Thursday, February 07, 2008

Hartlepool Romance

"Lady Hortensia," said the man in the chip shop, "always a pleasure to see you here. I was terribly sorry to hear about your husband. To be sucked into the workings of a street-cleaning machine and torn to ribbons alongside an assortment of damp crisp packets and fallen leaves is probably the worst way a man can die."

"Indeed," said Lady Hortensia. "My husband, of course, was shot dead by a bank robber during a bungled heist, and didn't die in the way you describe at all."

"Yes, I was trying to comfort you with the knowledge that it could have been very much worse," said the man. "Three white pudding suppers as usual?"

"I hardly think it would be appropriate," said Lady Hortensia, icily. "What with my husband dying and that escaped zebra not yet having been recaptured."

"Oh, hadn't you heard? They caught the zebra yesterday. It's back in the box now," said the man in the chip shop's civil partner from the back room.

"Oh," said Lady Hortensia. "I hadn't heard. My husband was always the one who kept track of the status of escaped animals. Dear me, I never considered how inconvenient it would be to be a widow. Will you marry me?"

"No," said the man in the chip shop. "Here are your pudden suppers, perhaps if you take them to Hartlepool and eat them, a passing man will feel sorry for you and propose marriage."

"It's worth a try, I suppose," said Lady Hortensia. She took the newspaper-wrapped revolting suet-based concotions and greasy chips and jumped on board a passing stagecoach bound for Hartlepool.

"Get the bleeding heck off my bleeding stagecoach!" the driver screamed, letting go of the reins and allowing the wildebeest to veer off into a cornfield. "There's no food and drink allowed on my bleeding stagecoach! The vermin! The vermin will overwhelm me, lusting for the fallen morsels you drop in your greedy consumption of your bleeding food! Didn't they teach you about bleeding vermin in school? Get off my bleeding stagecoach this minute!"

"Oh, I do apologise," said Lady Hortensia as the stagecoach careered out of control across the fields, mangling corn, scarecrows and hedges alike under its copper wheels, the wildebeest, free from the tyrannical reins that daily compelled them to follow tedious cobbled streets and asphalted motorways, chasing with gay abandon every blackbird, vulture and pine marten they saw, heedless of any obstacles in their path as they dragged the coach ever further away from its destination and ever closer to Scunthorpe. "I only wanted to visit Hartlepool in an attempt to find a husband. I don't suppose you would like to marry me?" she added as an afterthought.

"Okay then," said the driver, picking up the reins and attempting to return to the Hartlepool road. "I'm free next Saturday. Big church wedding, St Paul's Cathedral, eleven o'clock? Cost you a fiver, but buy a ticket to Hartlepool and you get to marry the driver for half price. Special offer."

"Splendid," said Lady Hortensia. "White pudding?"

"Don't mind if I do," said the driver. And thus they departed along the damp and narrow streets. Lo, Hartlepool! Slumbering city of romance and dreams, do you know, as you awaken this damp and gloomy morning that another stagecoach of love wends its way ever nearer to your towering and broken-glass-studded walls? That the magic of love inspired by your founder, Alan Hartlepool, so many years ago still permeates every mention of the fair city's name? Or have you, in your dank streets and crumbling overcrowded tenements, become so accustomed to the happy endings of your every inhabitant and visitor that you no longer register each miraculous romance as a thing of note, but merely an everyday happenstance? Lo, wildebeest, snorting in the stagecoach reins, your momentary freedom forgotten amid the excitement and smells of this familiar town! Lo, Dennis Boggis, sitting unmentioned in the chip shop throughout the duration of this story! Perhaps you yourself will one day visit Hartlepool and realise that your true destiny lies in street-sweeping rather than chartered accountancy when you get your first glance of the filth-ridden streets of the city of love!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Wonderland, wonderland...

I've never been to Sunderland before, although I did write a story involving the place (being blown to atoms) in a previous blog entry. It was nothing personal. The memory demonstration today went really well - just me and James Paterson at this one, but we enthralled and illuminated the audience very nicely, I think.

The guy in charge of this one didn't have a silly name or a connection with obscure comics, but he did come from the Cardiff area, and knows Penarth, where James comes from, very well. Which you wouldn't really expect from a uni up in Sunderland, but then even more funnily, it turned out that another guy there is from Lincolnshire, and even had relatives living in Clinton Park, where I went to primary school! Small world.

Also, getting there was no end of fun. All the trains were cancelled, for no adequately explained reason, and we had to go by a very circuitous route. But never mind, that gave us plenty of time for epic Tetris contests on James's DSs. I'm almost tempted to get one of the things myself...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bloody idle

I was supposed to clean up my flat today - my brother's coming round on Friday night and unless I clear some floor space, he'll have to sleep on the roof, and I'm going to Sunderland for a memo demo tomorrow and Ascot on Thursday for a meeting with the movers and shakers in the organising-a-schools-memory-competition world - but I didn't. I decided that sitting around on my considerable backside was a more reasonable way to spend the time. But I did give blood today, so that means I'm exempt from any and all criticism about what else I've done. I even multi-tasked - while all my vital fluids were being drained away, I was memorising Sunderland FC's results for the season so far, so as I can impress people with them tomorrow.

I'll just have to clean up on Friday morning. And finish my book - that deadline's looking very unrealistic, since it turned out I'm doing lots and lots of things this week after all. Perhaps I'll beg my imaginary editor for another week's extension.

Monday, February 04, 2008

That's strange...

This morning, while doing a bit of research to fill out the trivia section of How To Be Clever, I established that the second poet to be buried in Poets' Corner (thus turning it into Poets' Corner rather than The Place Where Geoffrey Chaucer Happened To Be Buried Alongside Lots Of Non-Poets) was Edmund Spenser. It struck me that I should really have heard of Edmund Spenser before, but I couldn't remember ever coming across the name. Still, it was nice to add to my general knowledge.

Then, this afternoon, idly browsing an internet forum rather than working on How To Be Clever, I saw someone making a passing reference to Edmund Spenser in an entirely non-poetic discussion. I'm sure I haven't seen that kind of mention before. I suspect he never existed before today, and it's all a big internet conspiracy.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


It's about time I set myself some. Or one, anyway. I don't have any plans for next week. Yes, I need to look into getting some kind of job, but that's not an all-day-every-day kind of thing. And if I really knuckle down, I could get How To Be Clever finished in the next week. Making an effort to do that would be so much better than dawdling and not finishing it for years. So that's the plan, and anyone who sees me has to pretend to be my editor and ask me why I haven't finished the book yet.

But don't pretend to be Mr Edwards or any of the other teachers who had the unfortunate job of asking me where my coursework was during my schooldays. I never paid any attention to them. Really, if I do finish this book, it might be the first project I've ever actually finished, winning the World Memory Championship aside. I'm just not much of a finisher.