Thursday, 29 July 2010

Dog Days

Yes: it's summer time, and the Mandalls are off to Mallorca. We Ms like journeys to all the safe places, saying which should ensure that something goes terribly, terribly wrong.

If I knew where to look, and if the heavens weren't so murky here in the Bridge, I expect the dog star would be telling me that we are deep in the silly season. What with the Leeds - Liverpool canal drying out, and Mr Cameron on safari, the signs are there.

T'internet really should be closed for the summer, but only the most confident freelancer strays far from his or her iLance.

We can't stop the world entirely, but I hope a few other amateur Bloggers will follow my lead: blogger off to Benidorm and leave the blathering to the blasted professional scribblers. It's what we pay them for.

Thank you for all the lovely things you have had to say about my column since my first View from the Bridge in December. I see that it was about Holiday Time. Well, well.

I seem to have raised one or two smiles, the children haven't entirely disowned me, and Mrs M is hastening home from the salt mines as I write, to celebrate the remnant of her birthday. 

That's quite enough for me.

I'll be back in September.


PS If you're stuck for something to do on another drizzly summer evening in the Bridge, apart from watching Toy Story 3 at a proper cinema like the Regent, you could go and see if the kids laugh at Olly Gomm playing Charley's Aunt  at The Royal Exchange.

Mrs M had to give M to M resuscitation. It's on till 7th August. After that you're on your own till Dr Faustus in September. Can't wait.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Nightmare on Town Street

 Quaker. By Pepsico.

My eighty-two year old uncle bounced into the kitchen at one minute to eight.

“Where’s my breakfast?” he demands with the innocent and radiant beam of one who has already been up for an hour contemplating the latest volume of his guru’s teachings.

“And what would you like for breakfast, Lance?” Mrs M and the boys all have excellent hearing, nurtured in the tranquility of Mandallay. However, as they are all elsewhere in their temples of service or pleasure, I am free to unleash my diaphragm so that Uncle Lance gets the full 80 decibels.

Lance lives alone. He likes solitude. Sometimes, when he feels quite alone, he works on a very big landscape painting. Every year he sends his family a card with a miniature of a recent picture on it. Mrs M’s late mother kept them all in a shoe box.

Living alone, he has little use for his howling, banging, hearing aid, so he left it behind. “Accidentally,” he says. “Accidentally on purpose,” I shout back. “No, just porridge please,” he grins, exposing an impressively preserved mouthful of tombstones, gaily painted by half a century of tobacco and wine, both of which he now eschews.

“Water please, not milk. If it’s not too much trouble.” I remind myself that I am delighted to offer this small hospitality to Uncle L, for he has given me gentle refuge since I was 16. After all, even I can make porridge, provided we have oats in the cupboard.


“We seem to have run out. I’ll just nip to the shop.”
In the words of the ditty adopted by la famille Mandall on a particularly challenging summer holiday to Foreign Parts:

I spin backwards out of Mandallay, avoiding both the Harrytown School Bus and another round of “if it’s not too much trouble."

I know too well how it goes from there.

If it’s not too much trouble” ... “I could have toast perhaps” ... “I’m not sure about that”... 

“I always have porridge at home” ...

and finally

“I think that porridge would be best really” ...


Then [da capo] (what's that, asks M3? Take it from the top. Or, if you prefer, chop his head off.)

“If it’s not too much trouble” ...

Oats? So Simple. Then I remembered that Mrs M had said something about Town Street Stores being closed, and conjectured whether that was for refurbishment, or perhaps for selling too much C2H5OH to the younger members of the Mandall family. I really must pay attention.

Perhaps for old times' sake, they haven’t taken down the signs offering Red Stripe and Barcadi, but behind them is now a neatly fitted layer of newspaper. I was delighted to see a small notice for a meeting of MESS, which stands for the Marple, Marple Bridge and Mellor Energy Saving Scheme or similar, on or around June 18th. Would that be 2009? I had the impression that the planet is somewhat "last year", but I promise to look further into this MESS, when the opportunity arises.

Losing the Spar, as we still refer to Town Bridge Stores, is a bit like discovering that the Bridge has lost a tooth. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. The old lays are the best, as we knights say. Mind you, a few more parking spaces in Marple Bridge might have given Town Street Stores a better chance.

The new Post Mistress has been quick to find the pulse of the Bridge. She has pushed aside a whole row of Jiffy Bags and geometry sets to make room for eggs, instant coffee and Fruit’n’Fibre. But, alas, there are no Oats  on offer. Still, they manage to give me today’s Guardian for Uncle L, and I order one for tomorrow, for delivery with our Beano. Tomorrow’s Guardian is just about the only other thing that the Post Office doesn't stock.

I finally get home by 8.45 with Lance’s Quaker Oats - “oh, Quaker, my favourite!” - and a bogof of biscuits from the Cooperative (Good with Hoob Noobs) which I shall hide from the boys and from myself. Fortunately Mrs M usually guesses where to find them for us.

* * *

By nine o’clock Uncle Lance is in deep contemplation with the Vedas, and the porridge has landed heavily where my diaphragm was before.

I steel myself for an ordinary day in Daddy's Study. Visor down. Still, I'll get out and shake a leg, when the Quaker allows.There's not much to report from the Bridge, or up in the wilds of Mellor today.

Except for a dancer in a pink tutu on that garden gate? I turn around but he’s gone. I’m imagining it. Maybe they cut some Shakers into the Quakers.


Take it easy now, Tom. This isn’t what we're used to on Longhurst Lane. I shouldn't have changed the pills.

I'm not sure I like the way she’s looking at me either. Doesn’t she normally do Vestry Group with that old rocker chap?

That's him! One should not demean people just because they are old, especially in a place like the Bridge, especially when one's own kit is running low on 3-in-1. A gentleman of advanced years may still strum his lute pleasingly...

... but I can't help thinking that this trio means trouble, even without their vuvuzelas.

Perhaps they were downgraded on the way back from Joburg.

Is that why they closed Town Street Stores? It must be the Oats!

Dangling feet tend to make a freelance uneasy, particularly in black and white.


Oh My Three Letter Acronym

How long has he been hanging on?

They didn’t need to do that to her.

Soft! What beating wing or cape
Delights my thrumming ear?

Is it a crow? Can it be?


He went that-a-way!

No this-a-way! 


"I may be a confused stereotype but you badly need the diversity."

* * *

Anyone for tennis?

The Mellor Show is at Mellor Primary School on Saturday 24th July.  

There's even a hop and skip over the hills to Smithy Lane Farm for any freelancers with a flickering residue of the competitive flame. 12 noon: three quid on the day at Mellor Sports Club.


Friday, 16 July 2010

Cry Freedom

I return to the theme of waving flags.

Here I am, right up to the minute. It’s only five days since the final whistle and I’ve just taken in Wavin’ Flag, the official Coca-Cola anthem of the FIFA World Cup.

I hate football.

Wavin’ Flag was on the radio again. M3 had imbibed the lyric and was singing along to it. So I got him to tell me the words. Loud and slow, as to a foreigner, which I am.

Once upon a time, I may have imagined, like the song’s author, K’naan, that “When I get older, I will be stronger.” But I certainly I will not admit that I ever fancied that “They’ll call me Freedom, just like a Wavin’ Flag.”

So why is it that I feel a small flutter in the breast, a tear behind the visor? Drat! Yet again, Coca-Cola is teaching the world to sing, and yet again I’m a sweet sucker for it.

I find it helps me to apply the concept of freedom generously, and then I find it in plenty. Once upon a time, for instance, I had the freedom to stare at any one of the four walls of my empty cell, or even at the TV. Today I have the freedom to decide whether or not to attempt to evict M3 from the Mandall marital bedroom, where he is demonstrating remarkable skills in multi-tasking: channel-hopping, reviewing Facebook, conducting a stretch-test on the laptop cable, complaining that his phone hasn’t got internet, and demanding that I (that’s right: me) that I fetch his phone from the Fiesta, because I offered to get it fixed, so I must retrieve it. (He found the wretched thing in the creatures formerly known as his jeans.)

Such freedom! Happiness is mine.

At this moment, I am claiming the freedom to shut myself in the L-shaped cupboard, laughingly called Daddy’s Study.

“Give me freedom, give me fire, give me reason, take me higher”, sings K’naan. Perhaps it’s the big Zulu thump on the beat. Or perhaps it’s just that damned F word: I can’t help it.

Cry Freedom! The word, especially in a South African context, makes this freelancer weak. The chains of the profit-and-loss and the logical framework, the environmental appraisal and the Executive Summary all fall to the floor.

* * *

It’s Sunday 1st May 1994, and I’m flying into Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg for a small joust at the expense of the tax payers of the European Community. (Do you remember those halcyon days, when we were still a Community and the whiff of Ludwig Van’s Eau de Joy still lingered over the Brandenburg Gates? Ah, Freedom!)

The polling stations for the first free South African elections have just closed. From the 747 window, I see a new South African Y-Front flag flying over the police hut by the runway. Later that night, Uncle Percy stops the car in an empty white suburban street. He steals me an election poster off a lamp post. He holds it at arms’ length and stands quite still, beaming back into the smiling face of Nelson Mandela. Madiba (as we came to know him) got a bit bent in my suitcase, but it’s still here in the cellar at Mandallay, in amongst the Mandall family’s abandoned instruments of music, sport and torture.

* * *

K’naan didn’t start out with the Coca-Cola FIFA version of Wavin’ Flag. This version of Wavin' Flag, on t'internet as northern wags like to call it, seems to be about waiting and wanting in Mogadishu.

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome 
But Violent prone, poor people zone
But it’s my home, all I have known 
Where I got grown, streets we would roam 
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest 
Among the hardest survival 
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak 
Except no defeat, surrender retreat

* * *

My job is to make you smile but it’s hard today. Trinny has died, beloved sister of Susannah, our friendly little two-year old cat who has kept us all company and made us laugh on dark nights and sunny days.

Trinny was victim of a hit-and-run driver outside Mandallay. In the daytime, we Bridgers are the most considerate of drivers, waving each other through, smiling and greeting on our way to the station or the church. But when night seizes the Bridge, we like nothing better than to clip a carousing teenager, or crush a crazy kitten – then scarper.

Trinny sometimes denied that she lived on the edge, but usually owned up.

Looking out of an attic window one day, I observed parallel wobbly white scratches on the slates of the West Wing. A few days later, Mrs M brought Trinny in, confused, panting, and bleeding. We kept a vigil all night, and by morning Trinny was fine. She professed not to know anything about it, and said that her cat food must have been spiked. In any case, she promised Polly, our old bitch* retriever, not to do it again.

But there was no stopping her. The roof of the West Wing has more stripes than Trinny’s tartan top.

I remonstrated with Trinny about the risks of base-jumping. Of course, there’s nothing you can do.

Freedom!” she miaoued, and skipped off across the road, wavin’ her bag.

So long Trinny

*Polly is the old bitch formerly known as Bruno in this column. Polly told me she doesn't do butch, and didn't want to keep up the pretence any longer. I do appreciate, incidentally, my continuity editors who check my column for errors. Thanks to you, Mandallay is settling down to a standard location and orthography on Longhurst Lane. Your corrections give this old freelancer that rare and lovely feeling that he is being listened to. 



HADDOCK Fannie, nee Mae, and Johnny found capsized in their tank on 14th July. Married only for one week, Fannie and Johnny have gone to re-join their beloved Freddie, who departed this life on the 7th of this month.

WOODALL Trinny suddenly on Longhurst Lane on Monday. Missed by her sister Susannah, by all the Mandalls, and possibly by the bitch, Polly. Laid to rest ‘neath the Leylandii. Free to roam without fetters. No fish please.

Don't worry: it's on the way

Unusually, I have a little business to attend to.

A fuller edition will be with you later today.


Friday, 9 July 2010

Just a thought

It’s just a thought, one of those bats that flits through the empty belfry of the freelancer’s cranium.

(I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons that we freelancers spend so much time fettling up the lance between campaigns is that we have a short attention span. Bad habits from an early age. Hence, it’s just the one thought. Invoice in the post.)

This particular thought is a thought about a - never mind.
The point is: the following notice has appeared on Stockport Road in Marple.

Can you see that? It says:

Young drivers THINK

There’s a thought. One would like to think that this thought is founded on observation, but I haven’t found any evidence to back it up. However, I expect that it’s the considered view of our friends over at Traffic Services in the Stockport Communities, Regeneration and Environment Directorate, CRED for short. (I mustn’t knock CRED. By this time next year, I fear the Big Society will just be a Big Hole, and that our liberal democrat council will have lost its street CRED altogether.)

Mrs M and M1 rage against this sign every time they pass it. It’s making a terrible mess of the Fiesta.

Mrs M is a great defender of modern youth. Returning recently from one of our family outings to Pizza Hut and the Royal Exchange in Manchester, for instance, Mrs M observed that the younger Ms ahead of us were having difficulty persuading a G4S security operative (who has replaced the ticket inspector) at Piccadilly Station to let them board the Marple Express.

The boys’ rational arguments appeared to be having little impact on Mr G4S: mere boyish reason was nothing to him. I don’t know whether it was the force of Mrs M’s reason, or the end of the rounders bat poking out of her capacious handbag, but, at her appearance, Mr G4S quickly waved the Mandalls and the rest of middle-aged, middle-class rabble onto the Marplestar.
“They always try it on with the kids,” she said, poking the handle back in her bag.

I don't want to fall out with the family, but I think Traffic Services have got a point. There is plenty of evidence that young people think, and I am not aware of any research that young drivers are an exception. Young people conceivably employ thought in choosing whether to protest against a war or join the army. Some may use thought in the course of their research into the relationship between prime numbers and the Neanderthal genome. Others weigh up the economics of having a baby at 15, while yet others discourse on whether Mumford and sons are arrivistes, and whether their bumbling onto the stage at summer festivals to coincide with their surprise hit single, is not quite as haphazard is it appears. ("Dad," I hear the chorus. "Stop trying to be Down With The Kids." I'm not, I retort. I heard about them on Radio 4. So there.)

The strongest evidence that young people think, however, is Facebook: young people spend a great deal of time thinking about each other, about themselves, and about hair products.

I suspect that Peter Jenner, the vicar up in Mellor, might agree with Traffic Services. Peter says that he hopes his parish is a place for “seekers” at least as much as for “finders”. We think, we seek, we hope.

If Peter is right, perhaps Marple is a bit different from, say, Alderley Edge, whose portals sport following the message:

Children please drive slowly

This, one feels, is addressed to under-aged footballers who have already found themselves in possession of everything that they ever wanted, and have therefore already wrapped their first Lamborghinis around my Zimmer frame.

* * *

Back in Marple, and a little further along Stockport Road, Traffic Services – or whoever – exhorts us as follows:

That's right:

Don't become a Statistic

One thing we are never short of is a statistic. 56,817 drivers and riders aged 30 to 39 were involved in recorded UK road collisions in 2008, nearly as many as the 58,846 under-24s. (That's approximate: Mrs M wasn't available to check the figure-work.) What is more, the alcohol level in the blood of thirty-something drivers involved in crashes is much more likely to be over the legal limit (39%), than that of 16-19 year-olds (23%).

Anyway, all I was thinking was that young drivers might like to know this too, before they are crashed into by a drunken git in a bloody Range Rover.

M3 has just come back from an extended Graffiti workshop at our local Specialist Youth-Wise Communication College. I have suggested that he add a rider (so to speak) to the road sign.

Young drivers THINK
Thirty-somethings DRINK

It was just a thought.

* * *


MAC our dear goldfish Freddie Mac, on 7th July at Mandallay, of a bloated bladder, bravely borne.  He leaves his beloved Fannie Mae, and their young friend from Brabyns Fair, John. Freddie is re-united with the Dreamers on high.  Donations to Lehman Brothers. No weed please.

HADDOCK Fannie Mae to Johnny on 7th July, after a long engagement.  The Bride’s Maids wore salmon, and the periwinkle bouquet was caught by Ann Chovy. Fannie and Johnny plan to honeymoon in Wales, before returning to found a Cordon Bleu School in Mandallay.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Every Little Helps

Mrs M advises me that the key to enjoying a holiday is anticipation. In bed, she reads me extracts of her guide to Majorca. 

It is but a small step, barely worth donning the slippers for, to a shopping expedition.  

I mustn’t moan. It is true that a holiday is a good excuse to stock up on swimwear, but a forthcoming tour of duty makes the old Barclaycard quiver with anticipation. I can feel its chip gently sizzling in my back pocket. There is no getting away from it: a freelance loves to shop.  

Of course, I would like to shop locally. Viv and Alf’s Post Office in Moor End used to be the place to buy a coal scuttle, a wedge of cheese, and an airmail stamp for Mongolia. Alas, no more. Down on Town Street, butcher bank and booze shop have all gone too - though you can still buy a second-hand book to enjoy at the Royal Scot next door.

Marple Bridge Post Office thrives too, and Town Street Stores does a great line in Bacardi Breezers and Haribo sweets. 

I can’t understand what the kids see in Haribos: they would make a tube of green Fruit Gums taste like heaven. 

Forget the Haribos, mum. There's not much here for the freelance either. 

Fear not: we still have a clutch of corner shops. On the corner of the M60, down in the valley that is forever Stockport.

Ray the Taxi recalls when the valley was all factories and engine sheds. Now just the viaduct and a few mills remain to remind us of past glories.

Pear Mill Stockport
by James Photo Dyson 

The new sheds are retail - much more fun! Here is everything a freelance needs. Just a stone’s throw from the Bridge – provided Dan Bank’s open and you pick the right time of day (or night). 

B&Q’s got just the thing to touch up my breastplate. 

Then there's Decathlon for the collapsible canoe.

And Tesco’s got everything else. Especially phones.

 Just what we need! As they say at Tesco's, "Every little helps".

** *

On the way home, Dan Bank is closed again. Do you remember those days before the M6 Midlands Link, when traffic jams in Wednesbury lasted until Thursbury? 

What a moment to relive the glory days when the Singing Kettle saved the Mandall dynasty from Pulp Fiction. 

“Let’s play Keep the Kettle Boiling.” I offer. 

“I don’t know any songs: let’s play the shopping game." 

M3 starts: "I went to Tesco’s and I bought an apple – ”  

“Was it an Air Book?” interrupts M2. 

“No, it was a green one.”  

“I went to Tesco’s and I bought a Burger Bun and an Apple Air Book” insists M2. 

“I went to Tesco’s and I bought a Hannah Montana Celebration Cake –”  

“Girlie. You should have got a Man U cake.”  

“Crap. Hate U. Alright a City Celeb Cake, a burger bun and an Air Book”. 

“City begins with an S”.  

“Stupid. Crap begins with C.” 


M3 has brought along his Quentin Tarantino boxed set. Peace at last.

I'll play the supermarket game all by myself. 

I went to Tesco’s and I bought:

a zapper 
Ya-yas in Bloom 
an X-Box
a Wii 
a vile violet vase 
Ultimate cheese-cake 
Tsingtsao beer
sliced smoked salmon
recycling bin  
The Qu’ran  
phish food (ice cream) and three phree 3G phones for the boys ...
... olive oil  
nobby’s nuts  
more mobile phones ... 

... a large lamb leg  
kinky knickers  
jelly babies  
insurance for iPods, and just about everything  
a house  
gravy granules  
fish food for Fannie and Freddie – alright, free fones for the fish too ...
... England World Cup Razor (special purchase)  
DVD players for the back of the Fiesta (buy one get one free) 

 “Shut up, dad." M1 this time.


“You’re annoying me even more than usual.” 

“Every little helps.” 

“Shh. I’m trying to watch this DVD. The screen’s rubbish. Don’t you care about the people in China, dad?"

“Yeah." M2 joins in. "What's the point? Why didn’t you get some decent ones?” 

“They were on Bogof. Eat up your phone. It’s getting cold.”


Every little helps