November 24: on not ending up like bernard cribbins

i just saw Bernard Cribbins on the telly as I was flicking through the channels. He was singing in an Edwardian costume in an old edition of ‘The Good Olde Days’ from the 1970s. There was also Vince Hill on the show. Vince Hill was a crooner appreciated, I should imagine, by the ladies of the time. I don’t quite know where Bernard Cribbins’ talents lay. He was, I suppose, what you call an all-round entertainer. He did good work as a voiceover artist in children’s television. He’s still alive today, I see from Wikipedia. The reason I mention Bernard Cribbins is that when I was watching Bernard Cribbins singing ‘Where did you get that hat?’ and ‘I’m Enerey the Eighth I am’ in his chequered waistcoat I had a strange memory of my adolescent self. Bernard Cribbins represented to me a consciously articulated model of someone that I could model myself on, if ever the worst came to the worst. I don’t know why I focused on Bernard Cribbins. He wasn’t like me at all. He was short and squat with a certain neatness; I was tall and willowy with a certain gonkiness. Maybe that difference represented a kind of ideal to an insecure teenager. It is of some comfort to me, I must admit, that things have turned out better for me than my admittedly unambitious aspirations to resemble Bernard Cribbins. No. I did not end up like Bernard Cribbins, though I am sure he is a very nice man.

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November 15: a policeman with kippers in his basket

You come out of a flat at seven o’clock in the evening and there is cooking going on. Today there is a leg of lamb in the oven. Last week it was a roast chicken. The week before that a steak and kidney pie. When you leave a flat or a house at the same time every week because you have duties there it is as if the people in that flat are fixed in time, unable to shift, like the Mad Hatter and the March Hare doomed to forever repeating their tea party for the rest of their days. You are surprised to see them remaining the same weight from week to week. How can it be? They are always shifting these huge sides of beef. It gets so that when you see them you see an organic farm-bred chicken coming across to meet you or a herd of oxen walking down the hallway. We judge people by the circumstances in which we habitually see them, circumstances which may be wholly atypical of them for the rest of the week. This is especially true if our engagement with that person is always at the same time or in the same place. If you see the local policeman in the street one day leading the life of a normal man without his high-viz jacket and his helmet on, you are astonished. I saw that policeman in the Tesco today, you say, he was just shopping like a normal man. What did he have in his basket? they all ask you. Kippers, you say, and people are amazed. What! Kippers! Humanity cannot bear so much reality. I remember seeing my primary school headmaster at a bus stop once. I stepped back, out of his line of vision. I did not know how to fit that meeting into my life. Some terrible spell might have shattered. Another person who could not have lived anywhere else except on the front doorstep of where we lived when I was a child was the insurance man who came round for our weekly payment of 7 shillings and sixpence. The pools man could also lead no life other than the one on our front doorstep. Many years later I saw him, not only elsewhere (he was in the Stockport shopping centre) but also older and with another person (his wife maybe). It was tragic. The man had been untimely ripped from our 1970s front doorstep. It was abusive.

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November 8: on taking a shower

As I was crossing Hungerford Bridge today I heard a woman behind me say to her friend ‘When I got into the shower I was a student nurse, when I got out I was a nurse’. I tried to work this out. Maybe the allocation of the nursing degree happened automatically at a certain time with the degree being dependant on a period of inhouse experience. This was what I concluded. Things can happen in a minute. You can get into a shower in the red before your salary gets paid into your account and get out in the black when the transfer of this month’s pay has gone through. This, of course, has nothing to do with the shower itself. It is not hygiene that makes you rich, though your whole life can switch round in the duration of a shower without you lifting a little finger to implement any change. You can give the order for someone to be bumped off at midday precisely, so that when you step out onto the bath mat your nemesis has been liquidated. You can reach the age of twenty-one and come into your fortune, inheriting daddy’s or Uncle Joe’s millions. You can make a simple decision that will transform the rest of your life. Give up drink, or drugs or cigarettes. It is in the breaks that decisons are made. At half-time the coach will rejig the team or in your night’s sleep or your afternoon nap, when nothing should be happening, that a decision will suddenly fit into place. Life happens to us as much as we happen to it. Though when I step into a shower normally no major transformations take place. I wash my hair and make perfunctory washing gestures around four strategic areas: the privates; the bottom and the two armpits. These are the major crisis points of cleanliness, I find. I rinse and step out. I look in the mirror. No change.

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