Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Song at the ear's turning

It was the Feast of St Trisant, the patron of Welsh rustlers, and I was celebrating down The Tethered Goat with a few honoured guests of our guild. Ron the Barman happened to be marking the 60th anniversary of his desertion from the Essex Irregulars - "Told me to stop shooting Dutchmen, so I legged it and carried on. Got a medal from someone - not sure who" - and was topping our pints of Champion's Freckled Johnson with belts of blue curaçao "for the Royal baby". Spirits and hemlines rode high as talk turned to New Year resolutions.

These midwinter pieties, much like careers and amorous rebuffs, simply don't occur to Welshmen, who preach the perennial pattern of "live slow, drink long, and leave someone else's corpse", but this year I suddenly yearned to make my mark - and not just in a jaundiced snow drift on the way home.

The public house is my natural environment, home as it is to dusty sedation, nostalgic odours and bedraggled women, and so here I must make my stand. I looked from companion to companion, and fast realised I would never outdrink the K-Man, outsmoke Dazza, beat The Dog in the "neighbours said he kept himself to himself" stakes or hint at the hedgerow allure of Rock-Chick No.3.

Again struck by my essential shallowness, I glanced up at the bar, past Shitty Dave, Maniac Postman and the undercover lager drinkers, and snagged on the Last Year in Marienbad loop that is Nottingham John's motorways-and-marketstalls monologue.

"...I telt him once if I telt him a million times not to come off at Tamworth that early, 'cause that's where the coppers patrol in unmarked Subarus..." he ground on at some blameless soak who'd never travelled further than the bookies on anything faster than his polished bunions.

And then it dawned on me. This is where I could excel. From my epic apprenticeship as a man in a pub, I could emerge as that master-craftstman of unfounded counsel - the Man In The Pub.

Too long has my lady wife had to burrow beagle-like deep into the set of my latest schemes, only to flush out the Bibulous Badger of Saloon Bar Bollocks, heralded as ever by the caveat "well, bloke down the pub said..."

How proud she'll be, I thought, no longer to have to disabuse, or sometimes simply abuse, me on such matters as whether stamps are legal tender, the Pope controls the European butter mountain, and owls cannot  physically be gay. Now it will be me sending husbands home with a fleaful of fibs in the ear.

It's not even 2014 yet, and I'm already preparing material for my debut next to the giant whisky bottle full of buttons and pesetas this Friday. Here's an amuse-bouche for you Epicurians of the expendable:

  • "If you knock off a policeman's wife while he's on duty, he can't arrest you..."
  • "The Queen lets you off if you eat a swan's wing, but only as long as you did it one-armed. You get a Royal Pardon. That's how they caught that Abu Hamza..."
  • "The mob and Castro killed Marilyn Monroe because they thought JFK was round her place - that and they was worried she'd make another film. Kennedy topped himself in grief, got the CIA to stage it to look like an assassination. Ginger Spice is their daughter, and all..."
  • "Earth's flat, mate - Moon as well. And I can prove it..."
  • "Japanese women, right..."

All of this wisdom can be yours for a pint of Abdication Special and some nuts - proper ones, mind, not them dry-roasted ones. Scientists showed they're made of sweepings, held together with piss and cocaine. On the other hand...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oeil de Faucon

We've met Wislen before, walking a telephonic tightrope between a Toronto Hausfrau and her husband, whose erotic adventures with a Hoover Powerdrive vacuum cleaner had left him in the care of the municipal ambulance service.

I asked him how he'd honed such diplomatic skills. "I'm a meaty, bearded bear of man with bowed arms and a short fuse," he explained from under an absurd hat, "And being a Goldwater Republican gives me plenty of scope for practicing patience in this fag-hag country of yours."

"How come?" I asked.

"Because I come from Dallas, and have to sit through under-considered recollections of where people think they were when President Kennedy was shot every goddam week."

"You didn't like him, then?"

"I come from Dallas," he repeated evenly.

I soon had occasion to witness Wislen's subtle social savoir-faire in action on the bracken-buckled battlefield that is Wales - the bar of The Torrent Walk Hotel in my hometown Dolgellau, to be precise.

Our frontiersman friend had taken the stone-wheeled funicular up from England to visit me one college summer holiday. He enjoyed the journey through the Berwyn Mountains - "reminds me of my winter wolf-herding round the Borgo Pass" - and was full of bonhomie as we settled down at an overturned table in the Torrent's dugout bar.

Three rounds into the barrel of St Trisant's Landsker Special, and Wislen felt expansive enough to wander up to the bar rather than rely on my native disdain for vowels.

As Chwarthbell the barmaid heaved the hoppy slops into a pair of slate jugs, Wislen lit up the cosy gloom with his American smile. "Know what I like about Wales, Boyo?" he bellowed thoughtfully. "Back home I'm not such a tall guy, but - shoot! - I'm a head higher than every peon in this bar!"

The guttural chatter of goat-gelding ground down like badly-filed teeth. All was still, save for the rasp of breath over bevelled tongues and the growling gale without.

Wislen's Texan élan bore him blithely over these breakers of Silurian resentment, although I knew that, even as he arranged his denim rump back on the lacquered tree stump, a phalanx of firebranded fanatics was circling his parents' Panhandle ranch, kindling aloft and coccyges aquiver.

Wislen quaffed on undaunted. I was about to broach a brace of cultural recommendations, before the hunchbacks by the hearth could finish hawking into the ritual coal-scuttle, when the weighted boulder rolled back and my cousin Wilma shouldered her way in.

Like so many Welshwomen Wilma craved human company, and so bore down on Wislen, shandy in hand.

It was the work of moments for her to ascertain that our guest was single, solvent and not from around here, simply by surveying his even number of digits.

"Where you from then?" she whistled through her front row of teeth, primping her ebony bangs with a divining stick.

"These United States of America, ma'am," he declared.

"Oooh," she cooed, "whereabouts?"

"Texas." He was as buttoned down as a Brooks Brothers shirt by now.

"Big and bright!" yodelled Wilma, setting off an atavistic chorus of 'Hen Ferchetan' from the council puddle-heating crew dripping proudly in the corner. "And from where in Texas? The Salammbô?"

"I was coming to that." Wislen shrivelled like a jellyfish in the shadow of a seaside shovel.

"I'm from Dallas."

"Aaaah, I remember where I was when your President Kennedy died!"

Now it was Wilma, but it could have been any and every barfly or border guard from Dún Laoghaire to Luhansk.

"Do tell," whispered Wislen, prodding me towards the heaving kegs.

"Well, I'll never forget that night. Boyo was just a baby, and I was minding him while his parents were out on the town. I was hosing him down after a game of 'cormorant' in the witches' pool when the news came over the wireless - I had to turn up the Bunsen burner to get the valves working right..."

There followed a pleasant few hours of explaining that New Mexico is a place in its own right, not simply a more recent version of Mexico, before we waded out into the evening ichor and headed home to our respective huts.

Wislen lit a Cohiba and generously scattered some Chesterfields to the pre-teen tokers at his heels.

"I'm a rye-based, red-eyed lifeform, Boyo," he ruminated. "And I'm not set on living forever. But I like to hope that one day people will remember my hometown for its extensive marshalling yards and enigmatic underpasses, not just because some Cajun nut done shot one of our many presidents there."

I suppose I could have said that for most of us Dallas already meant amoral oilmen dangling off Sue Ellen's shoulder-pads, rather than the messy dispatch of JFK to the great pool party in the sky.

But I was too busy trying to understand how Wilma could have doused me on 22 November 1963 when, according to the squid-ink inscription in the Boyo family Bible, I first swam ashore from our Bardsey Island spawning ground some 13 months later.

At least I have the right number of fingers to figure it out.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Thinking of You

February is upon us, like a puppy fished from a frostbound pond, so it is time for me to mark the traditional Welsh New Year.
The world of broadcasting pants with gratitude, much like that aforementioned puppy, at the news that Terry Hall is taking over as director-general of the BBC on 2 April. So that's one PR humiliation missed with barely 24 hours to spare.

As always, I have some programme suggestions for him to kick off his tenure with rather more aplomb than was managed by his flourfaced predecessor.

The BBC constantly scans modern Britain in all its racial, social, regional and agely diversity for people who think exactly alike, then lets them loose on Question Time to peddle their grievances to three interchangeable politicians and a "comic".

But our national broadcaster is neglecting an important roost of the insulted and injured - the passive-aggressive community. It is the Corporation's duty to prise these pallid pedants out of the Sunday newspaper letters columns and into the spluttering fluorescence of fame.

I propose the following nests for their twitching resentments:

1. "Losers' Dinners". (The title is an homage to the late Michael Winner's ill-mannered sampling of a thousand sous-chefs' seed.) Normal people sit down to a country supper, only to find themselves assailed by the mosquito whine of self-obsession.

In tonight's episode: Battle of Britain ace Ernest "Belcher" Hogg takes his wife of 60 years out for a feast of pork shoulder, washed down with Alsatian hock.

The surrounding tables are occupied by wan Muslim converts, who tut with every forbidden mouthful at why Squadron Leader Hogg had "picked on the Germans instead of doing something about Palestine".

2. "No No No!" This is a very British take on America's marvellous "Mystery Science Theater 3000", a programme in which robots from the future jeer at low-grade Sci-Fi films - which means all Sci-Fi film.

In my version, eau-de-chat letter-writers with signed photographs of locomotives on their parlour walls sit through BBC period dramas, separated from the television by a Bovril-retardant screen, and squeal the programme name into the dog-whistle register every time someone on "The Hour" refers to the Sunday Telegraph ("No No No! It wasn't launched until 1961!!!!")

The season finale will have cardiganned army dreamers bolted into dentists' chairs as they project their dentures at a specially-commissioned Fox documentary - "Barnes Wallis: An American Hero".

3. "RSI: Miami". South Florida cops and forensics bods struggle to solve crimes using state-of-the-art technology, good-old-fashioned policing and an array of keyboards, wrist-wraps, lumbar-hugging chairs and height-adjustable desks that appear to have been designed by and for HP Lovecraft's inter-dimensional bestiary.

Episode One: There's a crazed killer on the loose, but Lt Caine can't lift his arms above his head - even thought Detective Duquesne needs help with adjusting her support corsetry.

4. "...Before the Americans Ruin It".  Now it's true the BBC already packs pairs of faux-teen haircuts off to Cuba and other telegenic tyrannies to prove, through the medium of wobbly cameras, that shiny clothes and infectious music outweigh anything Amnesty International might have to say.

But my orthopaedic reboot replaces vloggers in crop-tops with a phalanx of flavour-fleeing suburban vegans, and drops funky Vietnam for North Korea and worse.

Tonight, members of Camden Gluten-Intolerance Support are beaten up by café staff within minutes of arrival at Asmara International Airport, Eritrea, and again at the Hotel Roma, the central market, and later at a meeting with the Eritrean Catering Union (great opportunities for a CCTV/smartphone footage mash-up).

And then, in a rousing finale, they are given a good hoofing by their hosts at the Eritrean Vegetarian Society, before being escorted to the vibrant, colourful frontline with Ethiopia.

Press the red button on your TV control now to alert the border guards.