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Friday, December 31, 2010

Greetings from Bath!

Hello dear readers,

Well, might miracles never cease, I have left the cosy confines of my beloved London and arrived with my 78-year-old neighbour Mrs Donaldson in Bath, Somerset. The journey was stressful, as one might imagine, and I have spent the past several days in a fascinating state of recovery, anxiety and dare I say excitement.

It is another world. I spent much of yesterday afternoon drinking warm tea while watching street performers in the main square. First there was a young man who did a number of cover versions of John Lennon and Beatle songs. He was stupendous, a dead ringer (no pun intended). He was later followed by two young blond men from Scandinavia who looked cold and were bloody awful, completely lacking in confidence and off-tune.

As I dropped 50p into their basically empty hat on the stones, one gave an embarrassed shrug and explained they didn't know how to play any instruments but were in need of finances for a big New Years Eve drinking session. I noted the northern European economies were much stronger than that of the UK, hinting that perhaps a little 'shoulder to the grindstone' back home might offer a more fulfilling, beggary-free getaway in future. They thanked me again for the donation and subtly asked me to move, as I was blocking the view for their 'audience' (mostly indifference pedestrians hurriedly seeking indoor warmth).

So, yes, I am compiling notes to write a few sample chapters for my new Bill Bryson-style book about travelling around Britain. I would like to share more, but there is a queue waiting impatiently for the Guest House's sole 'Guest PC' (with unlimited internet access!). The rooms have free wi-fi, so if these VIP types are that desperate to get on-line they should have brought or purchased a laptop computer.

And yet, I shall be the better man and relent to their sighing.

So long from Bath, or as the Romans called it, Aquae Sulis! I shall endeavour to update again shortly.

Stay well (and Happy New Year),

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lowdown Big Top Christmas

Mancunian Monkey Boy and Dave the Circus Midget were escorted through the large wooden door, which was adorned with the largest, most intricately woven wreath either had ever seen. The room was blue with pipe smoke, making the walls of classic hardback books appear hazy and dreamlike. A muscular man with short black hair sat behind an imposing oak desk, his head down over a printout of papers. His suit was well-tailored, Savile Row. The gold nametag said: Santa – the sleigh stops here. Behind him stood a block of meat with knuckles as big as brass bells and a look as blank as a field of new fallen snow.

“I thought you were supposed to be fat and jolly and wearing a red suit,” Monkey said, flopping down on a red leather chair and slouching back.

Santa looked up, his eyes dark and distant. Long nights and not enough sun this high in the Arctic. He put his gold pen down.

“I thought man would shave his knuckles when they get so furry,” he replied, looking at Monkey’s hands on the armrests. “Stereotypes, monkey person. Red suit is Coca-Cola marketing campaign from 1920s. You should know history, or be bound to repeat it. Like cheap shampoo.”

Ukrainian accent, Monkey though, surprised. He had clocked it within two words. Monkey had dealt with Kiev types before. They were unpredictable and notoriously tight-lipped. He wondered how the world had been so misinformed about a man at the centre of the biggest holiday of the year. Fucking Rupert Murdoch.

Santa looked down at Dave and cocked an eye.

“You work for me in past, little man?”

“No, Santa. I’ve only ever worked in the circus and as a roadie with The Happy Mondays before they made it big. But it’s a right pleasure to meet you.”

“Ah... Step On. Very good song.” He motioned to the slab of meat at his shoulder. “This is body guard, Vasily.”

“Is he?” Monkey said.

Santa looked confused. “Vhat?”

“Monkey…” Dave moaned.

“Silly?” Monkey continued.

Santa picked up his pen and silently flipped through his stack of papers. He made a dramatic slash. “You just lose one present for terrible pun.”

“I don’t need new socks or a bicycle anyway. What we need is information, Santa.”

“Everybody want something,” the big man replied. “I want two penises and vaginas on palms, but life not always work in way we wish.”

“What do you know about April Mills?”

“Model, mono-ped, fleeced a Beatle. Now very rich but hated by world.”

“That’s Heather Mills. We're after April Mills, barmaid in the Elephant and Lettuce pub. Pretty face but unfortunate tight perm. She's Polish, so she has an excuse. Been missing since last weekend.”

Santa’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe she give bad service to someone.”

“Highly probable. She was a shit server, but if spilling your pint was a reason for someone to disappear half the staff in England would be MIA.”

Monkey had a feeling Santa was holding back. Ukrainians…

“Why should I know information?” Santa asked.

“Because the word is you know everything – naughty, nice, the whole ball of wax. You’re like Wikileaks, but less arrogant and further out of reach of US black Ops. I know you’re a smart man and have no reason to play dumb.” Monkey looked up at Vasily. “Unlike him. Can you ask him to stop staring?”

“He is body guard. He watches everyone.”

“I thought that was your job.”

Santa got up from his desk. He looked like the type who went to the gym at least five times a week. He walked to the window and looked out on the dark snow drifts.

“There was a time. But accountant convinced me to outsource. Now I am glorified manager. I feel out of loop of my own operation.”

Monkey leaned forward. He hadn’t expected melancholy from the legendary elf-man.

“But you can get us the information,” Monkey said.

“If I share rumour little bird whispers in ear, I need … compensation.”

“Milk and cookies?”

Santa turned around.

“I want be acrobat. On high-wire. Maybe I grab pretty girl on swinging bar. And later I shoot tiger from cannon. I have enough of toys for children and dealing with elf union.”

“What would happen to Christmas?”

“I appoint new CEO. Nigel Claus, nephew. Branding stays same but I get to live my dream.”

Monkey smiled. “Everyone deserves to follow their dreams, Santa.”