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.

Wedding nightmares.

Wedding Nightmares

Just over 37 years ago, I was Best Man at my best schoolmate’s wedding.

It has given my nightmares ever since.

I was young. I didn’t understand and, by then, I was no longer speaking to my parents so I couldn’t turn to them for advice.

I honestly don’t remember the whole day. I only remember (slightly) one part of the day. The part where I had to give a speech. When I say that I remember, that’s not entirely true. I don’t remember what I actually said. All I remember is that it was awful. Possibly the worst speech ever uttered by anyone in the whole world, ever!

And for most of my life, every time I saw a wedding, whether in real life or on screen, the awfulness of that wedding and, in particular, that speech, came flooding back.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, A got married. He wanted me to be a witness (they don’t really have the Best Man thing here). As for when I was Best Man, I was really honoured to be asked.

Then he told me he wanted me to do a speech. I didn’t really believe it would happen, to be honest. In Italy, speeches are not a thing. They just don’t do them. Here, a wedding is the service (in church or the local council place) followed by a meal (which often lasts for hours and has about 6 million different courses). Then everyone goes home/to their rooms (if in a hotel).

But, A being A, wanted a speech from me. He was concerned that many people would not understand because it would be in English and asked if F could translate it. Instead (but only as a just in case because I really believed it wouldn’t happen – both the wedding and the speech thing), I prepared a speech in Italian. F was supposed to look over it to correct the translation but we didn’t have time before the wedding.

So, we arrive at the church. F sits at the back correcting and editing (slashing loads of stuff out because it was too long, he said) whilst the service commences.

The church
(see the church! At the top of the very windy road, just below the famous statue at Maratea – God, it was scary!)

Then we all get in cars to head back to the reception which is at the hotel we are staying at, far away from Milan, at a place called Maratea, on the Italian coast, south of Naples.

hotel with private beach
(this is the hotel, near Maratea, with its own, private, beach! The subject of another post)

We have the aperitivo. I don’t have much because I know there’s a main meal to come. Then we go in for the main meal. In the UK, we normally have the speeches after the meal. A wanted them before. M, one of his other witnesses and, possibly, his best friend, gives a speech. Then it’s my turn. He gives me the microphone but the waiters are serving the first course – so it doesn’t happen. Later it does. I (try to) speak in Italian since that is how it is written but I’m sure it was terrible – and yet, it wasn’t like 37 years ago. It didn’t embarrass me at all. Firstly because it was all written out and secondly because I made such an effort, I guess.

So, maybe now I can get over the 37-year-old disaster and be proud that I did something good?

A picture of the famous statue with the town below

Getting closer every day

Getting closer every day

Death happens to us all, sooner or later.

Before the Internet, it was more difficult. Information wasn’t easy to come by.

But, when I was around 15 or 16 (or even 17), I knew how to kill myself. Sleeping tablets. I knew you had to take a lot of them.

I must have been living at home, which is why I put the ages above. I went to the doctor, without telling anyone, and explained that I couldn’t sleep and could he give me something to help me sleep. I thought it was so simple. I was naive. I was a kid who knew nothing.

However, instead of giving me something, he wrote referring me to a psychiatrist. I honestly don’t know if he wrote to me or to my parents. In fact, this story of my life has been so deeply buried that it was only today that I remember it at all – and then only the pertinent things.

In any event, my parents opened the letter. They were some kind of (fundamentalist?) christians. They didn’t believe in doctors or illnesses or anything like that. And so, the idea of me going to see a psychiatrist horrified them. My father “suggested” that I didn’t need to see a psychiatrist at all and, after being very embarrassed by the fact that they found out (not thinking instead about how they came to know), I didn’t attend the appointment booked for me.

And, of course, my idea of suicide was equally scuppered.

So, maybe it was a good thing? Or maybe I should have gone to the appointment and got rid of some of the dreadful baggage that I carried around (both then and now).

But on a different but same note, this summer some things happened and I have cancer.

Well, as I’m not actually a doctor, I don’t actually know it is but suspect it is. I’ve talked about my tendency to hypochondria before now, so, you know, things happen and I think the worst but you “ignore them” and they “go away”. In this case, some things happened together at the start of the holiday (so I could hardly ruin my holiday, could I, by going to a doctor?) and some of those things are still happening.

Of course, I do understand that these things may still be happening because I believe my diagnosis. But, you know……

So, today, I’ve made an appointment to see the doctor and this will mean tests and stuff to determine if my diagnosis is correct. I’ve already been playing out all the possible consequences of these tests in my head and in my imagination – from it’s nothing, to a simple infection to a full-blown, nothing-you-can-do, terminal cancer.

And I’m both scared and not scared. “Not scared” being more “resigned” to it.

And then today I learn that a friend (or, rather, a friend’s wife) has some sort of mass on her brain. And now, at this time of my life, of course, these types of things will happen more often.

When I was a kid, death was so far away as to be something you had to actually force.

Now, death is a reality.

And it gets closer every day.

Can I find the keys to the vaults?

And, to add to my previous post.

My memory is terrible and everyone who knows me knows this to be true.

Except, that’s not really the whole story.

My memory is very selective. It seems that I am able to blot out parts of my life to the point where I remember almost nothing. But it’s a choice, albeit an automatic “choice” in that, I don’t consciously say “OK, I will forget that part of my life” but rather that parts of my life just, simply, disappear.

The student I mentioned in the last post seemed to think it was my way of dealing with difficult or hurtful things.

This can be very convenient. It can also make things difficult.

Convenience comes with not having to remember details that may upset me or things that were difficult. Also with the fact that certain things can be revisited as if for the first time and re-enjoyed without any previous “knowledge”.

The difficulties come with things like the coming weekend. My previous best friend died a few weeks ago. We (V & I) had been on holiday with him and his family many, many times; we spent Christmasses and Easters with them and other weekends too. We just got on so well. On Thursday, I shall go to the funeral. And people will talk about things from the past.

Except, I remember almost nothing of all those years (it was, maybe, 15 years or so) and I remember almost nothing of our times together, except a few, very tiny and insignificant things.

So, I’m quite nervous about this. I will have to have my “Oh, yes, I remember it well” face on. For about 3 days. This could be more than a little difficult.

Sometimes, when people remind me of something, I will be able to retrieve it from my memory bank, from the securely-locked vault. Other times, it’s locked in a different vault and the key seems to be missing. And, no amount of prompting by others enables me to find the key. The memory remains elusive.

And, I have learnt that people will try to help you remember and that they don’t really like it if you can’t remember.

On the other hand, some things I DO remember and, because those who know me and know how terrible my memory can be, assume they have better memories than I do and will be convinced that their memory is the “correct” one, even if it isn’t.

An example of which was the argument I had with my sister one time. Talking about my Grandfather, I said that he was in his 80s and she was convinced he was in his 70s and assumed (and told me) that my memory was always bad and so I was definitely wrong. I knew I wasn’t but I couldn’t convince anyone.

Some years later I found the “order of service” of his funeral which proved he WAS in his 80s. Unfortunately, by then, my sister and I had become “estranged” again and so I was never able to say “I told you so”!

Anyway, let’s hope vaults are opened this weekend so I don’t have to hide my lack of memories too much.

Like a ghost

So, she got me thinking.

Was it true? Did we have such a relationship that HAS affected everything else?

And then came the most disturbing thing.

I realised that, in all the memories, although she was obviously there, she had no physical presence. I mean to say, she was there – she was making or had made food; she put that blue stuff on my wasp stings; she cried in the car as they took me to university. And yet …..

When I tried to picture her or feel her touch, she was like a ghost – not real, ethereal. I couldn’t see a face. Or hands. She was always just out of vision. Just out of reach. She could have been touching me but I couldn’t feel it.

And that was strange. I could see him. He existed in both sight and feel.

But she’s not there, exactly.

So, I keep thinking, is this all part of it? Have I locked it down so well that she is being erased/has been erased by my own mind?

I was teaching something about women in business. There was a thing called “imposter syndrome”. It was said to cause the person to attribute their “success” to other factors such as luck, good timing, etc. rather than to themselves. They felt that they were always on the verge of “being found out”.

So, we were chatting about it and I explained that this was how I felt about the business I had. When people would say I was successful, I would respond with things like, “It’s not me, it’s the people that work here” or “It’s only because I happened to be in the right place at the right time”, etc.

I had forgotten that she has trained as a psychologist.

She said that this was caused by the relationship between me and my mother, up to 5 years of age. She suggested that it was because I had felt disturbed in some way when she wasn’t with me. So, that led me to thinking about the situations with and without her.

And that led me to the realisation that, in my thoughts and memories, she didn’t exist. Not really.

So, come our next lesson, I have to ask about this. To me, of course, this is normal but I’m not sure if it’s really normal or not.

Five Years (or, maybe, about ten?)

I’ve been meaning to write and, in fact, have written – but never finished.

Since I moved the blog, for some inexplicable reason, it seems harder to write anything.

And lots of things have happened. Most recently, lots of people have died – people that were 10 or so years older than me. Does that mean I’ve got about 10 years left?

Dale (Buffin) Griffin died (from Mott the Hoople – the first group I followed); Glenn Fry (from the Eagles – and I remember, particularly, Hotel California) died too.

But the one that really affected me, in spite of the fact that, during the 80s and 90s I never bought any of his albums and I never, ever saw him live, was David Bowie.

The day he died I was in a state of shock. For the whole day, I barely functioned. And I tried to work out why his death would affect me so badly. I puzzled over it – I mean, I don’t think I could have called myself a real fan – not compared to others – and yet, there I was, struggling to concentrate on anything, felling somewhat bereft and very sad.

But I couldn’t really work out why. There was the thing that I admired him. I styled my hair like his (or tried to) a number of times in my life. I wanted to “be” him. I remember seeing the first performance of Starman on Top of the Pops – that special performance that changed everything. I remember listening so many times to the Ziggy Stardust LP. But I listened to many things and yet no one dying has quite affected me the same way.

He did make all things possible. He made being “not normal”, acceptable and, kind of, normal – and, therefore, he made me feel better about myself at a time when I wasn’t sure what I felt about myself.

He was intelligent but ordinary; weird but not at all strange. He did what he wanted but never really strayed into an “impossible to live in” world. And, of course, he “spoke” to me (and many others), through his lyrics which often didn’t talk about anything real at all.

Of course, he will be missed because of his extraordinary talent. One of the things I thought on that day was how sad it was that he wouldn’t be releasing any more albums. Not for me but for everyone else.

OK, and for me.

Even now, days later, there seems some sort of hole in my life now that he’s gone.

Strange, isn’t it?

p.s. My favourite album was Aladdin Sane – just so you know.

How To Be Both/Citadel

So, it seems I’m back to normal in that I finished How To Be Both, by Ali Smith, yesterday evening – so, a couple of days, more or less.

It’s won lots of awards, including the Bailey’s Prize (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction). But, although clever and interesting, it doesn’t match A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing from last year. Nor does it make me want to rush out to read other books by her.

So, I have the next book which is one of a couple or series, I’m not sure which. Except I picked up the wrong one. It’s not the first. Damn. The first is back at the house. So I trudge back to our cabin to swap it for the other book I brought today – Citadel by Kate Mosse.

And here, I should confess, I read her books because I know her. I mean, know to speak to – from the Hay Festival days and the early days of the Orange Prize when we used to get invited to the party where they announced the winner.

She probably doesn’t remember me. But that’s ok. She’s a lovely lady and so I read her stuff. Sometimes I really like her stuff, so we shall see with this one.

Not first, last nor everything

Not first last nor everything

2nd June is a national holiday here.

It is also the date that I met V all those years ago. Of course, I don’t forget that. He remains a significant part of my life even if a “past” part.

But as the years go on and my relationship with F becomes fuller with memories that we have of our own, the date itself becomes less important (although it will always remain significant.)

During my trip back to Milan I had several calls and texts. I don’t answer them as I am driving and really don’t want to be distracted when I’m hurtling along the motorway!

So I looked when I got back home.

And one of them was from V.

Obviously from an English phone. But it’s too strange. The things that are written are as if we are still together. Except one sentence:

I hope you feel comfortable to think of me and us on this very special day

Well, yes, of course I’m comfortable. I had already thought of it, of you – but it’s memories now and not the here and now. Here and now I’m on the beach, soaking up the sun. This is my life now.

One thing was a bit unfortunate although it may have been a slip of the fingers on the keyboard – he said it was 28 years ago – whereas, in fact, it was 27. I couldn’t resist pointing that out. Was that bad of me?

But, anyway, I’m afraid I can’t reply in the same way as he wrote. I told the truth which is that I don’t forget and am grateful I met him 27 years ago. For, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t be here now without him. I wouldn’t have been lying on a beach on the Tuscan coast if it weren’t for him. But, I’m afraid he’s not “my first, my last, my everything” as he put. He was but now he isn’t.

And, anyway, given his modus operandi, the stuff he writes or says aren’t always exactly the truth. And if it is the truth, this becomes lopsided relationship since it isn’t reciprocated. It’s not that I don’t wish him well, nor that I don’t have love for him, it’s just that he isn’t my everything (nor even my first or last).

He’s someone who was a big part of my life and because of whom I am here, with F and for that reason he remains a part of my life. But only a part.

Life threads – so frail?

This was a draft post from March of this year. I don’t know why it wasn’t posted and, maybe I meant to say more. But I think it stands anyway. So, here it is.

As my regular readers know, a lot of the stuff I post is stuff in my head which bears no resemblance to what I actually do or say nor to what people who don’t read this blog think that I’m thinking. Nor, sometimes, to reality.

For the stuff in my head is intangible and floats and changes depending on the crap that I may be thinking about at the time.

And so, this morning, I wake up with that feeling of dread. Again.

There’s no reason for it. Or, rather, there are reasons but they aren’t real … yet and, quite possibly will never be real. They are, of course, my “nightmares” of the waking hours – as opposed to my nightmares when I am asleep, of which I’ve had plenty just over the last few days. Not the same. All different.

So, this feeling of dread. It’s as if something bad is just about to happen. Like I’m on a knife-edge of a reality where everything starts to go horribly wrong. And, yet, nothing has gone wrong so far.

But the feeling persists. Maybe it’s the recent incidents involving V? After all, the fall from who he was to what he is now (as far as I can tell) spans less than 6 years. Can a normal, ordinary life have so short a thread that is can become unwound in such a short time? Well, yes, of course. And I’ve known that for such a long time too. I remember teaching a guy on a programme called Restart – a government funded programme to get unemployed people into work.

This guy told me how he’s had a good job, wife kids, house, etc. And within a couple of years lost it all simply by being made redundant. He’s been a roadsweeper at one point and told me of having people spit at him. He was a decent guy who wanted to work but then, all those years ago, by the time you were over 50 you were considered “past it” (I was about 25 at the time and I was teaching people how to rewrite their CV, write letters, etc.)

And, of course, from that point it’s not far to be one of those people without a home, no prospect of any type of job and sleeping on the street.