Beestonian in Blackburn….

Not much to write about as stuff I want to write about I can’t legally write about due to impending court case, so heres a little story, set a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

I’m 21 (no, not now, back in the midsts of time in those halcyon days of the early nineties), and I’m in the town of Blackburn, which I am sure is all satanic mills and grimy post-industrial gloom most days, but its a late July evening, and the sun is turning the whole place gold. I’ve had two pints of local ale, and its fondly sitting on a fish and chip tea and making me feel light and gently elated.

We embark to a Working Man’s Club, we being myself;  Bonehead, a Geordie with an uncanny resemblance to the eponymous then-Oasis guitarist; Anthony, a friend who would later to go on to be a stupidly  successful photographer; and Anthony’s mother, a divorcee who we were staying with that weekend after deciding our mutual home, a  dank towerblock that sprouted like gloomy stalagmites from  Newcastle Upon Tyne’s WestEnd, was driving us insane.

Working Men’s club are quite the best places to get drunk, and I have done in many. In a Catholic one in Liverpool, drunk on schooners of sherry, I made a huge faux pas by asking in the toilets where the condom machines were (I wasn’t in need, they were more conspicuous by their absence) ; in Skegness, within the Miner’s Welfare, we would sneakily steal drinks and decant them into our bottles of Panda PopS to make odd gloopy cocktails and then giggle madly into our Seabrook’s Crisps, before begging parents for 20p to have a go on Meteors. Within Nottingham itself, many happy days were spent sat on benches watching the slip into mild oblivion of parents, relatives and people I assumed were relatives for years until I discovered ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunt’ were just easier to explain than the multi-tendrilled way they were warapped round  our kin.

In Blackburn, the bar was heaving,but the serving was swift, no complex things here. Vodka and coke were the most exotic thing on the menu, generic lager, bitter and mild the norm, served in plastic mugs not for safety, but for speed. The taps only turned off when the barrel died, a constant stream, a river of booze splaying out into two hundred streams, each one filling a vertiacel plastic pond, which drained just as the river flowed once again back into their directions.

The prices were, as you can expect, hugely cheap,  free from greedy brewers or a need for any inwards investment of the place other than new j-cloths to wipe down the benches. Thus, the rounds were frequent, the pints downed fast, less the ambient summer heat and the convecting warmth of flesh on thin plastic curdle the contents.

We fell in with Anthony’s mother’s friends. They were composed of a type of woman that made Pat Butcher seem demure;  menopausal, hairsprayed, decked in leopard-skin and diaphanous garb that made them look either like Liberace/ Tarzan’s love-child or a Quality Street.

Wonderful, bawdy women of an calibre I adore, a type of woman virtually unchanged since Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, through Shakespeare’s lewd ladies, and latterly as the matriarchs that underpin any soap, think the Bet Lynchs, the Elsie Tanners…..never your mother, this is no Freudian thing, but your mum’s mate, maybe, who winks at you with your twinkling eyes, sending adolescent shudders down your back as for a terrifying moment, you imagined them younger. Years of joining my Gran down St.Apleford Bingo Hall (RIP) where for two wonderful hours, life was a Beryl Cook painting…

So it was with no hesitation that I found myself invited to sit between two of the women, crashing Superkings, fielding jokes about toyboys, when a hand fell on my thigh “You’re a lovely lad, you are” I blustered a thank you, turning to see a perm sitting atop a face not a million miles from Les Dawson’s Dolly, and she turned her head from my gaze, coquettishly, then as she squeezed her hand even higher up my thigh, purred with a voice borne of a million Rothmans:

Ah’m a reet slapper me, d’ya fancy a bag of crisps?”

Ah.

Eek.

Ummmm..

“I’m, I’m, I’m allergic to, errr, potatoes-need the toilet”

I extricated myself from a talon-like grip strengthened through years of Bingo dobber dobbing, and rushed towards the gents, though my innards were far too constricted to relax into micturition.  I slipped to a point diametrically opposed to where she sat, and after I had gathered myself, returned to my friends.

I related my story provoking not the expected sympathy but howls of beery laughter, and as they simultaneously stopped bending double in splutters and I realised I was directly in HER eye-line….a bag of crisps sails across from her, whirling like a Shuriken cutting through the blue smoke leaden air, and into my chest, where my arms by reaction clenched them, a heaving, salty bag of busom. I froze, then, under the gaze of amazed, too- shocked- to- laugh eyes of Anthony and Bonehead, opened the packet, and offered the crisps to their open jaws. Bonehead looked down at the crispy glories, then back up at me, and said  with a deep Geordie burr: ‘Haway man. Divnae offer us yer love tokens noweh’.

Reader, I married her.*

*not at all true, I went back to Anthony’s mums, Bonehead drank too much, and wet the bed we were all sharing.  The End.

Beestonian Reflections.

I first announced the existence of Beestonia many years ago on the sublime LeftLion website right here: clicky. I then decided that it wasn’t just another glib idea, possibly in one of those moments you may also consider that dancing is a great idea, we should all club together and buy our own bar, and, overwhelmingly, another bottle is a FANTASTIC idea. The idea gestated for many months within, as I went onto WordPress to furnish a nursery for my future offspring.

Then, one drunken evening, my contractions kicked in, my waters broke and sploosh, my cerebral uterine expelled the kicking, wailing baby of Beestonia, helpless, screaming, piping loud.  From then on I knew I would have to embrace this horror  as both a  lifelong project and a terribly mis-thought out metaphor that would take a life of its own, once nurtured with red wine and insomnia. Beestonia suckled to my breast, reader-less, hopeless and in much need of nutrition.

I have no anniversary hook  to hang any retrospection off , but since the Teri Lou stuff I have been having to explain his place more often than I ever expected, as people ask on what justification I can give through my self-description as a ‘writer’. A few things here seem to have attracted attention, and while readership is still tiny, it’s a fair bit more than three of my mates and someone who is too drunk to type ‘ESTONIA’ into Google.

Yes, this is akin to  a one-hit wonder band playing a gig and pretending anyone there gives a flying fox for material off that 12″ b-side  they released in ’92, but let’s have a little look at what happened after writing a few articles back in those heady days of 2009 and January, 2010.

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wibbly wobbly camera effects as we slip back in time

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My first proper article was one on Beestonia and the Recession. I write it, and a few months later Belle and Jerome attract capacity-swelling custom willing to spend £6 on a glass of wine instead of its former incarnation as Greenlees greasy spoon 70p tea, the Crown throws out Sky TV and replaces it with original features, subtle lighting and good, well kept ale. I predicted Beestonia was going to only thrive, and I was right. I will now lick my typing fingers and make a hissing noise.

I then wrote about such stuff as beestonia-state-limits, beer ,  the fact the Welsh have no word for orgasm , a liddle birra politics and a liddle birra more politics ,  and the still majestic, and still not offered me a job as editor of the Beeston Express (sort it out, ducks).

Then I got my first real surge of interest when one delirious night, I typed this out in the throes of serious dehydration and flu-inspired madness and thought as I pressed ‘publish’,  ‘thats crap, I’ll delete it’. Then my MP decided to brig it up, as did absolute strangers, and this 24hour garage people became a bit big. Big, as in me dad read it as well as me mum. And possibly Gordon Brown.

Science, then the Olympics.

Then, returning to my heartland after a week away in the South West, I wrote about how the Tesco-procured desolation in the centre of Beeston. I truly got the sense this was a great thing, as did a few people who contacted me (including the Beeston Express, ta) about how this was not a daft concept butterflies. A week after, Tesco called in the bulldozers and flattened the very sanctuary I had recognized. This is, according to Beestonologists, the first example of the now common Curse of Beestonia. Of which more of will follow. Read on.

Autumn passes, more Rioja inspires more typing from the self styled Benign Dictator who has now got so self-important he refers to himself in the third person. I write of the incredible apparition of a Creationalist Tent at St. Apleford Carnival as the soft fragrances and shades of golden brown envelope Beeston; and the harshness of Winter’s arrival is manifest in the pessimistic dystopian vision of Future Beestonia.

I write about refugees, and Dragons, and then the Curse of Beestonia strikes as I write about the  false fear of crime in Beestonia . I get burgled three days after.

Christmas rolls round, and she enters my life. I had, past-tense intentional, a wonderful girlfriend, yet when Teri Lou appeared everything changed. Its been very odd, and quite delightful, to see what I thought was a bit of only-just-funny mucking around go big, and see people actually ask me for updates rather than having to foist them on them with a promise of bribes or threats of self-harm. It has totally swamped Beestonia, apparently 86% of hits here have occurred  since she arrived. That was less than two months ago. I thank her….

Then I write about about Beestonia’s culinary majesty with a good friend from Lahndahhhn, and what happens? 30 hours after if goes to press, the Curse of Beestonia hits nothing less than the  Worlds Best Restaurant, El Bulli closes. Obviously Ferran Adrià, the best chef in the world, saw his days were numbered by the sheer majesty of Humber Road Chippy’s wonder, and decided to quit before he was humiliated by his inferior batter.

As all dictators do, I embraced my power and decided to take it further, and really up the ante by talking about death . My uncle, a wonderfully amusing and loving bloke and father to a large and well-raised family dies a few days later, leaving my auntie K, who worked with me at St. Apleford Co-op for years in my  student days and  is  indescribably irreverent, funny and just downright good. Its evident that this world is nothing but a cold random void.

Or is it? My lottery numbers for this Saturday are 11,12,13, 23, 31, 36. Ye Curse of Beestonia, strike, strike!

Death, Cricket, Beestonia.

Death. Funny old thing, innit?

I’m not a goth. I was for about 3 minutes in the early nineties, dancing down Rock City to ‘Temple of Love’ by the Sisters of Mercy, thinking ‘this is fun, maybe I should consider a crimp of the fringe’, but then ‘Babies’ by Pulp came on and I slipped back into the groove I’ve steadfastly bumped along down since, where corduroy and a rakish cut of gib is revered over kohl and daft big boots.

But I’ve been weirdly lucky with death. Mercifully, theres not been a ot of it in my life. When my two gerbils, Itsy and Bitsy died when I was seven, I was so heartbroken I thought I’d never laugh again. That thought lasted all of three minutes, when my dad buried them in the back garden in a little chocolate box and then had to dig them up after realising he’d inadvertently interred his wedding ring in the process.

My first experience of a funeral didn’t take place until I was well into my twenties. A lovely man called Robin who I worked with in Portugal had a tragic accident and met a untimely death, at the age of 21. He was a lovely, lively kind  and funny individual, a rare gem in the terrible characters that comprised the vast majority of the ex-pat community. Still, death pays no heed to such qualities, hence Nick Griffin still drawing breath. I headed to Bristol for his cremation.

Its not a place, the Chapel, to find humour. Yet there was, and I only tell you this tale knowing that Robin would have laughed as heartily as I did had he not been lain in a coffin when it occurred.  Just before he went into the furnace, ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon played. I wept, not at the song which I always have been quite cold towards, but knowing that he had really passed, and we’d never enjoy a caneca on the roof of our favourite bar as the sun sank over the endless Atlantic.

The final chords drained away, and the vicar conducting the service took to the pulpit once more and with a little tic crossing his pallid face, assured as all that ‘Despite the opening lines of that song, I can tell you that there is definitely a heaven’.

I had to leave. Luckily a fit of giggles is easily mistaken for hysterical crying.

I then experienced death in a very visceral form as my wonderful gran went from laughing and flirting with the QMC doctors to slipping into a coma and thus into death over a heartbreaking few weeks, through a deterioration of a  razor sharp mind that had been so wonderfully humane, hilariously funny and absolutely irreverent despite a terrible life of loss and poverty. There was no amusement here, my heart broke a million times, as I swabbed her mouth with pineapple juice as she slipped from consciousness to provide some respite from the thirst she was only just aware of . When she ‘passed’ (a term I instantly bristled at, as it suggested a transition of states, not the absolute end as she and I both believed in) I thought I would never see any humour in it. Until we found she had her funeral paid up with the Co-op since 1978, and despite a long phobia of all things equine, had spent money on having her coffin taken from her house in Stapleford to West Park cemetery in Long Eaton by a horse drawn carriage, stopping traffic and causing hats to be doffed en route by all roadside.

Her wake was possibly the funniest experience of my life, as we drank a whole pub dry over recounting anecdotes of her life, and toasted her life with brandy, Baileys and lager, her holy trinity of booze.

I best lend this some context.  A couple of great Beestonians died recently,   i was saddened to hear Beestonia’s top journo, the dapper John Brunton, had met his demise over Christmas.  My sympathies to his former widow Adele. And Bill, who I have known for years as a staple in the pubs I drink in but only got round to talking to last year, had also gone. You know him, if you are a Beestonian, he was a little plump contented little man with a lovely smile, a roll-up always on his lips, and ambled between the Crown and the Greyhound for his bitter, of which he was an expert. RIP, my gone too soon friend. Not only this, but this morning a good friend of mine texted me to say that after a long, hugely amusing chat over the phone last night, she now had my cremation plans written on a box of Jaffa Cakes.  I am in no way planning an exit sometime soon, more ran down that particular conversational avenue through a chat that encompassed most of the weirdness of the world. It came from this final anecdote. If you need a wee, go now. I would hate to ruin your furniture.

My ex-landlord, a Charlton Heston lookalike octogenarian called Geoff , was called to give the eulogy for his wife who had succumbed to cancer. Her death was a mercy, for she went in the two years I knew her from a mobile, twinkly-eyed old lady into a bed-ridden, confused shell long aware no doctor on earth would ever whisper the word ‘remission’ into her ear. Her spirit had long departed, and when her physical form eventually followed, there were tears, yet relief.

Geoff , a man of tremendous dignity, got to work on planning the cremation, and invited myself, my girlfriend at the time,  and my fellow housemates to the ceremony at Bramcote Crematorium.  Decked in black, Kleenex stuffed firmly in pocket, we marched into the hall.

We heard about her life, her work in teaching, replete with testimonies from students now approaching retirement, and her campaigning for educational reform. We nodded respectfully. Then Geoff stepped up.

Now, Geoff was, and i use that tense as he died shortly after his wife, he was a man who loved two things in life, his wife and cricket. He thus had written a speech weaving the two together. It flowed well, he threw in some good metaphors ‘She had a good innings’ , ‘She was indefatigable at the crease’, and so on. England were about to embark on a tour of Australia to defend their dominance against the Antipodeans two summers previous, and Geoff saw this was too good a chance to pass up.

Now, I have told people this before, and they have dropped their jaws and assumed it couldn’t be true. I swear it is, I swear in the spirit of things on the very grave of all the aforementioned. I now hand you over to Geoff, albeit mildly  paraphrased due to my memory being a bit rubbish. Thanks for reading.

‘Our relationship was no easy Test. She could bowl googlies, I would knock them away, she’d bat a four somedays, a six the next. She never failed to amaze me. She was Grace, she was wonderful. Shes now gone.

‘Despite that, there is a consolation. While I will leave here today heartbroken, distraught at the loss of my love, I can at least claim to something that the English Cricket cannot in a few weeks…I’ll be leaving here with the ashes’