ‘What?’
TG- ‘That’s our deposit gone and you’d better hope that it doesn’t fucking rain now’ – he takes a long drink of beer while the others inspect the broken woodwork.
One Hour Later
The boat is moored at a pub, our heroic band are spending money as fast as possible while bemoaning the fact that the pub is too quiet.
Another Hour Later
Everybody is back on board and TFI takes the wheel. He guns the throttle into reverse and slams the boat into a siding. Ignoring the crash, he spins the wheel and embeds the iron siding into he boat a few feet above the waterline – there’s now an eight foot gash in the skin of the boat.
TFI -‘Well that was how he did it in the boatyard’
TG ‘Why don’t you go and ask him to do some draughtsmanship for you for fucks sake. You know that we now owe THEM money don’t you?’ Another long drink is taken and a quiet sob can be heard.
Two Hours Later
Two of the cases of beer are now empty and the boat has now taken on the air of a group of Death Row Prisoners trying to enjoy their last day.
IS -‘Hang on there’s a boat full of women there, they’re waving at us… OI, TFI, get us closer’
The two boats draw alongside and IS, TA and TG jump across with two cases of beer. The music on our boat gets louder and people frequently jump between boats. It’s agreed to moor up in Wroxham and find a pub.
4PM Day one.
Both boats are moored up, there are no other boats nearby and everybody is well on the way to being ever so slightly drunk.
11PM Day One. Wroxham
Everybody goes back to the boats for a party having offended a large number of innocent tourists trying to have a nice time in the pub. The circle around the group becoming wider and wider as the level of offensiveness rises.
1AM Day Two – Our Boat
The girls have returned back to their boat along with IS who’s on a promise, TD is asleep on the jetty, Bio is wandering around aimlessly and TA is ranting at The Groom about the lack of reliability of TFI. ‘He’s a fucking menace and I’d like to drag him behind the boat tomorrow, it’ll be safer for all of us and… I CAN’T GET IN THE FUCKING CABINS…. WHERE IS HE?WHERE’STHE FUCKING KEY………’
They jump onto the Jetty and TA is still shouting -‘THERE’S A LIGHT ON IN THAT FUCKING CABIN I’M GOING TO…….
There’s a muffled splash and TA appears coughing and struggling as he’s walked off the jetty into the river in the dark.
TG is doubled over laughing hysterically – TA has to be rescued by BIO and TG is still laughing as he coughs his way aboard, drenched and filthy. Luckily TG had a huge sweater on board and TA is able to strip down to boxers and have a warm top as they trudge to the girls’ boat.
1:15 AM Day Two –The Girls’ Boat
Girl One – ‘Oh thank god you’re here, can you take him back with you? We’ll make you a bacon sandwich each..’
Everybody but IS is back on the boat and soon asleep.
7AM Day Two
The group gather on the deck and look at their sad little boat, something hideous has been spilled on the deck and has left a deep stain, there’s bottles and cans everywhere and the quiet little berth that was empty at 4PM the day before is absolutely surrounded by families on boats .
They’re also outside a Police Station.
Bio makes a cup of tea for everybody while TFI decides that he’s going to play his new AC/DC album again – or more to the point, he plays ‘Heatseeker’ Again and again. Bellowing out the word Heatseeker occasionally. By this point, it’s not clear if he just enjoys it, is having a mental breakdown, is still drunk or is just winding up. TG thinks it’s a combination of the last two.
IS boards the boat to thunderous applause and the group are now becoming aware of the crowd of boats around them. They’re also surprised at the goodwill they’re being extended, one boat is offering more bacon sandwiches which are gratefully accepted and there seems to be nobody upset at last night’s noise. One older couple said it made a nice change and that they were listening to the music while having a bottle of wine on deck..
9AM Day Two The group decide to brave Wroxham to find a proper breakfast and are soon fascinated by this unusual little backwater.
And that nearly everything is called Roys.
There’s a general store and a toy store amongst others.
And rather bewilderingly, Miss Roy.
It’s all a bit too much for Bio, who wants to ask random people in the street if they’re called Roy. The group drag him into a cafe and over breakfast, they discuss the day.
The Groom will call his dad (from a phone box) and arrange for him and a few other people who couldn’t make the whole trip and tell them to meet at…
A discussion is held.
Nobody can be bothered to move, so as long as the group aren’t barred, they’ll take residence in the pub again for the day.
TA and Bio spot a huge mannequin of a butcher and pose for photos with it, annoying the actual butcher in the shop as they take pose after pose. They giggle to each other as they walk away.
10AM Day Two
The group enter the pub sheepishly, not entirely sure if they’re welcome and are greeted by the landlady.
‘Morning lads, we’ve restocked with bottled beer after last night, want a drink on the house?’
TG – ‘Yes please, six Becks please.. Listen, we were a bit, we loud last night, sorry if there were any issues.’
Landlady – ‘You spent more last night than every other person in the pub combined – even if you double their spend. Stay as long as you like, just don’t start a fight or burn the place down and we’re good’
Grinning, she walks away.
TA – ‘She’s right, we need to top the whip up, we spent nearly £500 yesterday’
Everybody tops the fund up and the drinking begins again.
12PM Day Two – The girls pop in for a drink and to say goodbye and good luck and they leave the pub in a cloud of giggles into the sunlight.
The Jukebox is topped up with enough money to ensure that nobody else will get a choice in music until evening and the group settle in for a gentle afternoon of drinking, talking and playing word-based drinking games.
One goes like this.
A word is said …..
The next person has to add a word “Giraffe”and the next person has to add a word as well as saying the previous words.
The Giraffe went out into Soho to buy the monkey from the bar one of those rare orchids that can not be seen unless you watch a film with dark clothes and a cup of cold piss from a zebra – fuck what was the next word?’
2PM Day Two -The game comes to a shuddering halt when TFI unwittingly brings the group close to hysteria.
‘Outer. Space. Outer Space is. Outer Space is Dodgy’
The group set to drinking in earnest and at:
3:30 PM Day Two –
The Groom’s dad and a few others, including a designated driver walk in. Ironic cheers and shouts of ‘hello you old cunt’ can be heard. He sits with the group as beers are ordered and looks around nervously at the people already giving dirty looks to the group.
Dad – ‘christ, keep it down a bit, you’ll get us all barred’
Everybody – loud laughter, cries of ‘fuck off’
Dad – ‘I mean it, some of these people look really pissed off’
TG – in a kind and gentle voice – ‘Don’t worry Dad, we’ve been given a green light to do anything we like by the landlady as long as nobody gets hurt. We’ve already spent more today than Wiggy over there will spend in a fortnight’
Dad – looks round nervously and sees a man in a bad wig glaring back at them. – “fucksake keep it down..”
TG – ‘What for Wiggy, Wiggy can fuck off if he doesn’t like it’
The group – ‘Fuck off Wiggy’
Six grown men collapse into giggles at the horror and outrage, they’re beyond reason by this point and the newcomers realise that the only thing to do is to drink hard and fast.
Dad – ‘How’s the boat?’
TG – ‘It’s fucked, we probably own the boatyard a couple of grand and it’s still only Saturday, that’s one of the reasons that we haven’t moved – so that mad cunt’ he shrugs at TFI ‘ can’t cause any more damage’.
The afternoon progresses and at one point TA and Bio go to get more cash.
5PM Day Two
A loud commotion can be heard outside and a butcher is shouting at the sky, his mannequin seems to have decided to leave home and take up a spot on a jetty across the bridge.
TA and Bio are giggling.
7PM Day Two –
A vote is taken and it’s agreed that the now extended group will go and find some actual food. IS runs out and checks that a table at the local Indian Restaurant is available and the group walk over. Cries of ‘Heatseeker’ and ‘Wiggy’ can be heard throughout the town.
730PM Day Two – Indian Restaurant Wroxham
The group are ordering and ‘Dad’ confesses that he’s never had an Indian meal. The Manager comes over to help him choose food, while all around huge amounts of Naan Bread, Tikka, Rice, Jalfrezi, Vindaloo and Phaal are ordered, along with thirty bottles of beer to get started.
Dad – ‘What should I have?’
Manager – he has a pleasing West Country accent – “whatever you like, but I’d go for something gentle or even something with chips if you like.’
Dad – OK, I’ll probably go with something with chips, but I keep hearing them order Phaal and laughing – what is that?
Manager – leans in and whispers – ‘don’t even try it, it’ll burn your fucking arse off’ – he walks away grinning
10PM Day Two – The Groom’s Dad and others now have a two hour drive back to Essex and beery and loud farewells are said. The car drives away to cries of “Wiggy and Heatseeker’
The group go back to the pub and actually behave themselves.
1AM Day Three – The Boat
Nobody has thrown up, lost any keys, fallen in the river, stolen anything or even shouted, the group go to bed and agree that tomorrow they’ll head upriver before their welcome runs out.
9AM Day Three – The Pub
The Group go into the pub to say goodbye. They’re given a fond farewell and leave the bar, stealing a few souvenirs along the way, including the signs from the toilet doors.
9:30 AM Day Three – The Boat
The boat is now back on the broads without incident, it’s a blisteringly hot morning and The Drunk, Keeper of the Beer makes a sad admission.
TD – ‘We’re out of beer’
TA – ‘What, how?’
TD – ‘Well, we fucking drank it all I suppose’
Bio – ‘No, what he means is, that you were supposed to fucking tell us so that we could buy more yesterday’
TD – ‘Sorry’
Bio and TA in unison – ‘Cunt’
TG – you do realise that it’s a fucking Sunday and we’ve got hours to go before we can buy some more?’
TFI -‘Let’s put some music….’
IS – leans across the CD Player, ejects the AC/DC album and skims it at a passing boat. ‘Fuck off we’re never playing that fucking track again’
11AM Day Three – Maps have been consulted and the boat is heading for a small pub with a berth and there’s a shop within half a mile.
Bio – ‘I can’t take any more of this’
He climbs onto the roof of the boat and waves at other boats on the river, having caught their attention, he strips off completely and dances completely naked for at least fifteen minutes, cupping his genitals and shouting general abuse at boats passing by.
The madness passes and he climbs back down.
Bio – ‘Where’s my clothes’
TG – ‘About a mile back I think, they were sinking when I last saw them’
Bio storms off to his cabin while the boat veers dangerously as IS is laughing too hard to steer.
The owner of a small cabin cruiser takes it upon himself to lecture the group on river safety and retreats quickly in a hail of abuse and empty bottles.
12PM Day Three – Riverside Pub
TA and TG decide to be the grown ups and walk to the village shop while the rest of the group get the beers in.
TA -‘Why the fuck is TFI your best man?’
TG – ‘Well, I proposed at a black tie do for Trafalgar Day in his solicitor’s garden and he caught me unawares – and drunk too I suppose. Still his heart is in the right place, even if he is a fucking nightmare. He booked this because his girlfriend told him that it would be safer than us all flying abroad, I don’t think that it occurred to her just how badly we can fuck things up.’
TA – it was funny but why did you throw Bio’s clothes in the river?’
TG- ‘Did you see those scars on his legs?’
TA – Yeah, they look newish
TG – ‘They are, the mad cunt tried to hit me out of the blue on a night out with IS and TFI and he wouldn’t stop, so I accidentally put him through a shop window. He was lucky for a couple of reasons, I thought it was a wall behind me and a piece of glass as big as your arm missed his neck by an inch. ‘
TA – ‘Fuck me, but….’
TG – ‘I dusted the silly cunt down and we went to the pub, the landlord called the police and I told him to go and get a cab, He wandered off and by the time that the old bill turned up, IS and TFI were there and we just fronted them down as they couldn’t prove anything. Then they were all grinning and there Bio is standing behind me, covered in blood and looking stupid. When I asked him what he thought he was doing, he just told me to Fuck Off. We were lucky that we only had to pay for the window.’
12:15 PM Day Three – The Broads
TG and TA walk into a tiny village store.
They gather up a mass of sausages, burgers, steak and bread. They pick up two portable BBQ units and as much beer as there is on the shelves.
TA – to Shop Owner – ‘Do you have any more beer?’
The shopkeeper goes to the store and leaves the assistant, a young lad, to start the till.
TA – ‘We’ll take all your porn too please’
The assistant blushes furiously and the shopkeeper returns with two more cases of beer.
TA and TG stagger to the nearby pub to get a beer and call a taxi, there’s no way that they can carry all they’ve bought back to the boat.
12:30 PM Day Three – Village Pub
TA and TG stagger in with their load and order a couple of beers from the splendidly bewhiskered landlord who’s naturally curious as to what’s going on.
TG- ‘I’m getting married in a few weeks and we ran out of beer on the boat, so we’re moored at the pub on the river and we’ll have a BBQ later today.’
Landlord – ‘Lovely, well, if you want a drink later. I’ll be having a lock-in’
TG and TA ‘YES PLEASE’
They leave the pub after a short while and take a taxi back to the pub on the river.
1:15 PM Day Three – TG and TA are walking through the pub garden, four well dressed, obviously wealthy and local women are sitting at a table and one of them calls out.
‘Where are you going with all that?’
TG- ‘It’s my stag do, we’re having a BBQ on the boat later, you’re welcome to join us. ‘
The women exchange glances and have a quick chat, they scribble something on a piece of paper.
‘No, you’re OK. BUT. If you want, we’re having a garden party at my house, here’s the directions by water. I’m Jane by the way. Maybe see you there later.’
TA and TG smile broadly and after dumping the food and booze onto the boat walk into the pub, the remainder of the group are at a corner table. Cries of ‘Heatseeker’ and ‘Wankers can be heard.
1:45 PM Day Three – Riverside Pub
IS – ‘Are you joking, we’ve all been invited to a party?’
TA and TG – ‘Yes’
IS- ‘could it be a joke?’
TG – Yeah, or a Deliverance type thing, we should have a go though.’
2:45 PM Day Three – The Boat
The group have been following the river for a while now and the prospect of this being a joke or worse seems to be becoming more real, the river has narrowed and is covered over by trees, somebody is humming ‘Duelling Banjos’ as the boat moves slowly into:
2:55 PM Day Three – The House
A private mooring outside a large house, the group walk through the gate into:
2:56 PM Day Three – The Garden
A huge garden, there are over a hundred people there, a marquee and a band is playing soft live music. The group immediately tone themselves down, separate and join the party, champagne is free-flowing and everybody relaxes. It’s a wonderful, unexpected surprise and the hosts are incredibly warm and welcoming.
4PM Day Three – The Garden
Jane to TG – ‘I hear from my dad that you’ve had a few dramas on your boat, it sounds awful, he said that you’re really upset?’
TG – ‘Oh that was your dad, he seems really nice, yes, the boat is pretty fucked if you look at it and the worst of it is that it’s all stupidity. I’d be less upset if we’d had genuine accidents, we’d still have to pay, but the boatyard has a ton of work to do, so they can’t even turn it around when we go back tomorrow. It’s all a bit depressing. ‘
Jane – ‘Sounds it’ She cocks her head and gives a little smile. ‘You don’t know who we are do you?’
TG – ‘Er…. No…. erm.’
Jane – ‘Well you know that you hired your boat from Blakes….’
TG – ‘Fuck me – no..’
Jane – ‘Yep, my dad is Mr Blake, you’ve just told him everything, I’d have a drink if I were you. Also if you want company tonight, me and the girls will join you at the other pub – see you there at seven?’
TG wanders off, legs slightly buckled at what’s happened.
5PM Day Three – The Boat
Is now moored back at the pub and the group are drinking bottled beer as fast as they can, tomorrow is when the boat goes back and they’re fucked. There’s very little conversation.
6PM Day Three – Village Pub
The group enter the bar and shake hands with the landlord, they order drinks and wait for Jane and the others. There’s a small group of young locals giving them dirty looks, but nobody can be bothered to even look at them by this stage.
6:55 PM Day Three – Village Pub
Jane and her friends join the table, one of the locals calls out but they totally ignore him and an animated conversation ensues.
10PM Day Three – Village Pub
The pub will close in a few minutes, TG and TD have to visit the toilet to make room for the lock-in drinks. There’s a tap of TG’s shoulder and he turns to take a punch in the face from one of the locals. It’s not a good one and he licks a tiny drop of blood from his lip before grinning at the local.
TD – ‘We don’t want any trouble, don’t hit him back’
TG – continues to grin at the local
Local – ‘you were asking for it, flashing your money around and hanging out with those rich slag…’
TD has punched him through the door and he’s lying dazed and beaten on the bar floor.
The group have taken up scattered positions around the bar – ready for a fight, the locals that were being hostile seem stunned. TG waves the group to get them to stand down.
TG – to Landlord – ‘We’re so sorry, this little wanker just sucker- punched me, but it’s best if we leave I suppose, but just to be clear, he can’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag and I was going to let it go – He called Jane and the girls slags, we’re not taking that…
Landlord – eying the locals carefully – ‘It would have been nice to drink with you tonight, you seem like good men, I’ll make sure these little shits don’t follow you, although it might be nice to see them try, good luck lads, hope the wedding goes OK.’
10:10 PM Outside the Pub
TG to Jane – ‘Sorry the evening ended like this, it’s been a genuine pleasure to meet you all and we’ll all ‘- he nods at the group ‘remember your generosity and niceness for a long time. Please tell your dad that we’re sorry and that we’ll pay for any damages without argument, just give us the bill. ‘
They hug and all parties go their separate ways
8AM Day Four – The Boat
TG is steering and the boat is now heading back to the boatyard and the reckoning of the bill.
Bio -Anybody want breakfast, we’ve still got all that food, I’ll cook.’
8:30 AM Day Four – The Boat
Bio has appeared with cups of tea for everybody and there’s been a sound of clattering and sizzling of frying pans for a few minutes, the smell of bacon and cooking meats permeates the air and the group begin to smile.
8:32 AM Day Four – The Boat
The smell of cooking has been replaced by the smell of burning plastic and smoke and flames billow from the galley bellow, TG stops the boat and runs below to see:
8:33 AM Day Four The Boat – The Galley
The Galley roof on fire, there are two portable BBQ units on top of the stove and they have spilled burning charcoal everywhere and creating small fires on the floor. Bio is having a minor meltdown and is panicking.
TG throws the fire extinguisher at Bio and grabs the BBQ units with the oven gloves and throws them overboard. A haze of extinguisher gases comes from the galley.
IS – ‘I don’t suppose you saved any sausages?’
8:36 AM Day Four – The Boat
Bio – arising from the galley, scorched and sooty – ‘Behold’
A plate of sausage sandwiches
10:35 AM Day Four – Blakes Boatyard
TG to the group – ‘There’s no point us all being here, take the stuff to the bus and me and TFI will see how bad it is.’
The Group trudge off and TFI and TG watch the same boatyard hand that gave them the boat walk towards them. he doesn’t look happy, there’s still an occasional whisp of smoke and the boat looks as if it’s come from Dunkirk.
TG – ‘Hi, there’s a bit of damage…’
Blakes Man – ‘WE KNOW. WE KNOW…. I have a message for you from Mr Blake’ He sneers and squints at TG and TFI. ‘Have a great wedding, please never come back.’
TG – ‘Is that it?’
Blakes Man – Yes, go on piss off’
TFI – ‘About our depos…. TG- ‘Shut the fuck up and let’s get out of here’
They walk to the minibus, the sun is shining and TG is grinning like an idiot.
This is all fiction right*, Hey Netflix, I’m available for discussion if you want to film this.
Every single word is true and I’ve forgotten some of it
We were lucky enough to meet some extraordinarily generous people who turned a trip into an experience that’s lasted in my memory for over half a lifetime and I thank them all.
Just under three years ago, you came to see me for the first time, you brought that black dog and another human who’s since vanished – bit of a pattern with you by the way, how many came and went in 18 months or so? What? Move on? Yeah OK.
I was in that place in Warrington and I confess that it wasn’t going that well, I’d been in for a while and had already been through two other human homes with erm…. bad results. I bit one of the bastards as they were holding me down while bringing that bloody hoover thing near. What?
Yes. I know. I bit you a couple of times too. But it was all scary. You took me in a car, another strange house, new smells and new rules.
But, bit by bit, we got used to each other and I wasn’t as scared anymore. I know you like photos and if you look at the ones that Warrington took, it’s obvious that I was scared and upset all the time.
Since then, we’ve done so much.
We’ve gone all over the country and I’ve been able to play on beaches on different coastlines, run in forests, climb mountains with you and have the space to go off by myself and make new friends.
Yeah I know he nearly killed me, but it wasn’t his fault, he was a bit panicked and I don’t remember much apart from flying through the air and waking up at the Vet with you telling them that they couldn’t stop you coming in to the room with me, (something about a disease, blah blah), but it was only a cracked rib and I made sure that they wanted you to come and get me as soon as you could.
The fact that I couldn’t walk for a while was an issue and although I’m glad that you got me fixed, TWO OPERATIONS… TWO.. That wasn’t fun. Thank you I suppose. It was nice of you to sleep on the floor with me rather than caging me up. I suppose..
But, all in all. It’s not been too bad, I have days when I’m not overly happy that you brought HER in, she’s a bit big, a bit young and a bit pushy. I’m glad that you finally worked out that the last operation gave me arthritis and give me something every day so that I can actually run around.
And now we have the new house, more space than ever before and you don’t disappear as much as you used to.
So. To sum this up, you’ve done OK in the first three years, lots of work to do, but I guess that I’ll stay.
I’m in Adelaide as I write this, I was in Sydney yesterday, fly back there tomorrow evening and will be back there for a day or so before I finally fly home.
The timezones are messing with my head, it’s half an hour earlier in Adelaide than Sydney and nine hours ahead of London in Sydney. I went to bed at 10 last night and got up at 4am today…
Or… I went to bed at lunchtime yesterday and got up before dark. It’s all a bit strange.
It’s a work trip, it’s not been horrible, but for large parts of the day – or sometimes, the whole day, I’m a stranger in a strange land. I don’t mind that too much, I’m happy to stay in the shadows when it suits and I don’t feel any burning need to meet or talk to people.
Occasionally I’ve felt like a ghost, flitting my way through the living, walking quietly, unheard and sometimes unseen.
It doesn’t help that I miss these two monkeys and worry about them and all the people back home, but needs must and I’m doing everything I can to make this trip a success, doing hands-on IT work and playing geographic politics so that we can actually make some real changes.
I could easily be negative about the whole thing, but, in truth, this is a great opportunity to fix some things that would otherwise be very difficult and to do some long overdue catching up. I’m very fortunate that I have a few friends in the Sydney area and have done beers and dinner with them, along with a very special Sunday lunch where I caught up with a couple that I haven’t seen for over 10 years.
We drank, we reminisced, we discussed the dead and the living, we drank, we discussed ageing and the issues with ageing parents, we drank, we discussed careers and the trivial minutiae of living in Sydney / rural Shropshire, we drank, we discussed my stag do and the unique way that our Norfolk Broads boat was returned to the boat yard – holed above the waterline, missing some of the roof and scorched by a fire, we drank, we looked at old photos, we drank, we discussed their wedding and the beautiful location above a river where the ceremony was held – just opposite their house – and we laughed.
I left their house feeling as if the previous ten years somehow hadn’t happened, it was a great moment and I’m still smiling now.
We all need a personal connection sometimes, what’s struck me while I’ve been here is how friendly people are when you do talk to them and how much they seem to want to help, to be supportive, to make a connection, it’s probably due to the lockdowns and extended restrictions, but it’s evident in every shop and bar.
And it’s nice.
I’ll go for dinner (beer) with some Australian colleagues tonight, fly back to Sydney tomorrow night and go for drinks and dinner with my friends on Thursday before I fly back.
We’ll make a few more memories, laugh some more and hopefully they’ll be over to the UK this year.
I can introduce them to these two then – that’ll be interesting *
* possibly terrifying – but it’ll definitely be memorable. (I Hope)
A lot’s happened since then. I had a garden office built, went solar and invested in a Tesla Powerwall so that I could de-disk electricity supply issues.
I also adopted Cairo as a friend for Milo, had a couple of breaks and have effectively given up my day job to help steer a huge programme across a number of companies that fall under the group umbrella.
Coincidentally, the company that employs me has an issue that needs somebody from the UK to go to Sydney to untangle some issues.
I was asked.
I said that I could. But. Oh damn. I’m unvaccinated. Shame really. This wasn’t disingenuous, I’ve been twice and don’t need 48 hours on a plane or long days abroad at all.
And I don’t fancy leaving the dogs for ten days either… Cairo in particular frets when I’m gone for even a day.
Except. New South Wales entry requirements on their website says this.
So it seemed that I could go. The thing is that this trip ties in nicely with the new role and i can get a lot accomplished much more quickly than if I don’t.
Remember, I’m unvaccinated, at first I was hesitant, but that position has hardened over the past year and there’s no chance at all of me taking it now.
So I applied for a visa that allowed me to work for a while and was pleasantly surprised to find no vaccination questions and it was granted within a minute – very impressive.
Flights were booked via Etihad and I found a nice hotel near the office.
I then contacted business people and friends in country to sort out meetings and beers.
So far, so good.
Australia requires you to fill in a Digital Passenger Declaration, but you can’t do that until seven days before you fly, So I filled mine in while on holiday with the doglets in Wales, it’s a simple document and it clearly gives an outcome.
Except it doesn’t. I fully expected to be told to fuck off – as I don’t meet the current standards for the federal government according to the DPD.
Except I wasn’t. But there’s no way I’m taking a risk at check-in as to whether I can fly, but luckily, the airline has a service that can do this for you.
Only 72 hours before the flight.
So I tried to call. I got an automated service that told me nothing. So I tried live chat. Frustrating and quite sad in a way
So I tried a few other numbers and eventually talked to a human. Probably in India. They told me to check their website. The call didn’t go well.
I have a good friend in Sydney and he spent three hours on the phone with the authorities. He sent me a mail.
This basically stopped me cold, I did try to ring the consulate, but they pointed me at the same number as my friend.
So I had to wait until this morning to fill out the online form for the airline.
That was seven hours ago, I doubt I’ll get an answer today.
I genuinely don’t care if I have to cancel or not (part of me would like that). But the Australians seem even more fucked up than I ever thought possible.
I’ll wait for the outcome as to whether I can fly, but until then, I’m neither flying or cancelling.
And then. And then.
Within an hour of my self imposed deadline to cancel the flight on Monday 4th July at 14:30 – the Australians dropped all restrictions and tests. For the day of my flight.
I was just finishing walking the dogs on what felt like the first real day of spring, we’d walked for miles, taken in a pub lunch and Cairo – the new dog, a rescue from Shrewsbury had been off-lead for the first time. It was glorious- then the phone rang.
It was Shirley’s care home and those calls always give me a sinking feeling and today was one of those days where things weren’t great.
The care home itself is lovely, it has views over Richmond and Shirley can see the castle from her window. The staff are amazing and there’s never been a moment when Shirley hasn’t been looked after. She broke her hip a while ago, but the team helped to get her back to normal amazingly quickly.
This call wasn’t about care though. It was about the lingering psychological damage Susan and her little crew have left Shirley with. See True Detective and all the subsequent posts for some grim reading.
This call was about the subject that I always dread. Shirley’s address book. It comes up every few months and – every few months, I have to tell Shirley that all her contacts and therefore relatives – are lost forever because some psycho cut her and Arthur off by design.
And so, I spent ten minutes or so going through the story with the lovely lady from the care home and giving her the script to play back to Shirley.
The address book is gone. It was probably gone as long ago as 2017. I searched the house after it went on the market and none of Arthur and Shirley’s possessions were there. Susan had effectively removed their existence.
We closed the call and I promised to get up there soon- not easy these days, a seven hour round trip, but..but.. there’s nobody else really.
And, by that time, I was home and did the automatic checking the phone for notifications thing.
There was a WordPress notification
Somebody claiming to be a relative of Shirley had reached out, they gave details that only somebody who knew Shirley could possibly know. And they gave an email address.
I mailed it and asked for a phone number.
And received one within minutes.
I called the number and it was a nephew – the son of Shirley’s sister.
He told me details that I’d never heard of and gave me information that will open the roadblock to getting Arthur’s pension to Shirley. He has two siblings and one lives an hour away from Shirley.
They’ve been looking for Shirley too and my blog was the first information that showed them that she was still alive. His wife has done some amazing detective work on this and so, within thirty minutes of an awful phone call, the best news that I’ve heard for years came along
The home now know their details and they’re on the official list to visit etc. (I have to agree visitors because…….)
Oh and that photo.
It’s Arthur and Shirley’s wedding day. I’ve never seen it before. It’s being sent along with others to Shirley.
A minor one to be sure. But a miracle nonetheless.
Keep fighting. Keep hoping. Sometimes it’s worth it.