The Boiler Room

The Boiler Room

Things I remember.

I remember it’s dark. I remember it’s cold. I remember the hods, the coke, the ashes, the metal bucket used to carry the hot ashes to a place further away to tip them on the growing heap of cold ashes. I remember the smell, how the ash rose in a cloud in that small room, breathing in that cloud and the acrid, hot ash hitting your throat, getting everywhere – in your hair, in your nose, on your clothes and, if you weren’t careful or if you were unlucky, in your eyes.

But there was a sanctuary in that small, windowless, airless room full of ash and smell, for there was heat.

Every morning and every evening, clean out the ash that had fallen, scraping it out into the bucket, using a brush to get it clean; carrying said bucket away to tip onto the pile (at the end of the garden, I think), then shovelling the hod into the bottom of the pile of coke, filling up the hod as much as possible – you wanted to do this as few times as possible, carrying the hod over (was the coke in a different room/place?) and tipping it into the feeder. It was heavy. You were tired. Sick and tired.

But at least there was heat.

Was I eight? Or older? Did they replace it with one fired by oil, needing a large tank nearby? The door to this room was next to the kitchen door, at the back of the bungalow.

I felt like Cinderella – without the Fairy Godmother, or the Prince, or the glass slipper. I got up before everyone else to make sure that everyone had heating. It was early. Possibly 6? Often dark. Or, probably, I was awoken to do this in the morning. In the evening, possibly, straight after school. Nobody else did this job – only me. And I had forgotten about it – but the smell I can still smell, the heat I can still feel, the dust in every pore, I still remember. And I would shut the door to the room and I could pretend that I wasn’t there, in that world, I could be anywhere I wanted to be …. as long as it also had a boiler room!

p.s. In case you didn’t know what I was talking about:
Hod
A hod – although I seem to remember I used plastic ones.

Coke
Not the type of coke you may have initially thought about!

Everything happened at 8

Something happened at 8

Well, I really know that not everything happened at 8. Some things happened before and some afterwards but, for most of them, it seems that 8 was the magic number.

That was the year that many bad things happened. And, yet, it cannot possibly be.

So, at around 2 a.m., as I’m lying in bed and thinking why it seems that so much happened when I was eight years old, I realised there was one event that definitely, without question, happened during that year.

I can remember the date of the birthdays of most of my family. My mother, my youngest brother, my nan, my grandfather, my sister ……. but not my father nor my middle brother (or my paternal grandparents – but that’s a whole different thing). I can’t even remember the month for either of them, let alone the actual day. And the middle brother was born in the same year that I was 8. Was that it? Or is there something else? Did something happen before or after he was born that explains my justification for all bad things being when I was 8?

These thoughts came to me because, just before this I remembered “The Boiler Room”. Honestly, I don’t know why. But, it came to me and I started to remember some of the detail. And that led me to try and remember when it started. I do know it was before I was 14 but I can’t remember when it began and that’s when “8” came into my mind. But, maybe I was 10 or 12? I don’t actually remember, so “8” has claimed it as its own.

It doesn’t really matter. I thought that I would like to write a post about it and so I will. Maybe during the writing of some of these things from the past, I’ll get a handle on what the real problem with “8” is?

So, future planned posts are:
The Boiler Room
The Garden
The Birthday Present
The Hospital
The Wasps in the Window
Fencing.

There may be more that will come to me. I’ll try to cover them in the next few weeks.

And …… relax – well, maybe.

It’s really difficult to explain (here or in person), my feelings regarding Brexit and how it might affect me.

But I felt a little bit better today to read this. Of course, my distrust of things that are said or written, especially by Governments, is high but, you know, this gives me a little hope.

What isn’t entirely clear is if the pension rules, currently in place, will actually be the same after 29th March. But there is nothing I can actually do about that.

But it’s a kind of Christmas present and gives me some calm, so better than nothing.

And, speaking of Christmas, here is our tree:
Our Christmas Tree

Last Saturday, we had people coming round for an aperitivo. Nothing grand – but, of course, the house had to be sparkling and there had to be lots of food and drink. So, late Saturday afternoon, around 5, we went to get some last-minute things. And on our way back, at the Piazza just by our house, I heard singing – as in, carol singing. Now, in all the years I’ve been here, I have never, ever seen or heard carol singers. A big thing in the UK with the chances of not hearing them around zero, here, just like Christmas cards, it is definitely NOT a thing. Sadly, as we had guests coming, we couldn’t stay but, as I hadn’t heard any for so long, it was kind of wonderful and we stopped for a moment. I recorded a short video which might or might not work:

So, on that note (pun intended), I’ll wish you all a very Merry Christmas now. I hope it’s a good one for you.

Christmas is coming … and so are the stamps!

Well, it’s nearly Christmas and, as usual, one has to do Christmas cards.

And, for that, one needs stamps. And they have been released and I should get them on Thursday – which means this weekend will be writing cards.

The options are, as always, 2. The non-religious one is the one needed to send cards withing Europe and it’s this one:

Non-religious Italian Christmas Stamp 2018

The other is the religious one which I don’t get:

Religious Italian Christmas Stamp 2018

To be honest, I don’t rate this year’s choice very much but, as I say, there are only two.

So, this (long) weekend will be writing cards, eating minced pies and watching some sort of Christmas film. I’m looking forward to it!

The death of ……. the postcard

The death of the .......postcard

This world changes so fast, driven in the main by new technology.

And, this weekend I discovered another thing that is on its last legs. The postcard.

There we are, at a seaside town, full of tourists during August. So much so, that it transforms the town – as is the case with many seaside towns, I guess.

And, A, my Italian friend, has this thing about postcards. He always sends one (even if he’s away for a weekend) and, for summer, I reciprocate. I also like to send one to BM and to J.

So, I needed three postcards – an easy thing you would think, especially in a tourist town. But, this year, surprisingly difficult. We did find one shop, eventually, thank goodness, but it didn’t used to be so difficult. And that got me to thinking of whether anyone actually sends postcards any more? I mean, I don’t send letters very often (and I’m racking my brains to think of the last time I did) – now we’ve got instant messaging and social media to keep in touch with people. And I guess most people under the age of about 30 would even consider sending postcards. So if there’s no call for them, it is likely that over the next few years, it will become impossible to find them.

It’s a sad thing but, I guess, inevitable.

For younger people, it won’t make any difference since they’ve never done it.

NB. The image is, apparently, a 1960s postcard from Death Valley!

Let’s do it!

Let's do it!

There’s a glimmer of light at the end of this particular tunnel.

Or, possibly, it’s a slight crack in the paradise of life, showing the fiery core of the earth – hell.

I feel uncomfortable and, yet, still interested enough to go along with it. This is someone who may not have the preconceptions of others. And I don’t have a history with them so I, too, should have no preconceptions. And, still, I am wary.

But I should probably do it. After all, it’s not like I’m going to the gallows.

And I wonder what is going through his head. For I am someone that he doesn’t know. Someone who may have been spoken of occasionally – if ever. I am the mystery.

And what will he find? How will I be. I mean, will I be able to be “normal” given who he is?

I don’t know. I guess there’s only one way to find out …..

Let’s do it!

Strange collective nouns; a rushes of films; God’s Own Country

*This post contains spoilers for some films, especially God’s Own Country*

God's Own Country DVD

I recently saw, on Twitter that the collective noun (the name we give for a number of the same thing together) for pandas is “a cupboard”. So if you happen to be somewhere and see a lot of pandas roaming around you could say to someone that you’d seen a cupboard. Of course, unless they also know that there is such a thing as a cupboard of pandas, they won’t have a clue what you are talking about. Probably the most famous collective noun is “murder” – as in a murder of crows. Collective nouns can be quite strange.

That led me to wondering if there was a collective noun for films. It seems there isn’t. So I thought about “rushes”. This is the raw footage of films before editing and I thought that “a rushes of films” would fit the bill. And why was I thinking about this? Well, recently, I’ve been watching a lot of films with a gay theme. Of course, we have Brokeback Mountain to thank for this. And then there was Moonlight which won the Oscar. And this year, there’s Call Me By Your Name up for best picture.

I find gay-themed films so bloody depressing. Being gay is never really celebrated. Being gay, in films, seems to be destructive and heart-breaking. A gay person must go through a slight moment of happiness before it all comes crashing down. Or they suffer immeasurably simply by not being able to be themselves.

Call Me By Your Name is like this. It’s a “coming of age” film where a youngish kid learns that he’s gay and has an affair with an older guy who then goes and breaks his heart by going back to the USA and conforming by getting married to some woman. The young guy is left distraught. I mean to say, I know it was like this even 30 years ago, but this was not how it was for me, so it’s hard to relate to.

Then there’s 1:54, a French-Canadian film – again about coming of age but this also deals with bullying and death and none of the gay characters end up in a good position (since they all die).

Then, I am watching BPM (120 battements par minute), a french film about Act Up in Paris. You can see this isn’t going to end well for many of the protagonists since most of them have AIDS and are dying. Although, obviously, this is about the bravery of those who were fighting for better health care from the French government.

And in the meantime I watched God’s Own Country two times and, in fact, it was even better the second time around. It is, quite possibly, the best film ….. ever.

My “best film ever” has always been Brief Encounter, the David Lean film from 1945. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this and now I cry even at the beginning, knowing what will happen at the end. But, basically, I am a romantic. A hopeless romantic. This idea of a handsome, strong prince who comes and sweeps you off your feet is what I always wanted. Now, quite possibly, God’s Own Country might take over as my favourite film. It’s a true romantic film. It is like a Cinderella for our times. Cinderella being a hard-working farmer who sees no hope and is rescued by a handsome Romanian who shows him what love, tenderness, relationships are like AND gives him ideas as to how to create a better farm. It’s beautiful and inspiring and, for once, the characters are not left in a bad place. This is the reality for me.

People have tried to compare it to Call Me By Your Name. CMBYN was a beautifully filmed film, gorgeous settings, great soundtrack and a gay storyline. GOC has all of that (even if the Yorkshire landscape is not really to my taste, it was filmed so as to make it stunning) but there is really no comparison. Although both cover a relationship that gets off to a tricky start and flourishes for a while and then seems to hit the rocks, GOC has a comeback at the end that gives the film it’s hope and happy ending – like in a “normal”, heterosexual film whereas CMBYN ends in a cliche – a “typical” gay film where no one is really happy. CMBYN is, correctly, described as a “coming of age” film. GOC is not. In GOC there is no “coming to terms with” being gay, rather it shows someone who has never known affection, thinking that gay sex is only a quickie in the toilets, learn that love and affection CAN be had and that both have some real meaning.

Some have compared it to Brokeback Mountain, saying it’s the British version of the same. And, yes, the relationship really starts whilst the two are in some desolate spot, stuck together in a harsh environment – but that’s it. That is a small part of the film, not the main part. Again, the ending of BM seems to imply that gay people can’t have proper relationships; that it’s all about sex and that, eventually, one of them “returns” to get married and have kids, forever hating the fact that he can’t be who he wants to be.

GOC is not this at all. These guys are quite happy being gay; they don’t want and nor are they pressured (by society; by family; by whoever) into giving up their gay side to become “normal”. Johnny is up for sex whenever the opportunity arises. Gheorghe is not really looking for that, having already had some meaningful relationship, he sees the possibility in Johnny for the real thing and a chance to create something together. Thank God – because Johnny is difficult as he doesn’t understand himself, his emotions, nor what is possible.

But the thing about this film is the subtlety. There is no difficult, long dialogue (although the Yorshire accent can be difficult.) This is a film told in pictures, in metaphors. This is reality, where a look tells you so much more than words can; salt takes on a different meaning; coating yourself in another’s hide can help you to be with someone (the little lamb finding a new mother/Johnny wearing Gheorghe’s jumper and realising that he needs Gheorghe too); the caravan is towed away meaning Gheorghe already lives in the house with Johnny (and Johnny’s Dad and Nan). A picture tells a thousand words but this film is hundreds* of pictures telling thousands of words. You will have to watch it several times to get it all.

But, basically, it’s boy meets boy, boy nearly fucks it all up, boy goes to get boy and they all live happily ever after, maybe.

But, quite honestly, it’s just the best thing I’ve seen. It covers the gay scene that I never experienced (the cruising, one-time sex) but am aware of and the one I have experienced 3 times (the long relationship bit). And, most gay people I’ve met long for that handsome prince to settle down with – this film gives hope to many who think it can never happen to them and that type of gay-themed film doesn’t come along that often – if it ever does.

So, this is more than worth a watch. It should be a must-see. For me it’s a reality that exists and the farming bits are as real as they could be. In fact, it didn’t seem like the actors were acting at all – and that always makes for a good film.

And, most importantly, it’s a really romantic film, beautifully filmed and the screenplay is second to none. As I say, now it is possibly my most favourite film ever! I can’t stop thinking about it and every evening I want to watch it again. For sure, this weekend I must watch it again.

* Hundreds of pictures telling thousands of words may be an slight exaggeration!

Was I mistaken?

Was I mistaken?

I haven’t posted much recently.

It’s not that there isn’t any need. It’s just that I can’t.

I’ve been going through a fairly shit time, to be honest. I have situations that are not really good and I am struggling to remain positive. Thank God for F – although he doesn’t really know what is happening – at least what is happening in my head – and maybe that’s just as well. Anyway, he’s got his own shit to worry about. The house in Carrara and the problems with the builders; work; and I suspect other shit that I know nothing about, since he rarely talks about things.

On a brighter note, I finally got to watch God’s Own Country. I’m now watching it a second time because I’m worried that it is not really as good as I thought it was. I was expecting it to be good; no, I was expecting it to be amazing and the problem is that, on first watching, it was. But then I got to thinking that, maybe, it was better than amazing because that’s what I wanted. So I’m halfway through watching it again, trying to be more critical. As a result, I’m picking up more things about it. I’ll let you know about how I really feel after I’ve finished watching it again.

Was I mistaken about the film? Maybe.
Was/am I mistaken about the other shit? Almost certainly not. But I’m trying to hang on in there. After all, in the big scheme of things, it’s not long now ….

Pubs and beer and food and Indian and rain and cold and wind – but mainly pubs , beer and food

A proper English country pub

I mentioned before about my friend from school, H, who’s wife died a little while ago.

Unfortunately, I could only go to the funeral for the day but I made the effort and went over on our long holiday weekend – the one just gone, to spend some time with him.

I tried to let him do most of the talking. I thought it was the least I could do. We are blokes, after all, and we don’t do the opening up thing very easily – at least, face-to-face. But I think he did a bit and I really hope it helped him. But his story is not my story to write. I found the UK to be nicer than I had thought it would be. Admittedly, although not so far from London, this was the middle of the countryside and reminded me a lot of Herefordshire.

The first night we went out, with his daughter and son, to The Fox Inn in Rudgewick. It was a typical old English pub serving food. The food was wonderful (Steak and Ale Pie with mashed potato) and, of course, there was the beer. A very nice start to the trip.

The next day we we to his daughter’s new house. It was a lovely old house which she had started doing up. We went for lunch at The Crown Inn in Chiddingfold. Again, a typical English village pub with an open fire. Of course, I don’t eat so much and, in the end we had (H & I) some sharing nibbles. And some beer! God, I miss the English beer. Food was good and the place was very nice.

In the afternoon we did some shopping (for me) in Cranleigh, apparently the biggest village in England (or, maybe the UK?). It was very pretty. We were back there in the evening to go to The Curry Inn – not an inn at all but rather a good quality Indian restaurant. H had asked me if it was OK to go out with some of his friends and gave me a choice of Thai or Indian – which. of course, meant Indian. And boy, the curry I had was the best curry I’ve ever had. It was incredibly busy which, of course, means it must be good but the downside to that was we did have to wait an incredibly long time for the food. But, for me, the wait was worth it! Of course, it was Indian beer but you can’t have everything!

The next day it was raining all bloody day. However, H took me on a trip around and to his “baby”, some all-weather football ground (he’s very sporty) that he’d managed to get built. Then a bit more shopping and then, at my request, we went for a proper Sunday Lunch at The Chequers Inn in a tiny village called Rowhook. Again, a typical old English pub with an open fire (the wood smoke permeated the whole place and was so lovely to smell – I miss that atmosphere and that smell) and the food was fantastic. I had roast pork with gravy and asked for a Yorkshire pudding. And, of course, beer. The waiter/manager was Italian! Of course. I would have liked to understand why he was still there but the place was too busy.

Just before that we went shopping and I got my last bits and bobs.

So a weekend of listening, great food and great beer and meeting some very nice people.

So that’s what I got from it but, really, it was for him, so I really hope he got something from it too! And, maybe because I was with him, maybe because of the English pubs and the Indian restaurant – I didn’t hate being back in the UK – apart from the cold and the wet.

Connected! A wedding and a funeral.

Connected! A wedding and a funeral

Like the film. Except only the one wedding and not four.

The wedding I mentioned in the two posts below.

The funeral was yesterday. I had been feeling very anxious about it. I was going for the day. It meant flying to the UK, taking trains and it was going to be a long day. Plus there would be plenty of people that I should know but I knew I wouldn’t recognise. And, F was going to be in Japan.

So, he went to Japan on Saturday afternoon and, because of the funeral and the fact that he was away, that whole sinking feeling was back. The spiral into a blackness. But, I knew it was mainly because of the funeral.

I get up at 4.30 a.m. to take the dogs out. Poor things. It would be their only walk until I got back that evening. I felt bad about it but there wasn’t much I could do about it.

I didn’t even have time for coffee. I had to be ready by 5.30 for the taxi I had booked. The taxi was there, on time and I got to the airport. I had already checked in and was only going for the day, so no baggage – straight through security and a cappuccino and then straight to the “smoking cubicle”. Then queue up to get through passport control (I was going to the UK – outside the normal rules for Europe – bloody British.

I was flying Easyjet. Not my first choice but I needed to make it as cheap as possible.

I had forgotten that they allocated seat numbers now and got into any seat, to be reminded by a gentleman that I needed to go to the seat I had been allocated. Fucking hell! And it made me wonder why people would spend more money to have “speedy boarding” if they have seat numbers allocated. It became clear before we went through to the gate when the staff started tagging the bags which had to be put in the hold – they had counted them on and the overhead racks had run out of room. Still, it seemed to me crazy that you would pay extra just for that.

Then I remembered that I could also have “paid extra” to decide which seat I wanted rather than an automatic allocation, when I had checked in over the Internet.

We arrived at Gatwick. I absolutely hate the passport checks going back into the UK. Even with a British passport, I feel like I shouldn’t be allowed in – they make me feel like I shouldn’t be allowed in!

Through passport control and straight out to the smoking area.

Then to the station to collect my pre-booked tickets. Then I had some time but not really enough to go back to the smoking area.

It’s a bit cold – but I’m dressed like it’s winter here, so it’s OK. On the train. Got to Guildford. Checked with the taxi how long it would take to the crematorium (where the service was to be) and how much it would cost and, more importantly, if I could use one of the two £10 notes I had. Apparently, I could. The new ones have been introduced but it seems there is a while yet before the old ones go out of circulation.

I have several cigarettes and go in to Costa to get a cappuccino. “What size”, I’m asked. Erm, I have no idea. He shows me medium. I’m used to Italian now and that’s too large. “Something smaller”, I reply. He gets a “small” – which is still far too large, really. And I really want it in a cup not a cardboard beaker. But, hey, ho, I go with it. It’s a large cappuccino all right – but with a massive amount of really crap “foam” on top. But I drink it anyway. And go and have more cigarettes.

Then I get a taxi. I am at the crematorium early. The service before them is just going in. I have more cigarettes. I see people getting out of their cars in the car park and chatting to each other. I wonder if I’m supposed to know them. They head towards the building and me.

The guy in the light grey suit heads towards me. He’s unshaven but he looks like H, my best friend from school. I assume he’s D, his brother. I say, “D?” He says he is H. Oh, for fucks sake, I think. Why am I so crap. But my mind closes this off quickly. I can’t worry about it today. I give him a hug. I am pleased to see him and sad for him at the same time. I am introduced to his daughter and his son. This is the first time I’ve met them. His daughter looks the spitting image of his wife, T, who is the person we are having the service for today. She had a brain tumour and died a couple of weeks ago.

He is worried that I am OK. He introduces me to someone who I guess I should know but really don’t. It’s T’s sister. She is chatty and talks to me and introduces me to others that I don’t know and shouldn’t. We talk and chat.

I am introduced to M, who I do know although he is much, much older now, probably mid seventies. He was also a kind of friend from school days although was never really my friend and, anyway, was years older than us – but that’s a whole other story – if I can ever properly remember it.

M hangs around me. We go in together and we are to sit with close family, at the front.

There are so many people here that they are standing all around the room and, although I don’t look, at the back.

We have the service. T comes in inside a wicker basket thing. The service is semi-religious. It’s lovely, if you see what I mean. It is heartfelt and heartbreaking. She was younger than me – didn’t smoke or anything. Bugger!

We go outside. There are possibly 200 hundred people here. She was well liked/loved.

I am taken to the wake by some people who are neighbours. I hear afterwards that V (the wife) had been so pleased to meet me because T had told her how much she had enjoyed their trip to Milan. There is food and drink available but there isn’t enough for all the people here. I say that the number of people is a testament to how well loved T was. I say all sorts of crap to anyone that’ll listen. I don’t really want to be there. I think: this is the way it is now – I shall be coming to the UK for funerals – it’s an age thing.

I get to see H a bit. I hug him several times. M asks if I can come and see him. I say I had thought of coming in December when I have a couple of days’ holiday. M says that would be very good. I want to do this.

I am never without people to speak to. I am the centre of attention or, rather, the second centre of attention after H. They have all seen the picture of me and H after our first holiday together, on our own. The picture was taken by my mother. H disputes the date of it – I don’t know – it was my mother who wrote the date on the back of the photo.

H doesn’t burst into tears but almost, at several points. It’s been lovely and not lovely at the same time.

D takes me back to the station. I am very early. I have hours to wait before the plane back. I wish I’d booked an earlier flight but I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get back and wanted to be there in case H needed me.

But, he didn’t. And, anyway, he had loads of people around. I catch an early train. At the airport I have a meal, as I had only eaten very little all day. Then I decide to go through security. This, being Britain, means no smoking as there are no “smoking areas”. Bloody up-their-own-arse people. I’ve been overhearing conversations whilst travelling and, to be honest, it’s painful. I can’t imagine living here again. I hope, really hope, I never have to. I try to buy chocolate. They need my boarding pass – which they don’t, by the way. I say no. She says “it’s the rules.” I tell her I don’t want them then. I go to Boots for Lemsip and pills. The guy in the queue before me is asked for his boarding card. He says it’s in his jacket so he doesn’t have it. The guy takes his money anyway. My turn and he asks me if I have my boarding card. I say I have but he doesn’t need it. He’s clearly pissed off but accepts my payment anyway. I go and get chocolate and newspapers from WH Smith. They don’t ask me for my boarding card.

I wait around, have yet another beer and, finally, the gate is up. I can’t wait to get out of this country. The funeral was fine but the people travelling make me want to go home – and this is NOT home. I should try to remember this when I complain about Italians.

On board, the guy next to me wants to talk. He talks. Then he goes to sleep. We are late. I worry about the dogs having been inside since around 5 until now – which is already 11 p.m. I don’t even stop for a cigarette but get in a taxi straight away. They are a little bit super-pleased to see me. I take them out. I feed them and have a cigarette. It’s gone midnight. I go to bed and they come with me, super-attached. And then normality will start in just 5 hours.

God, I’m knackered.

And the connection between the funeral and the wedding? Well, this was the woman that H, my best friend at school, married those 37 years ago and when he asked me to be Best Man and when I made that terrible speech. Life is odd sometimes, isn’t it.