Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Rat Catcher, the Farmer's Guardian, and the long trek to Dowry Head Farm

1984 was a year full of political unrest. Globally the Russians and the Americans were playing a game of my missile is bigger than yours, nationally Arthur Scargill and Maggie Thatcher went head to head in the battle for Britain's coal mines, and locally I was preparing to begin my last year at school in a futile attempt to not become one of Maggie's Millions (3.5 million unemployed).

It's this last point that I want to focus on. You see, I wasn't really designed for school. My concentration levels didn't really lend themselves to such a regimented organisation. One minute I'd be taking it all in and thinking I was on top of it, and then the next I was desperately trying to copy off everybody else because I realised that I'd zoned out for 15 minutes, and had no clue what I was supposed to be doing. With this in mind, I'd dread Parent's Evening. This was one of the only times that my my poor old mum (God rest her soul) would get dressed up, and put a bit of perfume on. She'd get a bottle of Charlie every Christmas, but Parent's Evening was one of her only opportunities to wear it. She'd leave the house, all smiles and full of false optimism, and return a few hours later, to break the news to me of how bad I was doing (though she never really did). "Mr May says that you're a lovely lad, you try very hard in his classes, and you have lots of friends," was about the best (and worst) I'd ever get out of her. What she didn't tell me is that I wasn't even being put in for O Levels, because I was deemed too thick to do them. "You'll be doing all CSE's then love!" she'd say, with a kindness in her voice that belied how she must have felt inside.

If you think, that given my lack of abilities in the academic department, I'd make up for this with hard work. Then think again! I was a proper lazy little bastard, who made any excuse not to do any task that may have been bestowed upon me. "Can you get the Flymo out and cut the grass love?" my dad would politely ask. "No, I can't,  I've got hay fever," would be my reply. Can you wash the dishes please love?" my mum would ask. " I can't, it makes my fingers all dry," I would respond. The list went on. I had an excuse for every task.

As you can imagine, my mum worried a lot. She was mainly concerned with how I was going to gain employment when I left school in the summer of 1985. So, you'd think that she'd be happy when I got my first job, in the spring of 1984. But I don't think she was! The job was that of paper boy for King's newsagents on Helmshore Road. My friend Carl Green asked me if I wanted the job, and like a fool I was lured in by the cash. To a 14 yr old £6.50 sounded like a lot of money, I mean most paper rounds only seemed to be paying £4 tops. There had to be a catch! - should have been the question on my mind. Why would Carl give me the job if it was so good? But this thought didn't cross my mind. All I knew was that I was getting paid £6.50 per week to deliver papers 2 times a day. Now in retrospect I should have really asked how many miles the paper round was, or how many papers I'd have to deliver. But these were questions that never entered my mind.

My mum's fears were not without foundation.

In 1978 a young paperboy by the name of Carl Bridgewater was blasted in the head with a shotgun as he delivered papers to an isolated farm in Stourbridge. It was a case that gripped the nation, and more importantly a case that gripped my poor mum's mind, in such a way that, although she was desperate for me to prove myself in the job market, she was more desperate to make sure no harm ever came to me.

"Are you sure you want this job love? Maybe you could help your dad a bit in his workshop, and we can give you some money!" my mum would say. But alas, my heart was set on becoming a paperboy, and earning the astronomical amount of money that King's were going to pay me.

And so it was that I turned up for my first shift, sometime in March of 1984. I'd been told to get to the paper shop for 6.00 am. Of course this seemed ridiculously early, so I decided to wear my school uniform to bed. This idea served a twofold purpose - 1. I could jump out of bed and go. 2. When I finished my round I could ride my bike directly to school, thus saving time. I had to be a school at 8.45 am, so I assumed I'd have loads of time. Little did I know!

I arrived at the paper shop a little past 6 am. And there was my first mistake! Dishing out the papers into each individual (bright orange plastic) paper bag was done on a first come first serve basis. Since I was the last in the queue (everyday) I was always the last out of the shop. Which was rather unfortunate it turns out, because my round just happened to be the longest by far.

Exiting the shop I'd head off down Helmshore Road, delivering to the cottages on my way down. Unfortunately for me these cottages were set back from the main road, in an elevated position. This meant that I had to clamber a mountain of stone steps to enable me to reach their letter boxes. By the time I'd reached the sharp left hand bend by the Bridgend Pub I was already knackered. This was a great pity, for it was here that I had to ascend Helmshore Road up the White Horse Pub. This section of the road was inundated with houses on both sides, and they all seemed to want a newspaper. It was also home to a few interesting characters, including Anthony Drake's dad, who had a quiff that Elvis would have been proud of, and who would not have looked out of place in a 1950s film on Teddy Boys. A little further up from the Drake household, on the opposite side of the road was my most dreaded house. It was here that the Rat Catcher and his mother lived.

Until I started the job I thought the Rat Catcher was a village myth. I pictured him to be a cross between the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. A skinny guy in a hat, dressed in black, with an enormous nose, who walked around Helmshore blowing his pipe, whilst luring rats to their demise. When I eventually got to meet him, he was just a normal guy with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, and a bicycle to keep him company. The rumours were true though, he was indeed a Rat Catcher, employed by the local council to rid the parks of rats. If the Rat Catcher seemed a lot more normal than I expected, the Rat Catcher's mother did not. And it was the mother that filled me full of fear.

I'd dread posting the paper through the Rat Catcher's letterbox. A pungent whiff of damp, dirt, and dead animal would assault my nostrils with force, as I opened the letter box to fling the paper through. I'd already be retching in anticipation before I opened the flap. Then as soon as it was open my stomach would reach new levels of revulsion. In the beginning it was OK, because I didn't know what to expect, but when I knew what lay in store for me it was like hell on Earth. It was probably fear that prompted me to fuck up the delivery on a daily basis.

The first time I fucked it up wasn't too bad. I'd only got a few doors up the road when the door burst open, and out came the Rat Catcher free wheeling his bicycle. "You've given us the Mirror instead of the Express," he informed me quite politely. I acknowledged my mistake,  gave him a copy of the Express, and away he rode, off to catch his rats. But when I did it again the next day his mother did not take too kindly to it. "You've given us The Sun instead of the Express," she bellowed from her doorstep, as though I'd just killed her cat. I walked back to her doorstep with my arm outstretched , through a mixture of fear and disgust at having to go near her. As much as I didn't want to face the object of my fear I could not help but focus on the large grey hairs that protruded from her chin. When I was close enough, she grabbed the Express, and threw The Sun down on the ground.

"Now don't be doing that again," she shouted at me.

"I won't, I won't," I replied - (desperately trying not to add Mrs Rat Catcher to the end of my pleas).

But I did! In fact I seemed to fuck Mrs Rat Catcher's newspaper up every single day. So much so that by day 5 she was waiting behind the closed door to receive her wrong paper. As I stuck the Mail, or Today, or whatever wrong paper I put through her door that day, she grabbed it from the other side, and almost pulled me through the door. What ensued was a game of tug o' war, which left the newspaper in tatters. I won the battle, but she most definitely won the war. As I staggered backwards with a ripped up newspaper in my hands, she came bombing out to confront me.

"Mrs King will be getting to know about this," she hollered. "Don't you be coming around here again with my wrong paper!"

I pedalled off as fast as I could throwing papers through people's doors at a furious pace. Quite unafraid that they may be the wrong ones. I was in trouble for sure anyway.

Once I reached The White Horse pub my round took me down Holcombe Rd for a while, before heading back up Holcombe Rd in the direction of Holcombe Village. Beyond The White Horse pub Holcombe Rd became quite isolated (especially at silly o'clock in the morning). On more than the odd occasion I became enshrouded in an early morning mist, where the only thing really visible, was my bright orange newspaper bag. And let me tell you this! On Wednesday mornings that bright orange bag was far from light. For Wednesday was the day that the dreaded Farmer's Guardian came out - and boy did my round have a lot of farmers on it.

The Farmer's Guardian for those that have never seen it (most of you I reckon) was (maybe still is) the thickest magazine you'll ever encounter. Think Yellow Pages before the Internet came along, and you'll have an idea of the thickness. Now, stick 10 of those in a bag, along with everybody else's papers, and you'll understand my pain. By the time I'd reached the dog kennels a mile up the hill, I was almost dead from exhaustion. Thankfully the dog kennels owner had the decency to leave a plastic tube at the top of their enormously long driveway, so that I could just stick their daily paper in it. I think that a trek down their drive and back would have just about finished me off.

Next up was the worst part of all. I had to leave the road altogether and follow an ancient Pilgrim's path up to Dowry Head Farm. This was the path that monks would take on their way to Whalley Abbey in the 12th Century. God, how I hated this ride at 6.45 am! My only solace was that I'd already offloaded all my copies of the Farmer's fucking Guardian.

This was well before mountain bikes became a thing, and my BSA Javelin was not designed for such rugged terrain. To be honest it was more of a hinderance than a help. Not only did I have to lug my bag up the hill but I had to push my bike as well. In the distance I could see Dowry Head Farm through the fog, although it never seemed to get any closer. To be honest I didn't really care, because all I could think of at this point was poor Carl Bridgewater getting his head blown off in 1978. Although the odd thought of the Moors Murderers (Brady and Hindley) did cross my mind.

The local MP David Trippier was purported to live at Dowry Head Farm, although I never saw him, so I can't confirm whether this was true or not. What I can confirm is that I practically shit myself every time I entered the grounds of the place, and was very happy to jump on my bike and bomb off down the hill in the direction of Sunnybank Cottages, once The Daily Telegraph had been delivered.

Before I reached  Sunnybank cottages I had to deliver to a posh court-yarded mansion, whose garden was bigger than two football fields. I don't recall the name of the house now (maybe the Old Stables),  but what I do remember is that it was split into two halves. One half was owned by a couple called Ted and Lorraine, and the other was owned by the local mayor, Shelia Oldham. Ted and Lorriane were famous locally for owning a Rolls Royce, and Shelia Oldham's enormous garden became famous for a while in the mid-eighties when an enormous sinkhole opened up in it. This led to much speculation that an alien spacecraft had landed in her garden.

A few papers through these doors, and on to Sunnybank cottages. Beyond Sunnybank cottages was a massively steep hill, which meandered its way to Great House, and the Experimental Farm (better not  to ask what happened here). The hill was so steep that I had to leave my bike parked up at the bottom.

Once back down the hill my arduous journey continued through the old Porritt's factory site, and former Sunnybank Mill. These had long since been knocked down - the enormous chimney the last thing to go in 1977, when the eccentric steeplejack Fred Dibnah (my dad's hero) blew it up. The whole site was kind of eerie at 7 am, with old pieces of apparatus and bricks semi-hidden in the overgrown grass. I'd cycle through this at pace, on the homeward stretch, back to the bottom part of Holcombe Rd, which was home to The Grot Shop. A shop that you'd only go in if you were extremely desperate. Which was most unfortunate since it was the only shop for a long stretch. And that was basically it. Once past the Grot Shop, it was homeward bound. Drop down the hill, past the four-storey buildings the locals called the Grandstand, round the bend by the Bridgend pub, and back up Helmshore Road to King's paper shop, where I would invariably get a rollicking for delivering all the papers to the wrong houses.

After one week, my mum would take pity on me, and come and collect me half way around my round. "Come on love!" she'd say, "throw your bike in the back of the car, and I'll take you to school." And it's a good job that she did, or I would have been hours late.

And that was it, my first job. It felt like I did it for years, but in reality it probably only went on for a few weeks. All in all it was an early warning that I wasn't really cut out for the world of work. Sleeping till 8.15 am, jumping out of bed, and dashing across Rossendale golf course to Haslingden High School, was far more enjoyable, than a four mile trek around the moors of Rossendale at 6 am. If one good thing came out of my paperboy experience though, it was that I realised that I could gain a few extra minutes in bed the next morning if I went to bed in my school uniform. Well, they do say that ever cloud has a silver lining.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Glastonbury 2017 - Almost mingling with the stars

After another disturbing breakfast of cold coffee, squashed packaged croissants, and an infant sized yoghurt, (which I eat with my fingers) I'm launched once more into the arena of pleasure they call Glastonbury. After yesterday's brush with a real security role I have my (sticky) fingers crossed that there'll be no repeat of this. Yeah, it was nice having a little dance to Elrow, but now my feet are killing me, and I'm in no mood to be snatching people's drugs from them.

As the rota is called out it seems that I'm missing from it. Maybe they'll forget all about me, and I'll be afforded the possibility to enjoy Glastonbury at my leisure, I think to myself. An idea which gains momentum in my mind with every passing second, until I'm approached by my boss, who rather unpleasantly bestows a task upon me.

"Andrew, you'll be with Rochelle," he informs me.

Rochelle for those of you who read part 1 of this tale, was my truly blonde companion of yesterday, whose lack of intelligence was matched only by her lack of motivation. Somehow she holds an advanced security badge which means that he puts her in charge of our one walkie talkie. I'm unsure whether it's her constant reluctance to answer it that's most baffling to me, or the fact that there seems to be no consequences for her lack of communication. In any case her inability to push the button and talk back to our boss is to my benefit.

"You and Rochelle are going to patrol the inter-stage section," he instructs me.

Until I arrive in the inter-stage section I have no clue what he's talking about, and indeed it takes me a further few days to work out the exact borders of my area. You see, Glastonbury is made up of hundreds of stages, tents, and venues, and I say this with no exaggeration. However, there are two main stages, the Pyramid Stage, and the Other Stage. You've guessed it, my area of patrol was between these two stages. But I was in for an even bigger surprise.

"Can you and Rochelle patrol around the hospitality section?" my boss asks me. "Just walk around making yourself visible, and work it out amongst yourselves when you want to take breaks."

I can almost hear the angels playing their harps. Hallelujah! We've just been placed in the most interesting area of the whole 900 acre site. This is where the A-list stars can walk around relatively unbothered by the general public. I mean, it's not just for them! You can pay a shit ton of money to be allowed the privilege of potentially meeting your idol, but in general, this is a place for the rich and famous. Furthermore I'm wearing a luminous green security outfit, and have all the right bands on my wrists, which means that I can access all areas. Not only have I gotten into Glastonbury for free, but I'm getting paid to mingle with the stars. I couldn't have written the script.

The area in question is a small field surrounded by bars and restaurants, and populated by pretty much life size models of jungle animals, which are randomly positioned around the place. Amongst these animals is is a rather fragile looking zebra, which looks as if it could fall to pieces at any minute. Indeed the extremely irritating radio broadcaster Chris Evans had to be thrown off the zebra (by our security guys) in his early morning broadcast in case it collapsed under his weight. An action which he vocalised on his breakfast show to anybody that had the patience to listen to him.

There's not much going on in the field of dreams, so when we're asked if we can help move some furniture around we willingly oblige. This chore takes us about 30 minutes, and rewards us with free meals and drinks for the next 4 days. The chore complete I sit down to my free VIP breakfast which should have retailed at £10 (bloody rip off if you ask me).  In the words of the late great George Formby - "its turned out nice again!"

Once I've finished my posh meal I decide to go for a wander around the field, more to walk off the breakfast than to instil fear into any potential terrorist. As I wander around the VIP area I periodically encounter other security team members who are generally hidden behind trees, or barriers whilst indulging in the pleasures of a cigarette.

The weather is most convivial and would lend itself to a pleasurable stroll if my feet were not in such agony. To help combat this pain I strike up a conversation with everybody I encounter. This has a twofold effect, 1, It takes my mind off my feet. 2, It means that I can stand in one position, thus not irritating my feet even further. It's whilst engaging in conversation with one of the festival goers that I'm alerted to the fact that some of the Game of Thrones people are walking around my patch. Not being one to watch Game of Thrones I couldn't confirm whether this was true or not, but one of the ladies in question (a skinny blonde) wanders around with such an air of self importance that I suppose it could be.

To one side of the hospitality field there is an opening in the fence that is guarded at all times. I beeline for this opening, and realise that beyond it is a field full of teepees. Three people guard this entrance at any one time, two people from a different security firm, and one from ours. Well in theory one person from ours, but in reality our whole crew seem to congregate here. For the next 4 days I spend practically my whole time around this entrance conversing with whoever else is there. Whilst young (highly privileged) kids wander in and out in various states of fucked-up-ness.

Being the gatekeeper to this privileged den of iniquity does not come without its benefits. The biggest benefit of all however is the fact that I have access to super clean toilets, which are practically always unoccupied. For as long as I remember I've heard only bad press about the Glastonbury toilets, but here I am getting paid to take a shit, whilst sat in silence, on the throne of the rich and famous.

Suitably lessened of my load it became routine for me to have a wander over to my mate Matty's domain, where he was guarding even more famous people's winnebagos.

"Alright there And!" Matty would welcome me. Before launching into a list of who he had just been chatting to.

"Just bumped to David Beckham there la," he'd casually throw into the conversation, or "You'll never guess who I've just seen?" Followed by yet another A-list celebrity such as Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. Oh yeah, I'm not kidding, they were all there. Meanwhile I had to make do with giving directions to Jules Holland's daughter, who introduced herself by informing me that she was the daughter of Jules Holland. When noticing the look of "I don't give a shit if you're Mahatma Ghandi's daughter" upon my countenance, she added "not that it makes a difference that I'm Jules Holland's daughter." Needless to say, I sent her in the wrong direction.

Matty would then leave me in control of the winnebago entrance whilst he went off for a 2 hour shit. During in which time I wouldn't meet anybody of any interest apart from Hooray Henry's with far more money than brain cells. Inevitably when Matty returned he would have just been having a chat to Michael Eavis (Glastonbury owner), or some other equally prominent figure. Although I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the deputy labour leader Tommy Watson, who Matty was engaged in conversation with about his autistic niece. The aforementioned politician even gave Matty his personal email address.

On one of the rare occasions that my boss managed to get a message through to Rochelle that was actually passed on to me, I was told to go to one of the gates to relieve somebody so that they could go to the toilet. When I arrived at the said gate I took up my position and checked with one of the other two ladies there to see which wrist bands I should be letting through the gate.

"It's complicated," she whispered to me, with a wry little smile upon her face.

Intrigued by this comment I pushed her for more information. Until she could take no more of my interrogation, and took me to one side.

"This is the top of the A-list chain," she informed me. "David Beckham just came through the gate, and Brad Pitt before him," she whispered in my ear.

Right! I thought, this should make things more interesting. Not two seconds later somebody attempted to walk through my gate, and I jumped into action to fulfil my role.

"Can I see your wrist bands please?" I asked the guy. An oldish fella donned in a panama hat, and surrounded by an aura of confusion.

He promptly pulled up his shirt cuffs and let me examine his bands, which unfortunately for him were not the correct ones.

"Sorry, you can't come in with those ones," I informed him. "You're got to have a silver one with blue stars."

The fella, although a little disgruntled, was compliant. He walked away fifteen paces and whipped out his smart phone. For the next ten minutes I kept him in the periphery of my vision as he attempted to ring his friend. Eventually he gave up this task, and once again approached me.

"Can you just ask my friend Sarah to come out and let me in?" he pleaded with me.

"Of course!" I responded. "And who should I say is asking for her?"

"Angus Deayton," came his response.

Well, I almost exploded with excitement. Many people may not know Angus Deayton. But back in the 90s he hosted a news quiz show called Have I got news for you! Only he was thrown off the show for engaging in wild (cocaine fuelled) parties. By the look of him now he'd engaged in a little too much of the old Bolivian marching powder.

Not 5 minutes later I spotted Lilly Allen walking past sporting a pink wig, and holding the hands of her two children. Having a massive crush on Lilly Allen, I found it hard not to spontaneously combust. "Lilly Allen just walked past," I yelled out, "look, look over there," I pointed - quite unable to contain myself. This prompted my boss to take me to one side to remind me that Lilly was in fact wearing a pink wig so that she would not get recognised, and it was highly inappropriate of me to be yelling out to all and sundry that she was in our proximity - especially when I was myself wearing a fluorescent green security outfit.

When the person I was relieving came back from his marathon toilet session I returned to the hospitality section to see which celebs had passed by in my absence. "Bradley Cooper just came through," I was informed by my co-worker, and "Emma Willis is over there." I looked across at where she pointed, and was confronted by a short dark haired girl, whom I didn't recognise from Eve. These were no good, who I really wanted to see was Liam Gallagher. At least he'd be good for entertainment value.

The next day my dreams were almost to come true. Liam had played the previous day, and I'd actually managed to see his act. Indeed he was one of the only acts of the whole festival that I got to see. I'd made sure of that. Well, it seemed that Liam had spent the whole night partying, and when I came to do my morning shift I was informed by the night crew that Liam was in one of the teepees with Johnny Depp. This I had to witness for myself. And to enable me to do this I positioned myself by the teepee encampment entrance and refused to leave. I waited, and I waited, until eventually his road manager came out, a lovely fella by the name of Spooner. Spooner and I engaged in a wonderful conversation about Manchester music, and got on so well that I thought that it would definitely lead to me meeting Liam.

Five minutes later, and there's a huge surge of people heading for the teepees. The object of their attention is a bloke that appears to be Liam Gallagher. I use my security status to push my way through the crowd, fully expecting to come face to face with the former Oasis frontman. Only it's not Liam at all - it's an impostor to the throne. This fella has the swagger, the clothes and the sunglasses, but it's definitely not Liam. I strike up a conversation with him to find out exactly who he is, and discover that he's the keyboard player with Scottish band The View. A band that I partied with back in 2007 at a Primal Scream after-party in Liverpool. I jog his memory about this particular evening, and to my delight he remembers it well.

"You were all off your heads on acid," I remind him.

"Aye, aye, we were, we were all fucked up that night," he replies.

"Do you remember having a discussion about Enid Blyton (children's author)?" I ask him.

I take his blank expression as a negative. But that's OK, at least it's given me a lead in to chat to him. And he seems very eager to chat to me, probably down to the fact that he's just consumed a large quantity of high grade cocaine. A subject he is not shy to discuss with me.

"I'm totally wired," he informs me, "been on it all night in there."

I choose this moment to ask him if Liam is still in the teepee with Johnny Depp. I figure that he'll spill the beans if he's totally wired. But he has no need to answer this question, for at moment, in the periphery of my vision I see a guy in a large hat and a fur white jacket. I'm standing a distance of around 30 ft away, but I'm pretty convinced that this is Johnny Depp. As I stand and stare, my new friend tells me that he's off to the bar to get some more mojitos. As he walks off he sticks his hand out behind him for me to give him a high five. But I'm stuck in two minds whether to shake his hand or to give it a slap. So I lunge forward as if to slap it, but then decide to shake it halfway through the manoeuvre. Which results in me falling to my knees, whilst holding his hand as he drags me along. Not that he seems to notice.

I'm attempting to recover my posture when Spooner comes walking past and gives me a nod, before heading towards the teepee where all the action is taking place. And for a brief moment I decide that I'm going to follow him into the teepee to introduce myself to Liam, Johnny, and anybody else that may be in there. I mean, what is the worst thing that can happen to me? I won't get paid? I'll get thrown off site?  - fuck it! I'm going in! - and with these thoughts in my head I set off after Spooner as I half heartedly call his name. By the time I reach the party teepee Spooner has disappeared inside, and my bravery has dissipated. I turn and walk back to where I just came from. For one moment I thought I was going to do it. I even had the script in my head.

"Hey Liam, I love your music man! I've only seen one act this weekend, and that was you - and you were brilliant. I don't care if I don't see another act."

And in my head, he replied.

"What's your name man? Yeah nice one Andy, why don't you come in here and share some high grade cocaine with me and Johnny?"

I'm lost in thoughts of our imaginary encounter when I'm tapped on the shoulder and told that Jeremy Corbin has just finished giving his speech and there is a mass crush at the hospitality entrance. They require my assistance to help with crowd control. Reluctantly I leave the teepees and head to the gate.

They weren't joking about the rush of people. It's madness out there. Thousands of people trying to cram though a narrow entrance. To many, their only way of escaping the mayhem is by entering the hospitality compound, but they are denied this luxury because they are not in possession of the correct wrist bands.

"This is fucking crazy! It's madness! We'll have another Hillsborough on our hands!" Are just some of the comments that are directed my way. All I can do is shrug my shoulders whilst I deny them access to the compound of the rich and famous. But then another drama unfolds. A lady has a panic attack, and I'm left with no option than to abandon my role to tend to her. A task that I astound myself in sorting out.

Once the crowds have diminished somewhat, I walk back over to the teepees to see what the latest is in the Gallagher/Depp corner.

"You've missed him Andy lad,"I'm told. "He's been out for 2 rounds of mojitos while you were gone," I'm informed by Winston, a super cool black fella from bristol. "

"And do you know what he said to me?" Winston asks.

"No, go on tell me," I reply.

"He said, have you been on the magic mushrooms you, you cunt. You were white last time I saw you,"

And that was it. I never did get to even lay eyes on Liam Gallagher. A recurring theme throughout my whole Glastonbury week. Everybody kept spotting stars, whilst I had to make do with a washed out old TV presenter from the 90s. At one point I thought I saw David Beckham, alhthough he appeared to look young. It was only upon closer scrutiny that I realised that it was in fact his son Brooklyn. Another time I was told by Jack Whitehall's  (acid casualty) mates that they would introduce me to Jack himself. But guiding them through the site was like herding cats, and I managed to totally lose them on our way across the field. I did get a glimpse of soul singer Rag' n' Bone Man who was sat chilling on a model pirate ship. And yes, he is only human after all! I also inadvertently managed to give Huey Morgan from the Fun Lovin Criminals the knock back when he asked me for directions when I was busy. But apart from that I was only the recipient of other people's stories of their chance encounters with A-list celebrities.

The best of which I'll reserve for last.

On day 2 news came through to me that one of the security guards by the name of Dennis had just been battered by the DJ Goldie, and his daughter. I'd been chatting to Dennis (a nice South African fella) the previous day, so as you can imagine I was intrigued to find out the details straight from the horses mouth. I went in search of Dennis, and found him guarding one of the gates. It only took a glance at him to realise that the rumours that he'd been battered were in fact true. His nose looked a little skew-whiff, his eyes blackened, and a face a little worse for wear.

Upon questioning him I was to learn that he'd tried to prevent Goldie from entering his area, because Goldie was not in possession of the correct wrist bands. Now Goldie, not being one to be told what to do, did not take lightly to Dennis's refusal of entry. Our golden toothed protagonist swiftly punched Dennis in the face, which resulted in Dennis grappling him, and taking him down. Before he knew it Goldie's daughter was booting Dennis in the face. It was in fact Goldie's daughter that delivered the nose breaking blow.

Halfway through telling me this story Dennis suddenly pushed me out of the way and sprinted across the field in front of us. Where he grabbed a young lad and threw him on the floor. I was still trying to assimilate what had just happened, when Dennis shouted "SIT ON HIM!" An instruction which I followed. Within seconds we were surrounded by security guards, and the young lad whose rib cage I was crushing was getting arrested for possessing a large bag of pills. I'd reluctantly just ruined someones whole experience.

So that was it, my first Glastonbury experience, I was only 30 years too late to the party, and whilst I was there I'd ruined it for people. I intend to go back next time as a paying guest, and when I do, my inside knowledge will help me to evade the powers that be.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Glastonbury 2017 - The hunted becomes the hunter

"Do you want to go to Glastonbury?" My good mate Matty asked me over the phone, a month or so before the festival begins. "Too fucking right I do," I replied with all the hesitation of a man that had just been asked by Pamela Anderson if he wanted to fondle her tits. But there was a catch, there always is! The catch was that I had to work whilst I was there. A small price to pay for free entry to this most incredible of festivals. I'd been wanting to go for years but the process of buying tickets appeared to be long and arduous, with only a small chance of a successful ending (a bit like my sex life after 5 pints of beer).

The telephone interview for my job as a steward (security) went something like this. Are you a reprobate? (Internal dialogue - debatable) No! Have you ever done security before? No! What would you do if there was a bomb scare? (internal dialogue - shit myself and run away), make people aware of the emergency exits, and do my best to keep people calm. What are your strong points? (internal dialogue - Oh fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck! - I hate this question), I'm very approachable, friendly, and won't make people feel intimidated. What are your weak points? (internal dialogue - fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck!, and even more fucks! - I hate this question even more!), I'm possibly overly friendly.
Shit did I just say that? I'm going for a security job at one of the world's largest festivals, during a time when terrorism is at a critical level, and I've just told my interviewer that I'm overly friendly. Surely this can't be good.

But it was, it was almost as though he wasn't listening. As though he was just going through the motions. The interview ended, and although I wasn't altogether sure, I think I had the job.
A month later and I'm picking Matty up from his place on the Wirral. It's a soaring hot Tuesday afternoon, our spirits are high, and judging by the stash hidden in our bags, they're about to get higher.

"Get your sat nav on lad," Matty urges me. But I'm far too proud for that, I want to get to Glasto using only my inbuilt compass. We've estimated that it should take us a little over 4 hours to get to our destination, and we need to be there by 6 pm to comply with the security company's requirements. "We've got loads of time Matty, stop stressing" I tell him, when I see his agitation as we sail past the junction for the M56.

To cut a long story short, the journey takes us at least half the time again that it should have done because of a catalogue of geographical errors - which in itself is highly hilarious since we both met on a Geography degree course, and Matty is himself a Geography teacher. Amongst other notable errors on our way to Somerset was the taking of the M6 toll motorway, at a cost of £5.50. Had we glanced at a map we would have realised that this was a burden rather than a benefit to us, and resulted in us driving 20 miles in the wrong direction.
By the time we reach Shepton Mallet we've missed our deadline by some considerable margin. But more importantly we have to buy our supplies for the coming week. Thirty minutes of shopping in Tesco later, and we emerge with a shit ton of alcohol, a massive bag of ice, some crisps, and a bag of nuts.

To Glastonbury we ride.

Confusion reigns upon our arrival. Nobody seems to know what they are supposed to be doing, ourselves included. We scramble all our possessions together, and make our way up the grassy knoll in the direction of what we think is the correct entrance. When we eventually arrive there we are met by an endless sea of bodies who appear to have been waiting around for hours. Fortunately, although it's way past 7pm the weather is perfect and this being a day before the equinox it feels like midday. As we sit and wait with the crowds I notice a girl in her in 20s who is sitting there proudly displaying her young pert breasts in their full glory. It's as though we've jumped back to 1969 Woodstock. Not being one to hide my curiosity I find it hard not to stare at her chest, and attempt to take my mind off her boobs by chatting to people around me. My attempts unfortunately are futile.

It's an hour later before we realise that we've been sitting in the wrong queue. Gathering all our stuff together we return to the whence we came, and the whole confusing procedure of finding out where we're supposed to be starts again. Eventually we are directed to a portacabin, where we produce all our documents, and are instructed to wait. There appears to be something wrong with my documents, which prompts me to wonder if I passed the interview at all. This problem takes the best part of 90 minutes to rectify, before we join a large group of burly looking men with about 15 brain cells between them, as we walk towards the entrance. More confusion later, and we're in. No security checks, I hasten to add, have taken place.

By the time we've collected our security outfits, and been assigned our living quarters it's time to go to bed. The mere fact that our living quarters are referred to as The Jungle pretty much says it all. Thankfully I've never been to prison, but if I had I imagine this is how it would look. Our home for the next week is a gigantic marquee, which is filled with bunk beds on one side, and single camp beds on the other. It's obvious that there is a division between the two ranks, which has culminated in verbal assaults being thrown across The Jungle. The atmosphere could be cut with a knife (a little like the huge mound of white powder they're all snorting.) The bunk bedded area is occupied almost entirely by very menacing looking Glaswegians. That is, apart from me and Matty. For those of you that have never come into contact with Glaswegians, let's just say that Braveheart was no exaggeration. Even the meekest looking of Glaswegians will scare the shit out of anybody once he/she speaks. For want of a better phrase, they are hard as fucking nails. The sound of their collective snoring is like that of a dragon that's about to explode into fiery fury.

The next morning we're up early and after eating the worst breakfast I've ever subjected my intestines to, we're assigned jobs. Matty and I are assigned night shift jobs, which is totally against our requirements - so we play dumb and tell another supervisor that we're on days. Fortunately for us he changes our rota without consulting the first supervisor that has just assigned us the night shift. Matty sees that I'm about to verbalise this at volume and drags me away from the scene before I fuck up his good work. As we walk to our designated area I'm blown away by the sheer scale of the site. Apparently Glastonbury is the second biggest city in Somerset, which sounds impressive until you realise that there aren't actually too many cities in Somerset. Anyway, there's no doubting that it is bloody enormous.

The job I've been assigned is to walk up and down the line and relieve people if they need to go on ciggie or toilet breaks. Since they've only just been positioned there though nobody seems that arsed about taking a break. Besides which I'm not overly sure what my supervisor means by "the line". He's given me a brief description but it was all a bit wishy washy. I spend the best part of the day trying to establish exactly where my parameters are.

Unusually for Glastonbury it's not raining. In fact it's blisteringly hot. The heat is so intense that I gain anther duty, in the form of keeping the security team hydrated. Given that most of them are off their head on some form of drug or other (mainly ketamine or MDMA), this job is of vast importance. They're dropping like flies out there, but because they're hard as nails Glaswegians they refuse any form of liquid that doesn't contain alcohol. Once I've established that they'd rather die of heat exhaustion than look like pussies my job becomes infinitely easier.

The bands don't actually really start playing until Friday, and it's only Wednesday - this means that I'm on my holidays for the first few days of the festival, or so I think. I've agreed to a 12 hr working schedule with my employees, but it appears that (for the first few days at least) staying alive is my main role. As long as I avoid the supervisors I'm in for a cushdy ride.
Day one ends and Matty and I go for a walk around the festival site. It truly is enormous. I reckon you could spend a week exploring, and still miss bits. We have a few beers, listen to a DJ set, and then retreat to the civil war that is The Jungle.

Day two starts off pretty much as day one ended. However, today I'm assigned a partner. My partner is a blond girl who is 20 years of age. On paper this sounds like I'm on to a winner, but in reality she's a living nightmare. It's hard to decipher which gene she possesses the most of. Does her stupidity outweigh her laziness, or her laziness outweigh her stupidity? Conversation with my new partner is a laboured pursuit, and generally results in monosyllabic responses. That is, until I realise that we can have a reasonably detailed conversation if we talk about her troubled relationship with her insanely jealous fella. She looks to me for relationship advice, although after he dumps her the next day, she probably wishes she hadn't. Once she's been dumped her laziness enters an entirely new stratosphere. The only time I ever see her is when our boss has radioed through to her walkie talkie and she's been asked to find me.

Disaster strikes around 4 pm on the second day. I'm given a job to do. The Love Bullets tent is in full effect, as hundreds of eager kids take to the dance floor to worship a bunch of DJs, who seem to be collectively known as Elrow. Such is their popularity that my partner and I are radioed through to help deal with the chaos that ensues. By the time I arrive at the Love Bullets tent the party is well on the way, and my feet (which are crammed into new boots) are absolutely killing me. Although it's not even 6 pm the majority of the predominantly young crowd are manically off their collective faces. In a scene that is not too dissimilar from Wigan Pier circa 1994 (when I was in my prime).

I'm briefed by a muscular Asian fella from Bradford, who informs me that he's been trained by the military, and generally works for the anti-terrorist squad. I inform him that I've never done security before in my life, and that I would rather be off my face dancing to Elrow. This information does not seem to go down too well with my very right wing compadre, who was under the impression that I was on board with his political agenda - to confiscate all the drugs in the place, arrest everybody for having fun, and generally make their lives a misery.

My (Nazi) boss sits on top of a tower, which gives him a perfect view of this arena of pure and unadulterated pleasure. Meanwhile I'm ordered to circulate whilst maintaining eye contact with him at all times. If he sees anything untoward taking place he will point to the location of the criminal activity, and it is my job to go over and sort it out.

Fifteen minutes into my new role, and I'm under the impression that things are going well. I'm actually quite enjoying the party. And boy is this a party! The whole dance floor is enshrouded in a mist of dry ice, with machines that fire it like a cannon at the elated revellers. Add to this a cacophony of air horns, a parade of blue Avatar creatures, and more colourful head dresses than the Mardi Gras, and you'll sort of understand what's going on. Nitrus oxide seems to be the most visible drug of choice, which my Nazi boss doesn't appear to give two shits about, "If they want to kill themselves on that shite, then let em die", he tells me.

The pain in my feet starts to subside a little and they start to move to the beat. Much to the amusement of the crowd, who urge me on. "JUMP, JUMP, JUMP", they shout, excited to see a security guard having as much fun as them. "If my feet weren't blistered to high heaven, I'd be up there with you," I tell one bunch of dancers. The more they encourage me, the more I get into it. So much into it that I forget what my role is supposed to be. Although I'm rapidly reminded of my job when I feel a strong hand on my shoulder, and turn to face my irate boss. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he asks me. "You're supposed to be taking their drugs off them, not dancing with them," he continues.

I give him a fake apology and return to my role as a druggie catcher. Oh the irony, I spent half the 90s abusing "designer drugs" whilst trying to avoid the watchful eye of the bouncers, and now I am one of those bouncers. I'm reflecting upon this when I notice sudden activity in the corner of my eye. I spin around to be confronted by "the Nazi" jumping furiously up and down, whilst pointing at a figure on the dance floor. I'm offered no choice than to approach the person that he's pointing at.
The figure is that of a boy around 20 years old, who is nonchalantly handing drugs out from a carrier bag. As I approach he makes no effort to hide his wares. I shoot a glance at "the Nazi" who is giving me the thumbs up. My worst nightmare is unravelling before me. I'm about to ruin somebody's pleasure.

"I'm really sorry about this," I inform the raver.

"But my boss is watching me. I really don't want to do this, but I have to take your drugs off you.", I apologise.

I needn't have bothered. The kid is so far off his head that he barely notices that I've just taken his stash. As I retreat to my post I take a peak in the bag, which contains a big mush of space cakes. I later give this to "the fun Nazi" who promptly throws it in the bin.
"I was hoping it was coke so we could sell it.", he tells me. "what the fuck am I supposed to do with that pile of mushed up shite?"

What follows is a period of approximately 40 minutes where nothing untoward takes place. Well, nothing that my boss spots anyway. I see loads of illicit stuff going down but I choose to ignore it. Just as I'm feeling rather pleased at myself for being able to be getting paid to experience this I am faced by a catastrophe. Somebody grabs me from behind, and cries "please help, our friend has collapsed on the dance floor!" My internal dialogue once more awakes, and says "Shit! I can't think of a worse person to ask for help. I'm about as useful as a eunuch at a sperm bank."

I don't even have a walkie talkie, so I send somebody around to notify my boss of the ongoing tragedy. I did do a first aid course in 1985, but all I can remember is joking around with my mates as our lecturer gave mouth to mouth to a plastic dummy. I kneel down next to the young girl,  who is convulsing on the dance floor like she's in the process of been exorcised. Around me people shout conflicting pieces of advice "Give her water!", "No don't give her water!", "Raise her head up!", "No, raise her feet up!", "PLEASE just do something!". The last comment hits home, and I'm about to do something, I'm not sure quite what, when all of a sudden the girl jumps to her feet, and charges to the dance floor to bust some new moves. Just as she's running to the dance floor my boss arrives at the scene. "Is everything OK!" he asks me. "Yeah, don't worry it's all sorted now." I tell him, as if I had it all under control.

I spend the rest of my time in the Love Bullets tent either pretending to take people's drugs from them, or dragging them from the stage as they attempt to dance on it. Neither of these roles fill me full of glee, so by the time I'm relieved of my duties I'm ready for my bed. I can only hope that I will be offered a more convivial role the next day. I'm about to be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Gizmo's trek across the pond

"Right, I've done my bit, now it's your turn to sort out Gizmo!" Lee demanded, within a few hours of my arrival in the USA. Well, I had just spent 6 months travelling around South America, whilst she sorted out her recently deceased mum's house, so I hadn't got a leg to stand on.

By sorting Gizmo out she meant getting him ready for his transit across the pond. He'd been living in Buffalo now for over a year, since that snowy night he'd arrived just after Christmas 2013. Summer was fast approaching and we aimed to re-locate to England before it kicked in. Our original plan to teach English in Chile had pretty much fallen by the wayside when we'd realised that we couldn't cope without Gizmo in our lives.

To be honest I'd been dreading this journey for quite some time, given Gizmo's last long haul flight. If it hadn't been for the drugs this experience would have been a whole lot worse, and this time we were going to try him drugs free. We hadn't suddenly become all moralistic about it, we just couldn't get any drugs.

The first obstacle that I had to overcome was to find an airline that would take him. The Americans it turns out are legions ahead of the Brits with the whole air transportation of pets. Fortunately things had loosened up a little since 2012, and quarantine could be avoided if Gizmo met certain travel rules i.e he was travelling from a listed country, his documents were in order, and he was correctly vaccinated and treated for worms. We employed a local vet in Clarence, New York to assist us with all these requirements, and a nicer fella we couldn't have met. He had himself lived in Ireland, and had brought his pet cat from Ireland to the States. He was also a big fan of James Herriot, the famous vet who wrote a number of humorous books about his life as a vet in Yorkshire. In the 1980s a dramatised TV series was made based on his books and became essential Sunday night viewing for most of the population of the UK. Anybody who liked James Herriot was a winner in my eyes.

Finding an airline to transport Gizmo home proved a little difficult. It would have been fine if we wanted to send Gizmo by cargo, but this was never an option. We'd read too many horror stories about this which ranged from dogs freezing to death in the hold, to dogs running down the runway after the plane because the cargo arranger had forgotten to put them on board. After a multitude of phone calls and emails I came to the realisation that we could only get Gizmo back to England if we took a recognised route. And by recognised route they meant idiotic route. He was only allowed to reach English shores by ferry from continental Europe. Given that I was due a visit to Holland where I'd previously lived for 5 years, I chose Hoek Van Holland as my ferry port. Days upon days of Internet searching later, and I found a flight that would get both me and Gizmo back to European shores for the mere cost of $350 -  a bargain by anybody's standards. But there was a catch! There always is!

The catch was as follows. Lee would first have to drive me and Giz up to Toronto, Pearson airport, from where we would catch a Condor Air flight to Frankfurt, before boarding another plane to Amsterdam. Gizmo and I would then get the train from Amsterdam to Leiden (where I used to live). This part, granted was an optional extra, just so that I could get to walk Gizmo around the beautiful streets of historical Leiden before boarding the train to Hoek Van Holland. A short walk to the ferry terminal would follow, before catching an overnight ferry to Harwich. Finally, I would rent a car in Harwich and drive back to my sister's house in Manchester, some 260 miles away. If on paper this sounds like an ordeal, that's because it fucking was. But as much as I feared the trip, the challenge of it excited me greatly.

Eventually Lee's mum's house was sold, and as Lee, Gizmo, and I waited for our departure to England to arrive we moved in with Norma (Lee's amazing grandma). We were there for around 5 months in total, and very enjoyable months they were at that. Lee, not being a person endowed with patience, would make us dinner every night, before retiring to the conservatory to drink wine and smoke cigarettes. It was then time for me and Norma to watch classic films - Brief Encounter, Whistle down the wind, The third man, Casablanca etc etc. During our film nights Gizmo would sit on Norma's lap whilst she calmly stroked him. If he wasn't around she would shout out "where's Junior?" Over those months they formed a solid bond.

Despite her advanced years Norma was never one to miss a trick. If she thought that I wasn't watching the movie with the passion that she required, she would ask me questions about it, "What's the guy's name again? Who's so and so in love with?" etc. Of course she knew full well what was going on, but she also knew that I did not. Her questioning kept me on my toes. So it was not surprising that I looked forward to her toilet breaks, so that I didn't feel under threat to give the film my undivided attention. Norma's prowess was never to be underestimated though! As soon as she left for the toilet I'd breathe a sigh of relief, and get my computer out to check Facebook. Five minutes later she would re-emerge and almost instantly ask me for a synopsis of what had happened in her absence. I counteracted this by using Wikipedia to read the film's plot whilst she was gone, which ultimately meant that she had won anyway.

Before we knew it, it was time to leave America. Obviously our departure was tinged with sadness. It was the unspoken word that we may never see Norma again, but deep down Lee and I knew that was a highly probable outcome. Not to sound too morbid, but with Lee's cousins leaving Buffalo for New York City,  her aunt spending more time in Germany with her German husband, and with Lee and I heading to England, it felt as though a time was coming to an end.

On a more positive note, our vet John had promised us that all Gizmo's paperwork was in order, and he was so confident about it, that he gave me his phone number. "Ring me if anything goes wrong, but I can guarantee you that nothing will." Famous last words!

Then the day came, June 15th 2015. I threw my bags, and Gizmo's box in the car, and said my goodbyes to Norma. As we drove off from 765 Woodstock Avenue, Tonawanda in Norma's Toyota Camry, I shed a tear. Gizmo, it can safely be said displayed no emotions whatsoever, other than his incessant whinging as he fought to be liberated from his box

The drive to Pearson airport complete I said my goodbyes to Lee. Once she returned to Buffalo she would be boarding a plane bound for Manchester the next morning. The next time I would see her would be at my sister's house when my ordeal was complete.

The dreaded moment had arrived....

Unlike Delta airlines whom I'd used to fetch Gizmo from South Korea to The States, Condor Air could not have been any less welcoming. I walked onto the plane thrusting Gizmo's box proudly before me, expecting to get preferential treatment. Only to be told "make sure you keep that dog in his box." I pretty much made my mind up at that second that I'd be taking gizmo out of his box as often as I could. Fortunately for me the girl in the next seat fell in love with Gizmo, and wanted him to sit on her knee. The girl told me that she too had a shih tzu herself, and was missing him like crazy whilst she was on her travels. I couldn't have written the script. Whilst I got busy with the business of drinking as much free wine as was humanely possible, the girl next to me spent practically the entire journey mollycoddling Gizmo. This was much to the annoyance of our grumpy flight attendant who insisted that we return Gizmo to his box.

By the time the lights on the plane went out, and it was time for everybody to get sone shuteye, I was pretty much annihilated on red wine - and fit for fuck all. In this state of mind it felt like a great idea to take Gizmo out of his box so that we could cuddle each other to sleep. This, I was to find out, was not one of my better plans.

I've no idea how long I'd been out, but I woke up with a start. "Shit, fuck, bollocks...", was my battle cry as I realised that Gizmo had disappeared. Getting down on my stomach I began to writhe around under the seats in a desperate bid to locate him. Most of the passengers were by this time asleep, and my actions went by largely unnoticed. Unnoticed that is by everybody apart from the irate flight attendant who was walking down the aisle with Gizmo in her outstretched hands. "I believe you're looking for this!", she spat at me with such vitriol that I could only assume that she was a cat owner that hated dogs. It took everything in me not to retaliate with equal venom at her referring to Gizmo with such cold terminology.  "This is your last warning, keep that dog in his box!" she shouted at me.

When the plane touched down in Frankfurt I breathed a huge sigh of relief, stage 2 of the trip had been executed. And although it was not without hitch, he was now on European soil. The time between flights was minimal, and before we knew it we were airborne again on route to Amsterdam.

I wasn't sure what to expect when we arrived in Amsterdam. Would Giz and I have to go through rigorous scrutiny? The answer quite simply was no we would not. We exited the airport with absolute ease. Before we knew it we were on a train bound for Leiden.

The weather in Leiden was perfect. The sun glistened on the canals in such a way that I was filled with joy. Who would have thought that 14 years after I left this city that I loved so much, I would be returning with a 2.8 kg Shih tzu/ Yorkie in my possession. As soon as we got out of Leiden station I liberated the poor mite from his box, and put him on his lead. As I paraded him up the Oude Rijn, down the Rapenburg, through the Werf Park, and along Harlemmerstraat, he looked as though he was going to die of fatigue. Only a few more stages to go now and we'd be back on British soil. Months of planning, and thankfully it was all following the script. Nothing could go wrong now surely could it? Well yes it could!

Gizmo hated being on the train. By the time we arrived in Hoek Van Holland he was a nervous wreck. Running in every direction to try and get away from the noise of the train's wheels as they grated against the tracks. On the journey I met another girl who was in a similar situation to me. She was moving to England from Canada, and was bringing her dog with her. We chatted all the way to the ferry port, and continued to chat until the moment that we met the bitch from hell.

"You've got the wrong papers!"the bitch yelled at me, with all the compassion of a warden at a high level security prison.

"No, they're not, they're all good. We've been in contact with our American vet for months, and he says that they're good."

The bitch wasn't having any of it!

"Sir, these papers are not correct, and this dog is not boarding the ship," she told me.

"Well, I'll ring the vet then," I said.

"Ring the pope if you want, that dog is not boarding the ship,", she reinforced.

By the time I got through to John the vet the boat had set sail. John insisted that the paperwork was correct and offered his apologies. But alas there was nothing he could do.

As soon as the bitch knew that I'd missed the ferry she suddenly became nicer.

"I have a friend with a guest house in the town that takes dogs," she informed me. "He'll also be able to take you to the vets tomorrow to sort out your dog's papers," she continued.

By now alarm bells were ringing. I felt as though this was a well rehearsed scam to get money into the local economy. But I was not in a position to argue. My options were limited. The only solace I could take was the fact that she told me that if I could sort it all out by the following evening I would be able to travel on the ferry at no extra cost.

To cut a long story short. By the time the ferry set sail the following evening, all Gizmo's papers were in order, and we were onboard. Of course I was £200 lighter in my pocket, but by this point my only focus was to get him home.

Once onboard I was instructed to take Gizmo down to the hull of the ship, where he was imprisoned in a cage for the night. Leaving him there whilst I retired to my cabin almost broke me. Only one thing could ease my guilt. Well two things actually, a bottle of Cab Sav, and a bottle of Merlot. As I lay on my bed, drinking my woes away I flicked through the TV channels, desperately searching for channel 36. This was the CCTV channel to the dog cages. The TV would flick from cage to cage so that the owners could be tortured by the sight of their dogs looking desperately unhappy. I'd added a few comfy cushions to Gizmo's prison cell, but he'd elected to lie on the metal bars of the cage. Probably to make me feel even worse I imagine. Each time the CCTV imagine of Gizmo came back around he looked slightly more sad. So I did what any self respecting dog owner would do, slammed a few glasses of red, and stuck on Midsomer Murders instead.

The next morning I abruptly awoke. My alcohol intake had been such that I didn't immediately know what was going on. But then it all came flooding back to me. There were 2 burning questions on my mind  - Who exactly had carried out the Midsomer murder? Oh yeah, and how was my dog?

Once the ferry docked, I collected Gizmo, hired a Hyndai I 40 car, batted up north to Manchester, and the story was complete. The journey that had started some 1.5 years earlier with a taxi ride from my little village in South Korea (Anmin Dong), ended as I drove down Old Lansdowne Rd in West Didsbury, Manchester. Gizmo had been through 6 countries, on 6 forms of transport, travelling a distance of 11, 000 miles, and yet he was none the wiser. All he cared about was where his next chewy was coming from.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Gizmo goes Stateside

"I've got a dog", Lee sheepishly informed me, knowing full well that I didn't want one.

"What kind of dog is it?", I responded.

"It's hard to say really", she replied ,"he's kind of a weird looking thing."

And that was that! I was sold, I couldn't wait to see him.

Well, there's weird, and then there's weird, and fuck me, was this dog weird looking. A solid mass of matted hair, runny nose, and eyes that the devil would be scared of (but yet, still cute). He sat on the floor of Lee's apartment next to a small bag that contained all of his possessions -which amounted to a few toys, some chews, and a bunch of clothes (Korean's love dressing their dogs up). One particular outfit, a black and red hoodie, suited him the best, this was forever to be known as his orphan jacket.

The reason I'd been so hesitant about owning a dog, was because we were living in Korea, and I had plans to travel when I left. The last thing I wanted was a dog to hinder my plans. As soon as I saw him I knew that our plans were going to change forever. There was no way we weren't keeping this little bundle of fluff.

Gizmo, or Te hwan as he was known then, had been living with a Korean family for a few years, but for some inexplicable reason they had decided to get rid of him. Believe me, if you saw him you'd fail to understand how this was possible. The family had taken Te hwan to the vets and asked the vet if he could find him a new home. The vet had in turn taken Gizmo to the local dogs home, who had fostered him out to Jenna (an all round good egg, and avid lover of dogs). Lee, had met up with Jenna one night outside the local convenience store (Family Mart) in Sodap dong (their hood) and Gizmo and his possessions had been passed over.

All good and well, if it weren't for Lee's dick of a landlord, who didn't take kindly to Gizmo's separation anxiety whilst Lee was at work.

"Lee-uh, no dog-uh in this apartment-uh", he informed her when she arrived home from school. Korean's have a tendency to put an uh on the end of lots of words, in case you're wondering. Lee (who was still unsure whether she'd done the right thing in getting a dog) made the decision to return Gizmo back to Jenna. As soon as I saw him though there was no way this was going to happen. I got Gizmo in the car and headed back to my apartment on the other side of the city.

Soon after we got him we realised that he was scratching himself an awful lot. So much so that we took him to the local vet (who spoke very little English). The vet couldn't have been any sweeter. After examining Gizmo for a few minutes he made his prognosis - which he ran around the surgery shouting in Korean, whilst searching for his Korean/English dictionary. After flicking vigorously through the pages for a few minutes he suddenly shouted out in English "SCABIES - Gizmo has scabies". He then spent the next 5 minutes frantically hunting for scabies armed with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. His search proved fruitful. He beckoned us over to his microscope and triumphantly thrust his tweezers, complete with one of the scabies, under the lens. A more disgusting monster I'd never seen.

With the aid of medication we got rid of his scabies. And in order to try and prevent him from catching them again we took him back to the vets for a haircut. Bad idea! A severe lack of communication meant that Gizmo ended up with an almost total skinhead (apart from his ears and tail). He went to the barbers looking like a cute mogwai and left looking like an evil gremlin. If you've never seen the film Gremlins, try Googling it. He looked so scary that I was ready for turning around and leaving him there, but given his past my conscience got the better of me (only kidding, I would never). The problem was, that Gizmo knew that he was ugly. His whole personality changed. For one thing he was freezing. He'd just had his furry jacket sheared off, and it wasn't even summer. He submerged himself under the duvet and pretty much refused to come out, until his fur had grown back.

Over the next few months Lee and I got to learn all Gizmo's little habits, and eccentricities. For example it was soon apparent that Gizmo loved his bed time. His bedtime ritual was a sight to behold, even if it sometimes played on our patience. You see, the bed frame and mattress were approximately 3 times higher than Gizmo's body. If he stood on his back legs and jumped, his nose would just about come up to the bottom of the mattress. Not a problem right! We'd just lean over, pick him up, and put him on the bed. But as soon as we put him on the bed he'd jump off to go and pick up his toys, one by one. Each time he returned with a toy in his mouth he'd do his little whimpering routine until we picked him up. Half an hour later we'd be ready for bed. A passion killer for sure.

Once Gizmo's separation anxiety had died down a little, and we were able to leave him whilst we went off to school, we took him back to Lee's apartment. He'd been back there for a few weeks when Lee rang me up all excited. "you won't believe this", she told me,  "he sings". "No way", I replied, "I'm not having that". So Lee started whistling, and by golly, Gizmo started to sing. Not only did he look like a cute Gremlin, but he also sang like one. This dog was proving himself to be more special by the day.

The way it works in the Korean public school system is that you have to sign a year's contract. I'd arrived 6 months before Lee, and had just signed my 5th contract. Once she decided to leave, I still had to do another 6 months of my contract before I left. In October 2013 Lee headed off back to the States via New Zealand and Mexico, whilst I stayed in Changwon with Gizmo. It was decided that I would take Gizmo to the States just after Christmas, and leave him there before heading back to Korea to finish my contract. In theory this as all good and well, but in practice it was going to prove quite difficult. For a start I had to make sure all his paperwork was in order and all his injections were up to date. Hard enough when you speak the language, but many times harder when you can't string a sentence of Korean together. But, as always, I got by. The next big problem was sorting out his flight. It came as a great surprise to me that Gizmo was allowed to travel in the plane with me. All I had to do was get him a box, sort out a flight, and we were good.  Well we would have been good if Giz was a good traveller. But we knew from experience that this was not the case. Taking him on any form of transport was a living nightmare. As soon as he's in a vehicle he screams blue murder, and runs around as though somebody has scalded his tail. Given the fact that to get him back to Buffalo he would have to endure a 5 hr bus journey to Incheon airport, a 13 hour flight to Detroit, and then a 45 minute flight over Lake Erie to Buffalo - this wasn't going to be easy. With this in mind we elected to drug him for the journey.

"I'd like something to make my dog sleep on the plane", I told the vet.

"Ah, no, not so good Andrew", he told me. "Gizmo, maybe in ....... danger", he said, after much deliberation over his choice of words.

"Is there anything we can give him to make the journey easier", I enquired. I didn't add "for me", on the end of the sentence, but I'm sure that he understood me loud and clear.

"OK, OK, maybe I have something", he informed me.

My ears opened wide in anticipation.

Before I had time to interject he disappeared into the back room. A few minutes later he re-appeared with 2 pills in his hand, one blue, and one white.

"White pill, very good, Gizmo sleep-uh for maybe 36 hours", he said, and without a pause for my response continued with "blue pill, not so good, Gizmo maybe sleep, maybe not - but blue pill............".Unsure of the right word he once again flicked through his Korean/ English dictionary, before shouting out "LEGAL"

At this point I almost burst out laughing. It was my intention to ask him about the legal status of the white pill, but I'd already made up my mind that Gizmo was having it, so the less I knew the better.

Just after Christmas 2013, and the big day arrived. I had a 2 week vacation in the States to look forward to, but first I was burdened with the task of transporting Gizmo from my little corner of Changwon (Anmin Dong), via Incheon airport, to Detroit, and then on to Buffalo.

I had a plan....

My plan was to walk Gizmo up and down the mountain at the back of my house (Anmin Gogae), as many times as my legs would take me. I'd already established that Gizmo could walk all day, so I was the variable in this scenario. The walk was one that we were both familiar with. I was blessed to have such a wonderful walk right at the back of my house, and I would walk up Anmin Gogae as often as I could. The walk took about 1 hr 45 mins to get up and down, and the summit was graced with a most wonderful vista of 2 cities. On the one side of the mountain was the industrial city of Changwon, whilst on the other was the older coastal city of Jinhae - which was famous for its cherry blossom trees.

I managed to get Gizmo up and down the mountain 3 times, taking us a total of almost 6 hours, before my legs packed in. Gizmo would have made the trip another 10 times I'm sure, but 3 times was more than enough for me. Once we returned to the apartment I sat and counted down the hours, until it was time to pack him into his doggy box (along with his cuddly toys), and venture outside to hail a taxi. Packing him into his box proved more than a little difficult though, so I elected to crush the blue pill into his food to see what effect it would have. I wasn't technically supposed to feed him for 12 hours prior to his journey, but a little food surely couldn't do any harm.

Once he'd gobbled down the food I waited in eager anticipation to see what would happen. And I waited, and waited, and waited - but there was absolutely no change in his mood. The thought of giving him the white pill entered my head, and once it was in there, there was no getting it out, until the deed had been done. I mean, I started him off with a quarter of a pill, and then quickly added another quarter, and then another, and after seeing no change, the final quarter was administered. By the time this task had been completed it was time to go. With much effort I managed to get Gizmo in his box. The pill obviously hadn't worked - well not yet at least anyway.

Fast forward 30 minutes, and we're at Changwon bus terminal. Gizmo, who'd been restless for the entire taxi ride, was now itching to be released from his box. Tentatively I opened the box and waited for him to emerge. To my amazement he was out in seconds, although his legs were more than a little worse for wear. As he attempted to walk across the bus terminal floor his legs collapsed beneath him, and he fell over. Stable he may not have been, but determined he was. The little trooper picked himself up and proceeded to wander around the terminal in a fashion not too dissimilar from a drunken Korean business man after a night on the soju (Korean liquor).

The bus journey went without incident. It was a cold night, so I tucked Gizmo into my jacket, where he made the perfect hot water bottle. Five hours later, and we arrived at Incheon International Airport, located around 35 miles out of Seoul. It was my usual procedure to go straight to the spa pools, and sauna to freshen up after the long bus journey, but short of leaving Gizmo in an airport locker I didn't really have any way of doing this. I was still a little nervous that Gizmo was not going to pass the airport inspection because, well because he was drugged out of his mind - and drugging dogs was not looked upon too favourably. However, like most things in Korea the inspection was more of a formality than anything else. Gizmo was on his way to America!

I've often been heard criticising airlines in America, but Delta could not have been any better. They treated Gizmo like royalty. "Welcome aboard sir, and who is this in the box?..... oh Gizmo, how cute! Welcome aboard Gizmo! He's adorable!"

I'd dreaded this journey for months. I was sure that it was not going to go to plan. If you'd ever seen Gizmo in the car you see that my fears were not unfounded. Using the indicators (blinkers) sent his anxiety levels out of control, and he would squeal like a pig that was about to be butchered. The problem got so bad that I elected not to use them at all, because I deemed his adverse reaction to them more of a threat than turning a corner without their employment. I was convinced that the noise that the aircraft was going to make would cause him to go berserk. Obviously, I'd underestimated the power of the white pill. For the duration of the 13 hour journey Gizmo didn't make a peep. Every now and again I would unzip his box to make sure he was sill alive.

We landed in Detroit and eased through security. By now the drug was beginning to wear off though. Slowly but surely Gizmo was waking up. As I walked (dragged him) around the airport, the spring began to return to his step. By the time we boarded the plane for Buffalo, not only had he returned to his normal self, but he seemed intent on punishing me for taking him out of the game.

As the engines revved on the tarmac of Detroit Metropolitan airport Gizmo began to howl. It was a tiny plane with only single seats on one side, and double on the other. I'd somehow ended up right at the back on the single seated side. Behind me was the bathroom. "Fuck it!", I thought - I'm taking him out of his box. This was not strictly legal, but with only one flight attendant on the plane (who was making her way from the front to the back), there was little chance that I was going to get caught. And what if I did? It wasn't as though they were going to throw me off mid-flight.

The plane hurtled down the runway, the wheels thudding against the surface. Although I've flown hundreds of times I'll never get used to this. To say that it fills me with fear, is a vast understatement. I couldn't even imagine the fear that Gizmo was going through, as he stood on his hind legs on my knee, and attempted to look out of the window. His howling caused the man in front of me to tut very loudly, which in turn caused me to threaten him with an exit from the plane without a parachute. One thing was for sure, this was going to be a long 45 minutes.

As with all things though (whether we're enjoying them, or you are not), they come to an end. And let me tell you now, I did not enjoy this 45 minute flight over Lake Eerie one little iota. Between Gizmo's neurosis, my own fear of flying, and my ongoing argument with the man in front of me, this was the flight from hell. By the time we arrived at Niagara Airport, Buffalo, Gizmo and I were ready for a long rest. Not that he knew, but Gizmo was now a citizen of the United States of America. We still had to get him to the UK, but that was another year and a half down the line, and another story entirely.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

My fear of birds

As long as I remember I've had a fear of birds - my mum (God rest her soul) was no stranger to this phobia either. She once told me that my dad had taken her to the cinema to see Alfred Hitchcock's, The Birds, and she'd spent most of the film hiding under her seat. I often wondered if this is where I'd been conceived, and in some macabre twist of fate I'd adopted my own fear whilst still in the womb. I remember watching the film myself late one wintery Friday night, on my 14 inch black and white portable TV. Well I say I watched it, what I really mean is that I peeped at the screen from beneath the covers every now and again. Each time I emerged from my safe haven it would seem that somebody was getting their eyes pecked out. For months after I'd watched it I was too afraid to go to the toilet during the night for fear of having my toes pecked off by the murder of crows that had somehow wound up under my bed.

The real origins of my fear lay in an equally gruesome tale which I'm about to fill you in on now...

For the first 6 years of my life my family lived in a quaint little cottage (Sykes Cottage), in a picturesque little village called Osbaldeston. Sykes cottage was located next to Sykes Farm, which was a working farm run by the farmer John Walmsley and his wife Doris. The rent for the cottage (£6) was wavered because my mum did the milk round on a daily basis. The cottage may have been quaint and all, but luxurious it was not. The only bathtub was located under the sink in the kitchen downstairs, and the only toilet was in the back yard, next to the coal shed which housed as many cats and kittens as it did coal. The only form of heating was a coal fire in the small living room, which would have been fine if the windows were not single glazed. However, for all it's faults we loved Sykes cottage, and if the truth be known it's the only house that I've ever really considered to be a home. It oozed personality from its every damp pore, and believe me there were lots of them.

Our family had to be the poorest in the village. Sykes cottage was surrounded by enormous houses, where people with unimaginable wealth dwelled. For example Jack Walker, the steel magnate, and future owner of Blackburn Rovers football club lived just down the lane. Well, I say he lived just down the lane, his house and grounds practically occupied the whole of it. We'd go for family walks down Higher Common's Lane, and gawp at the wealth as we passed by in our hand-me-down clothes, or go for cycle rides and gawp, as we rode past on our hand-me-down bikes. It was on one of these walks that I truly became gripped in the clutches of ornithophobia.

To a toddler Higher Common's Lane seemed to go on for ever, although in reality it was only about a mile long. As we walked its length there were many landmarks, the most sinister of which was a cottage which had been vacated and left exactly as it was before the owner's daughter had been killed in a fall from her horse. Of course, I was compelled to look through the window, I mean what 5 year old wouldn't be? At the the bottom of the lane stood Oxendale Hall, and beyond that Oxendale Woods. On very special occasions, usually long summer's nights, my mum and dad would treat us to a walk in Oxendale woods, and it was in these very woods where my fear of birds truly began.

As we crossed the small brook, no doubt searching for eels, my mum was stopped dead in her tracks. Her face was drained of all colour, her body became rigid, and a loud shriek exited her lips. We all turned to face the object of her displeasure, and were confronted by a large black crow which was not long dead. Just like my own fear is now, my mum's fear of dead birds was even stronger than her fear of live ones. Seeing my mum petrified was not an emotion I was used to. My response was to grab her hand, and to run as fast as we could to get away from the dormant creature. My dad's response was of an entirely different nature. Rather than doing the gallant thing and ridding us of this hideous beast, or at least covering it up so that we no longer had to witness it, he picked the stricken bird up, and charged after us with it in his hands as if he was a child, and it was a paper aeroplane. My sister meanwhile stood there and watched the whole scene unfurl.

As my mum and I headed deeper into the woods, my dad was closing in. If you've ever seen the film Deliverance you'll be aware of the fear that we felt. My dad's manic laughter echoed through the trees, as the wind resistance opened up the crow's wings, and it appeared to come back to life. The bird's neck (obviously broken) flopped from side to side, its dark beady eyes seemingly targeting our every effort to escape our fears.

As dad launched the crow, its wings totally spread out, and it flew as majestically as an eagle circling the foothills of the Himalaya. Mum and I dived to the floor just in time, the rush of wind the crow created ruffling our hair as it whistled over our heads. I looked up to see the beak of the crow stuck in the ground only inches from my face. Its eyes burrowing into my soul creating a fear that lives with me till this day.

I may have found the explanation for my fear of birds, but this doesn't mean that I've found a cure. In fact I'd say my fear has intensified over the years. And I'm pretty sure that birds prey on to this. On 2 occasions over the past 26 years I've even been attacked by creatures of the feathery variety. The first of these occasions came when I was walking the Rossendale Way in 1991. My friend Chris and I had almost completed this 18 mile hike, and our legs were feeling a lot worse for wear, when we entered a farmer's field somewhere in Haslingden. We were halfway across the field when we were spotted by a wayward turkey, who seemed intent on attacking me (not Chris). I pegged it across the field as fast as my legs would take me, but this was not fast enough. This ugliest of beasts was in hot pursuit, and about to peck the back of my legs, before I took evasive action and leapt headfirst over a drystone wall. I lay there for the best part of a minute trying to regain my breath and my composure. When I felt ready I pressed the palms of my hands against the floor and was about to push myself up when guess what I saw mere inches from my face? That's right a dead crow! Once again staring into my soul. It was as if 16 years of my life had never happened.

The second occasion I was attacked by an avian creature was only a few years ago in 2014. At the time I was on a trip around South America, travelling with my Australian friend Annie. We'd just spent a horrible night on a bus between the Bolivian towns of Sucre and Uyuni. Uyuni is the start/end of the Bolivian salt flats route that has become a right of passage for any travellers travelling around South America. You've probably seen the photos that people take with people seemingly sitting on  outstretched hands, popping out of arses, or with their contorted bodies spelling out rude words. Despite the excitement of our forthcoming trip Annie and I had literally frozen our bollocks off on what has to be the coldest bus journey I've ever undertaken. The cold was so bad that it even penetrated 3 layers of clothing, including the gloves that we wore on our hands and our feet. By the time we arrived in Uyuni we looked like we'd just escaped from a cryogenics laboratory. It was only a few hours until the trip was due to begin, but despite our desire to budget we decided to book into a hostel just to get a few hours warmth and sleep.

Suitably defrosted, although still tired to the core, Annie and I headed into the market square at 9 am to get some supplies for our forthcoming trip. The sun had risen to a nice level by this time so I chose to close my eyes and bask in the heat it was radiating, whilst Annie went into a store to complete her shopping list. To me these moments are what travelling is all about, sat in a Bolivian market square, surrounded by people going about their everyday business, whilst finding great pleasure in the sun's rays. What could be better? So you can imagine my shock when I felt an almighty smack on my head. At first I thought it was kids kicking a football at me and I spun around with the aim of challenging them. But guess what I saw? A freshly dead pigeon that must have spotted my bald head glistening in the Bolivian sunshine, and decided to dive bomb it (and it fucking hurt). More than a little stunned, and in too much shock to move I took a moment to observe the stricken bird. My observation complete, my fear kicked in. I was about to run away when a scruffy street dog casually sauntered over to form a triangle between me, the bird and himself. The subservient hound stared me in the eyes with a pathetic expression upon its face, before turning to look at the bird. Once more the dog turned to me, as if asking for acceptance, before digging its teeth into the carcass, and devouring it with the vigour of, well a starving dog. By the time Annie emerged form the shop the market square was a mass of blood and feathers, and my head was smarting from the blow that the creature had dealt me. My fears had once again come back to haunt me.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Grozette are you better, are you well, well, well

When I arrived in the small village of Harmelen, The Netherlands in September 1996 I could barely speak a word of the mother tongue. Not that this is a necessity for an Englishman moving to the Netherlands - the Dutch are so well versed in the English language that they put most British people to shame. In the run up to my arrival on Dutch soil, I'd bought a book called Teach yourself Dutch, which I'd used to teach myself the basics. The first sentence I learned to say with confidence was "Ik wil vijf aardbeien alstublieft " - I would like 5 strawberries please! Quite why I chose to teach myself this sentence is beyond me now, but if it was 5 strawberries you were after, I was your man. Realising that my employment choices would be vasty increased if I took some time to learn the language I decided to absorb myself in the book before going to the job agency to try to gain employment. Within weeks I was armed with enough words to feel brave enough to go to the supermarket to try out my new skills. This proved more difficult than I'd anticipated because upon realising that I was English, the guy behind the till insisted on having a conversation in English with me. A pattern that was pretty much repeated throughout my entire 5 year stay in the country. However, I persevered, when people talked English back to me I spoke Dutch back at them in a louder voice. This often ended up in a battle of the languages until the recipient of my Dutch skills realised that I wasn't going to give up.

Within a few months I deemed my Dutch skills good enough to approach one of the agencies in the nearby city of Utrecht. When the lady asked me what type of job I wanted I told her in Dutch that I just wanted any job, I didn't really care what kind of job it was. This is probably why I ended up working in the Mona yoghurt factory on the nightshift when one of the machines had broken down, and it was all hands to the deck to try and get yoghurt supplies on the supermarket shelves before the next morning. I'd been used to factory work so the environment didn't really bother me. This was my first step on the ladder of Dutch employment, which would be ascended at an accelerated rate depending on how fast I learnt the language.

Over the next year I had a succession of jobs of similar ilk, packing flowers for Alber Heijn, stacking enormous lorry tyres for Kargro, loading magazines onto a conveyor belt for Albrecht, order picking garden furniture for Blokker, and eventually loading parmesan cheese pots onto a conveyor belt for Grozette. It's this last job that I want to focus this story on.

The Grozette factory was located in the nearby town of Woerden. To get there I would ride my very nippy Honda Camino (complete with pedals) moped down the bike paths and through the fields for 8 miles, whilst being treated to the wonderful odour of baking bread, as I passed by numerous bakeries. Needless to say, the ride to work was the best part of the day. But once I'd clocked in I was in for 8 hours of sheer misery.

From the moment I was introduced to my new team I knew that we were going to have nothing in common. Albert (the line manager) was OK, sweet enough, but nothing much really going on upstairs, if you know what I mean. His English skills were limited, so our conversations were limited to very basic Dutch. How are you? Nice weather today? etc etc. Not an ideal situation for me, because I like to chew the fat all day long. It was Albert's job to oversee the machine that I was to work on, a rather large conveyor belt which it was my job to keep loaded with enormous cardboard trays of pots. Each tray probably held a couple of hundred pots, and the trays were stacked 5 high onto the conveyor belt. If the trays ran out, I had to run as fast as I could, across the factory floor, up some steep wooden steps into boiling hot loft room, which housed a seemingly endless stock of new pots on trays. I'd then have to grab 5 trays at a time (so a 1000 pots) before running back down the stairs and loading them onto the conveyor. Those few precious seconds I spent in the red hot storeroom was the only time I got to myself in the whole shift. However, I couldn't linger in there too long, or the fully loaded pots of parmesan would fall off the other end of the conveyor belt. It was also my job to unload the full pots at the other end, and stack them into new trays.

Along with Albert and myself, there was a girl working on the potting line by the name of Dafne. Now, if Albert didn't have much upstairs, he was positively a professor in comparison to Dafne. Don't get me wrong she looked OK, all her parts were in the right place (apart from her brain). She'd apparently missed out on a few evolutionary jumps, and was stuck somewhere between the primate and the caveman. Any attempts for me to speak to Dafne were met by a vacant stare and an inarticulate "uggghhhh", as she tried to decipher my Dutch. It was Dafne's job to sit on a stool, directly opposite me, at a distance of a few feet, and to feed blocks of cheese into a mechanised cheese grater. She would literally sit on her arse all day, usually filing her nails, whilst reluctantly bending down, every now and again to pull another block out of a box and load it into the cheese grater. The lazy fucker didn't even replenish the boxes of cheese when they were up. That was left to me, in-between running from one end of the conveyor to the other, loading and unloading pots of parmesan, and legging it upstairs to the store room to retrieve more trays. When Dafne ran out of cheese, she would tap me on the shoulder and point at her empty box. Obviously my internal dialogue was saying "go and get your own box you lazy bastard", but in the end I always politely smiled and got a new box for her. Whilst I was gone, she would file her nails with renewed vigour, whilst making no effort whatsoever to pick my pots off the floor as they inevitably spilled off the end of the conveyor. Albert would then intervene by shutting down the machine, whilst irritatingly saying "Chonga yongen yongen" -or the Dutch equivalent of "boy, oh boy, oh boy". Every time Albert had to shut down the machine, a giant of a man called Theo would come storming across the shop floor, donned in a pair of denim cut offs and a massive pair of jackboots. I'd hear his jackboots coming across the floor and cower, for I knew that I was in for a grilling. Theo was the factory floor supervisor, but to be honest he would have looked more at home in a wrestling ring. The guy must have been around 7 ft tall, and built like a brick shit house. My only salvation was that my Dutch was far from perfect, and I was not therefore able to fully understand the tirade of abuse I was being subjected too.

Needless to say, I was not cut out for this job. However, it wasn't for lack of trying. I probably worked harder at that job than I've ever worked in my life. But the repetitive actions that was my job, was not something that my brain could handle too well. It would go OK for a while, but then I would drift off into a daydream, and before I knew it the floor was knee deep in parmesan pots. This was always followed by a gorilla of a man shouting in my face.  Even when I thought things were going well Theo would walk past me and shout "TEMPO, TEMPO" -"Faster, faster". Sometimes I'd retaliate and shout back at him in English, "fuck off you knob end!" - only I think this was more in my head then out of my mouth. Theo could have no doubt picked me up with one leg and dropped me into the grating machine.

In Holland (at that time at least) every temp worker had one eye on the holy grail of a permanent contract (or vast contract in Dutch). These usually came around the 3 month mark if you were deemed capable enough of doing your job. In hindsight I have no idea why, but at the time I was hanging out for a permanent contract at Grozette, and when I managed to last for the first 2 months, I thought that I'd eventually become a permanent employee of the factory. It would seem that the management of Grozette had a different idea.

My hatred of everything to do with the job was building by the day, even the sound that the clocking in machine made was grinding on my nerves. This wasn't the only sound that irritated me. Theo's jackboots storming across the factory floor, Dafne's incessant nail filing, Albert cursing me under his breath, and the sounds of pots falling off the end of the conveyor were all contributing to my misery.

One Wednesday afternoon sometime in August of 1997 it all came to a head. To be honest I was ready to flip, tensions had been building for weeks, and I'd reached the point where I couldn't take any more. All it took was one tut out of Dafne's mouth, who was showing her disdain at my apparent incompetence, and I totally saw red. Grabbing a handful of pots from the conveyor belt I proceeded to throw them at her. Dafne, who was taken by total surprise and spontaneously burst into tears as pot after pot of parmesan crashed into her head. Until this point I'd don't even think I'd ever seen Dafne leave her seat (apart from breaks). But in her attempt to get out of the way of the projectiles I was launching at her, she dived off her chair, and crawled out of view on her hands and knees. But that wasn't going to stop me, I jumped onto the conveyor belt, and from my elevated position I continued an arial bombardment of my enemy, whilst shouting "kutwijf, teef, and stomme koe" - "cunt wife, bitch, and stupid cow". Kutwijf, is by the way a very popular insult in the Dutch language - not something I made up.

By the time Albert had noticed what was going on, and hit the off button, I had practically exhausted the whole supply of pots, and was already searching for the next thing to throw at her. It was at this point that I heard the jackboots of Theo storming across the factory floor. Before I had a chance to escape Theo he had me in a headlock and was marching me away for the scene of destruction that I'd just caused. I thought that they were going to get rid of me there and then, but I guess they needed the work doing so they kept me working. Dafne, who was hysterical by now was given permission to go home, and Albert reluctantly sat in her chair to feed cheese into the shredder for the rest of the day. It was during those few hours working with Albert that he chose to reveal a better level of English to me. This was largely because he took great delight in informing me that Dafne's boyfriend was enormous, hard as nails, and would probably be on his way around to rip my head off.

I did contemplate never going back to Grozette, but the next morning I jumped on my Honda Camino, road down the bike paths, through the fields, and past the lovely smelling bakeries, to the place I considered to be hell. As I entered the building I was petrified that I was going to get pounced on by Dafne's fella. I walked over to the conveyor belt, half expecting Dafne to have taken the day off. But there she was (filing her nails). We continued as if nothing had happened, and I began to think that I'd got away with my outburst. But at 4 pm, just as I was about to go home, I was summoned into the office to have a meeting with the big boss.

"I don't think you're cut out for this job", he told me. 

"You're obviously heard about what happened yesterday!", I replied.

"No, what happened", he said.

I have no idea whether he already knew or not, or whether I'd let the cat out of the bag, but by the time I'd given him my account of the tale there was little chance that I was ever going to work at Grozette again. I got my stuff, walked out into a perfect August afternoon, jumped on my moped and rode off like easy rider. I would never have to load and unload parmesan cheese pots again.