A Waiting Story: three solid weeks.

Getting into a habit is as difficult as getting out of it observed Marco. One of us is talking about tennis, the other is talking about smack.

He reckoned you need three solid weeks to change your habits in such a way that they would stick. Learning to play tennis over three solid weeks is a tad difficult unless you’re pensioned off to the Riviera. Coming off smack over three solid weeks is probably no easier unless you’ve got a pension the size of The Priory.

We’re both facing psychological stresses and changes of body shape, temperature and perception now we’ve decided to re-habituate our bodies and souls.

One of us is going to get thinner and fitter; one of us is going to get fatter.

One of us is on the verge of on being blown away in the wind; the other, on the verge of resembling the Michelin Man.

One of us will wait for the receding hairline to fade, the other will wait for the waistline to recede. We’ll both wait for the oxytocin to kick in.

Starting a new habit is all very well; ending another is a completely different ball game. But Marco and I have met in the middle; one losing by gaining, the other gaining by losing. Trouble is, we’re not sure which way round we should be. If we wait long enough, we’ll find out which habit has adopted us.

A waiting story: the inconvenienced art gallery.

Today I visited a major international art gallery in London which had removed its public toilets as part of a temporary exhibition. It has been inspired by the work of Mark Rothco who intended his audiences to utterly submerge themselves in his work without the distraction of commerce, entertainment or bodily needs. The art exhibition without toilets is a natural extension of that principle and it was exhilarating to see that the galley was, despite these limitations, doing a hearty trade.

Many visitors had flocked to the exhibition’s many multi-storey galleries and were variously absorbed, challenged or disturbed by what they encountered there: the usual bread and butter experience for a modern art gallery these days it would seem.

The shops and cafes too were doing a roaring trade, plying their wares of ceramics, calendars and cream teas as if tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough. But the most interesting aspect of the gallery with no public toilets was the speed at which visitors engaged with the gallery. Instead of lingering to absorb the work, viewers were tearing through the galleries clearly more intent on emptying their bladders their filling their souls. The cafe had turned into a fast food joint with sandwiches, cakes and croissants abandoned – frequently mid-mouthful. At the end of the afternoon it resembled the Marie Celeste, plates strewn across the floor, tea cups suspended in mid-air and doughnuts bayoneted on the backs of chairs.

As the visit wore on however, it became clear that visitors’ biological needs were becoming more pressing and their ability to wait until they got to the nearest McDonald’s had been stretched beyond breaking point.

Several urination hotspots were making their presence felt in the corridors and secret spaces of the gallery. Foot fall became flooded feet as damp streaks across the atrium concrete floor indicated where visitors had not only been caught short but made their contribution to the gallery experience of others. Whether this was through hormonal influence, peer pressure or instructions from the gallery guide is unclear but their contributions were unmistakable in every sensory way imaginable: sight, sound and of course the smell of the Art Gallery without toilets is something that is not quickly forgotten.

Some may say that the modern art gallery is nothing more than the excrescences of contemporary artists who don’t know how to paint but I think that is an unfair charge against the artist. They may not know how to paint but the modern gallery sure knows how to make people piss in the most unlikeliest and inspirational of circumstances.

A Waiting Story: Chilli Chocolate.

He gives me chilli chocolate every year as my birthday present but I’m allergic to chilli.
“I’ve bought you some chocolate,” he tells me eagerly, “for your birthday.”
“But I’m allergic to chilli ,” I tell him, puzzled why I have to keep on reminding him, 25 years on.
“Oh. Sorry.” He’ll respond, disappointed. I feel I’ve let him down so I open the packet half heartedly and stare at the shiny black slab nestling under the gold foil, ready to pounce.
“Aren’t you going to try it? I bought it for your birthday.”
“Well…” I look at him, looking at me. “Maybe this time it’ll be alright.” He nods, looking down at the chocolate and then up at my face.  I snap the chocolate bar and offer him one of the fragments.
“No, no, it’s for you.”
I pick one of the smaller shards and lift it towards my mouth. Its heat starts to melt the chocolate on my fingers and I wait for the goosebumps to creep up my arm.
“Are you sure you won’t try some?” I offer the sticky black splinter towards him. “I’d like to share it with you. It’s my birthday after all. It’s nice to do things together.”
He shakes his head.
“No thanks. But let me feed you.”
He takes the burning chocolate out of my fingers and sits closer. “Open wide.”
I giggle. It’s always like this on my birthday.
“Guess who’s coming for breakfast?” He slowly lifts the chocolate to my mouth. I close my eyes and he counts to ten.
“One.” I swallow.
“Two.” I open my eyes and see him gazing lovingly at me.
“Three.”
“Four.” I shut them again.
“Five.” He’s touched the chocolate on my lips and I leave it there, not dating to lick it away.
“Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.”
I open my mouth and he inserts not one, but two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten sticky black burning coals into my mouth, one at a time.
“Ten.” I shut my mouth. “Happy birthday.” I open my mouth and he’s beaming at me. “Happy birthday.” I nod, trying to smile back through the tears.

A Waiting Story: The Last Supper or How to Clear a McDonald’s.

Me and the mates were getting a bit tired with the delay in the service of the so called fast food restaurant. What normally takes seconds had taken over a minute and it was clear to us all that the problem lay with the numbers of customers who were queuing in every conceivable space possible: around the block, up into the toilets, down the street to the canal and through the kitchens themselves, snaking around the managers office, the staff mess and the outdoor abattoir.

We realised quickly that we needed to stake our claim on some space in the upstairs seating area so gravitated en masse to a large table by the window. We were quickly successful in scaring off the residents: whether this was because there were so many of us or because John started to cluck like a chicken, I wasn’t sure.

But very quickly 12 of us were sat on and around the faux wood seats and bright yellow leather look alike benches and waited patiently for Mary to bring us our order. To say we waited patiently is, in Matthew’s case, being economical with the truth. He has a very short span of attention and if his desires aren’t gratified within moments of expressing them, he can get very tetchy indeed. He’ll bang the table with his plastic tray, try to blow tunes on the plastic straws and kick any neighbouring plastic seats away from him. Fast food restaurants were in theory made for Matthew but they can never be fast enough for his quick witted and lightening sharp temper. Before long, tens of seconds at most, our patch was showing the results of Matthew’s impoverished patience.

It had the desired effect though: several customers looked at him in alarm, hurried down their already Hurried Meal (why do they call them Happy Meals?) and shepherded their children away from us as fast as their little legs would take them.

Luke thought this was hilarious. But then again he always thinks everything is hilarious: just look at him with a quizzical look in your eyebrows and he’ll start his donkey braying noises. Initially his audience might join in but after a while – perhaps minutes on a good day – their smiles will freeze as the braying gets into their coats, under their skin and into their bones.

That’s the time they back off from Luke and sure enough, today was no exception. The elderly got unsteadily off their seats and hobbled for the exit, a couple of them crossing themselves for good luck. John made matters worse by trying to apologise to the remaining customers. This made Matthew bang the tables louder, Luke added to his farm yard impressions by digging out the sound of cows being slaughtered in the back yard and John started to anoint unfortunate customers with left over plastic cups of Coca Cola.

Mary returned at this point but by this time I’d had enough and decided to execute the coup de grace. I lent over and kissed Mark fairly and squarely on the forehead which of course prompted the management to descend on us with their batons and their tazers.  We had cleared McDonalds of those annoying queues but unfortunately had managed to get ourselves booted out into the street in the process.

We probably won’t be going there ever again if the manager gets his way.

A Christmas Waiting Story: the Mole’s tale.

I am a mole and I live in a hole with the voles of despondency. Cheer up I say, it may never happen but the voles continue to fret in their usual way, whiskers a-quiverling, noses a-twitching, feet a-tingling. You just don’t understand they squeak, we’re doomed, we’re all doomed and you mole are first in line when the revolution unfolds.

First in line for what I ask them but they give me no answer other than to continue their frantic racing through the burrows along the river bank and out into the estuary. They’re preparing for Armageddon and nothing and no-one, not even a mole in a hole is going to stop them.

This morning one of them stopped her twitching and her quivering, sat up straight and looked me straight in my blind eyes and asked in a voice several octaves higher than was comfortable ‘And where do you think you’re going? Heaven or hell? Come the day of reckoning, what side will your bread be buttered Mr Mole?

I couldn’t answer her rhetorical question but continued to dig away at the tunnel I was creating in front of me. She took my silence as a sign of assent for further interrogation. And do you think digging the same old way is going to get you anywhere at all, mole? Do you really think you are on a path to redemption? Do you not see that your path is the path of the damned? No, I see you see nothing at all and that is the way it should be. God moves in mysterious ways and you, mole, are the most mysterious creature of them all.

Coming from a vole who lives in a hole of despondency struck me as being a bit rich but I was saying nothing. Hear no evil, speak no evil, dig no evil is my motto and as a mole’s mantra goes this is better than most.

What are you waiting for mole? She continued. You cannot wait much longer before the rains come, the river is flooded and we will all be washed away in a flood of hell fire water a-fizzing and a-popping. I’ll take my chance I said to her and continued to paw away at the tunnel that was forming ahead of me. That’s the good thing about being a mole. You make your tunnels, you don’t rely on the voles of despondency to do it for you.

A Christmas Waiting Story: the Walrus’s tale.

I am The Walrus. Goo goo g’ joob I hear you tenors mutter but no amount of back chat is going to detract me from the fact that I am indisputably The Walrus. Not a walrus, not any old walrus but The Walrus. So listen up, pay attention and learn fast. We’ve got three hours to turn you miserable lot into a golden angelic host of Serabim and Seraphim so there’s no time to waste.

I am the egg man, you are the egg men. Yes, you at the back, keep up. No, it’s not red men, blue men or any other sort of men other than of the egg variety.

Altogether now. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. Ladies: keep it together please, this is no time to query the theological nature of the carol. Just accept it for what it is. Pardon? I have no idea what it is, I am just The Walrus, I know nothing other than how to whip together a scratch choir in the time it takes to shake a llama’s tale.

Now, a tempo please. Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. That’s right you basses.. Mind the accidentals… Steady now… Enunciate Mr. McCartney, you’re not in a bloody grunge band now lad.. Cor-por-ation tee-shirt, stu-pid bloo-dy Tues-day. Man, you been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long. Do I really have to spell it out for you?

Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye. What’s the matter Mrs Lennon? Distasteful? When have Christmas carols ever been anything but distasteful? They’re all about global warming, homeless men and illegitimate births so a dash of dead dogs eye has nothing on Good King Wenceslas.

Ok. Mrs Piano, hang back and get yourself a mince pie or something. Let’s just tap this out slowly on our knees shall we, just to feel it before we hurtle our way through it. Wait for it, wait for it… 2 3 4 and Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess, excellent lets go for it boy you been a naughty girl you let your knickers down. Superb, superb.

Ok ok ok let’s hold it there. Mrs Harrison, what seems to be the problem with you and Mrs Starkey? No Mrs Harrison, I am the eggman, they are the eggmen. That’s right, egg men. I don’t know, just use your imagination.

Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower. They’re breath marks Mr Geldorf, they’re telling you where to breath. Elementary penguin singing Hari Krishna. Hold it, hold it. And your problem Mr Bono is what? No problem? Are you sure? Are you quite sure? Are you really really sure that you’d rather not be standing up here being me? Being the Walrus and master of all you survey? Quite sure? Ok, well shut it from now on. And 2 3 4 Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.

I am the egg man, they are the egg men.
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob.
And coda, once more with feeling.
Goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob g’goo.
Yes, even you Mr Bono.
Goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob g’goo.
Oompah oompah stick it up your jumper
Goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob g’goo
.Goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob g’goo.
Job done ladies and gents. This is your half hour call. Mr Bono – I need to see you in my vestry please. Now.

A Christmas Waiting Story: the Ant’s trail.

I am an ant and I move in mysterious ways. Not only am I an ant, but you are an ant too, we are ants and they are ants in case you were wondering. In fact I am not so much an ant but Ant: you too are not so much an Ant but Ant; we and they too are Ant.

I / we weave my / our trails up sunny hillside and down dusky dale, up and under fishy pet shop and over and through derelict railway station, trailing my / our scent in all corners, leaving no hoof unsullied by our preying antennae, no goldfish bowl unrimmed by our Antness, no detritus left uninspected by our unending inquisitiveness.

I / we taste all around me / us and glue together all the disparate voices and noises with our invisible slime trails, visible only to those who have Ant-Spectacles, obtainable from all top quality high street opticians.

We’re weaving a tapestry of Ant glue across the earth, ready for the moment to catch you when you fall and then spring you back up on your feet, waiting for your next steps in Ant World.

A Christmas Waiting Story: the Pigeon’s tail.

I am a pigeon, a regular boy pigeon who jauntily hops along railway platforms looking for the next bird to pull.. Ooo there she is, hang on lady, just let me get a bit closer… dammit, she’s flown the coop.

Never mind, here I am, a regular boy pigeon who’s got a bit on the side, a bit back at base, a bit on the front and several bits of fluff scattered around this derelict railway station just waiting for me to fluff their tails, coo sweet nothings at them all night long and then hop off before the going goes from good to soft and from soft to swamp-like.

Cos as a fully paid up boy pigeon I am not partial to birdy ladies who coo and sweat and then angrily swish their tail feathers when little ol’ me tells ’em that the time has come for me to fulfil my potential and explore new lands and lady birdies, they don’t like it a bit… Ooo there’s another one now… ‘Ello darlin’, how can I be ‘elpin’ you… Just stand still for a minute, yeh that’s it, look away now and I’ll be right with you… Dammit, she’s flown the coop again.

But no matter. I shall saunter myself over to the nearest waste paper receptacle and have a good old rummage around the chip cartons, cardboard coffee cups and discarded Christmas cards to see what I can salvage before the long cold night sets in and then seek some refuge in whoever takes my fancy.

And what do ya know? Lucky old Billy Goat Gruff here has struck lucky for once in his boy pigeon life. A full nine inch rotting frankfurter, a packet of Golden Wonder and a small hip flask of lemon myrtle syrup. God only knows how that lot got here but who am I to wonder about the whys and wherefores. I’ve waited for this moment for years and shall waste no time gathering my finds under my substantial wing span and shield them from those praying-mantis sea-gulls.

Cos mark my words, those gulls are evil bastards. They’ll rip your throat out soon as squawk at you. And if they think for a second that you’ve struck lucky in the jetsam and flotsam of human existence, they’re all over you, beating their wings at you, stabbing and screeching in your pigeon face until you beg them to stop but it’ll be no use unless you surrender your finds to them, no questions asked.

But no this time, no siree. Those fuckwit albatross bastard offspring ain’t frightening me away from my gleaming stash of Rotting Frankfurter, Golden Wonder and Myrtle Syrup. If they think they can scare me away then they’ve got another thing coming to their razor sharp yellow spotted beaks. Cos this find is mine and I ain’t sharing it with any gin swilling cigar smoking anchovy farting sea bird who’s lost his way and is taking it out on some poor hapless boy pigeon who’s only trying to plot his way through his inconsequential life with the occasional assistance of a… Ooo steady on lady, there you go, just one minute... Dammit she’s flown the coop again.

No, this time me and my collection of goodies are going somewhere safe and sound, free from the prying eyes of those thieving vultures and other lesser spotted vermin who take an unhealthy interest in my hard fought collections. Somewhere they’ll never guess in a trillion years. This way my lovelies, just come this way with your friendly old boy pigeon, steady now...

A Christmas Waiting Story: the Goldfish’s tale.

I am a goldfish and we get a very bad press. There are those who accuse us having very short memories; there are those who accuse us of… Well, I forget what it is they accuse us of but it’s not especially complimentary.

But what those fish forget in their accusations about our suspect collective memory is that we have compensations which can only be described in the written word because were we to rely on our oral story telling skills we would fail miserably because… Well, we would just because. I forget why.

These compensations I refer to: they sometimes beggar the imagination. They take all shapes and sizes; they surprise, shock and entertain in equal measure.

Today for example I was swimming around and around looking for something that was hugely important at the time when quite by chance, out of the blue and completely unexpectedly I saw myself, staring at myself, mouth slightly agape.

This was a revelatory moment as I don’t remember ever having had that experience before. Had I ever seen myself before? What was it that had brought about this moment of enlightenment? What did it all mean?

‘No’; ‘no idea’ and ‘not a clue’ were the only answers I could summon up and it seemed I would be destined to wait a long, long time before I would be able to figure it all out.

I do recollect though that the vision of loveliness that faced me quite took me aback. I hadn’t realised quite how lovely a colour orange could be. I hadn’t appreciated how gossamer thin my magnificent tail was. I was astounded to see me floating effortlessly: bobbing slightly yes, but still maintaining a steady float. How did I do that I mused?

For a few moments I was one happy goldfish, although it wasn’t too long before that feeling passed and I settled back into a vague sense of dissatisfaction with my lot in life. Quite why, I don’t know. I don’t even know if I knew at some point but then forgot. Perhaps that was the root of my disappointment with myself.

I firmly resolved to address this seeping unease as soon as I could and certainly before I next encountered myself and my awesome loveliness.

And then… Now, where was I?