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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Homelessness of Kenneth Fleetwood - Chapter 6


He looked at the enormous photo of Spiv, bedecked with flowers and wreathed with black silk. It seemed more like an advertisement for a lounge singer in the piano bar than a solemn memorial image.

Shouldn't his kin have found a photo in which Spiv looked serious, pondering the larger questions of existence? He looked like he'd just come back from Ibiza.

At least they'd converted the photo to black and white. Monochrome added a semblance of distance from the event, like it had happened long ago, back when Michael Caine was doing Alfie perhaps.

Kenneth supposed the real Spiv would be a deep shade of purple now, as no one had found him for three days. The poor dear lad had hung like a forgotten Christmas ornament for 72 hours.

4320 minutes.

259,200 seconds.

Seconds just like this ONE. Or this ONE. Or this ONE.

Kenneth tried to imagine the initial drop. He wondered if Spiv had felt regret as his windpipe was restricted. Perhaps he had fought, realising that life on the dole wasn't actually that bad. At least you could see films during the day. And tellie could be a nice distraction.

"Did you know him well?" a woman asked.

Kenneth turned to see a pretty girl in a flowery dress and black hat. She was in her late 30s, had familiar eyes. "We worked together."

"I'm his sister, Beth."

"Ah, of course. Kenneth."

They shook hands and stood in silence looking at Spiv's eerie smile. They'd certainly photoshoped his teeth. No more tobacco stains. His skin looked smoother as well, buffed and cleansed of imperfections. He might have been selling aftershave.

"He took the redundancy hard," Kenneth said.

"He was working through a great number of issues," Beth said. "But I suppose you would have known that being his friend and all."

Kenneth didn't feel it appropriate to say they mostly mocked clients and talked football. He hadn't even known Spiv had a sister. He hadn't really ever thought of Spiv outside a two-block radius of the office.

"Were you close?" Kenneth asked.


"I thought he had things locked down," Kenneth said.

"That's just the point. He pushed the pain deep until it erupted in this final call for help."

They lingered for a respectable amount of time.

"Shall we?"

She took Kenneth's arm like he was a gentleman leading her across the threshold into a grand ball. It wasn't the sort of thing one could protest. The room was deep and mostly empty, with black suits and dresses in the front two rows and a smattering of peripherals elsewhere.

Two men in Arsenal shirts sat on folding chairs near the door. Add Bovril and a pie and Kenneth would be tempted to ask the score.

They made their way toward the sanctum of family. Kenneth thought about politely disconnecting his arm and stepping into an aisle, but Beth's was clasped tight in grief. The spasms of her sobs vibrated against his skin.

Kenneth nodded to an older couple and sat down beside Beth, who erupted into wails of grief, like an Arab woman. He had never been a great believer in Keep Calm and Carry On - it seemed a recipe for subserviance - but raw agony was much worse. A quiet tear, a partial collapse onto a nearby shoulder, surely that was enough.

The older woman reached a hand across.

"I'm Helen, David's mother."

He'd forgotten his coworker had a proper name. Even management had called him Spiv, which was refreshing in these political correct times. Kenneth introduced himself. Her face brightened.

"Why of course. David spoke of you often. The football, lunches at the pub, the Christmas parties. And of course your witticisms. He said you brought real levity to the office."

He and Spiv had eaten lunch at the pub no more than three times in five years, and the only parties they had attended were tepid office affairs. He wondered if there was another Kenneth at JobsPlus.

"We appreciate the support you're giving Beth in this dreadful time," she continued. "Depression runs in the family."

"Helen," the gentleman said.

At this point the Middle Eastern wails gathered strength as Beth broke into another sob drawn deep from her larynx (which the ancients and Celine Dion might call their souls). It reminded Kenneth of the time he had stepped on Barry's tail while getting a glass of water in the night.

Spiv's father put a stiff hand on his wife's shoulder. She dabbed a small tear from her eye and looked forward, as if waiting stoically for her stop, leaving Beth careening in empty space. Kenneth realised people were looking at him in dismay. He put an arm around Beth.

She buried her face into his shirt.

"Thank you. Thank you, Kenneth."

He wished he'd had a proper bath and put on a clean shirt.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Homelessness of Kenneth Fleetwood - Chapter 3


Kenneth weaved along the pavement, in and out of shoppers, teenagers and drunks. He himself wasn't intoxicated, simply inebriated on misery.

"Please God, no. Please God, no," he kept repeating.

For an agnostic boarding on atheism this was quite a feat. His rational self told him the act was pointless. At the same time, there wasn't exactly anything to lose.

Kenneth attempted not to cry. A babbling loon he might be, but tears would certainly push the tableau into that uncomfortable sphere of social faux pas that could get one questioned by the constabulatory.

When he could bear the weight no more, he stumbled into a pub. It wasn't his local or one frequented from time to time. In fact, he had purposely walked in a direction different from his usual route. He didn't want to be seen by anyone he knew.

He put a hand on the rich laquered wood of the bar and pulled himself onto a stool. He then placed another hand on the bar and centered himself in line with the pork scratchings. He then decided to give up completely and put his forehead against the cool, smooth wood. He moaned.

"Help you?"

He looked up to see a young barman eying him. The accent was Australian. He wondered how many work visas for barmen went to the antipodians. Did they have special training schools for pulling pints down there?

"Pint of cider," Kenneth said. "And keep them coming."

"I can only serve you two at a time. New regulations."

"One's enough... I simply meant..." He shook his head. "Pay the comment no mind, lad."

It occured to Kenneth that this young strapping kangaroo wrestler was gainfully employed, whereas he was redundant.

Redundant. Of no use. A spare prick at the orgy. You couldn't call a person looking for a job a "jobseeker", but you could tell someone going out the door that they were now useless.

"One of those days?" a lad nearby said.

He and his mate were in their 30s, well attired and looking jovial. Kenneth nodded and realised he hadn't even taken a glance around the place. It was a large pub, likely built in the 90s when publicans realised a drinking establishment could be larger than a WC without losing its charm. Must have saved them a bundle on people not losing their pints on the carpet trying to weave around tables tucked in together.

But the place hadn't been tarted up like those hideous later gastro-pubs, appealing to toffs in suits and everyone else chasing easy credit and Gordon Brown's promise of the end of recessions.

Mind you, Kenneth liked Gordon. He was an intelligent man caught in a world of social media and superficiality, ill-armed to cope with 24-7 news. Yes, he had kept them in Afganistan, but he was a Scot and thus victim to his national genes. The tartan brigade had never known when to give up a fight.

And yes, Gordon had buggered the economy by loosening the reigns too much, but he'd tried his best to be fair, unlike David Cameron and his shitsui lapdog Clegg.

He would have a drink with Mr Brown. They'd no doubt become fast friends, sharing a similar world view and hope for humanity.

"I've been made redundant," Kenneth said.

"Join the squad," the gent said. He and his mate lifted their glasses. "Got our marching orders last week."

"What are you planning to do now?" Kenneth asked.

"No fucking clue. Until then, bit of this."

He held up his pint. Kenneth took his from the barman and counted out his coins. He took a long swallow of cider, feeling the gentle bubbling in his throat and the sweet copper on his tongue. He thought of the sea. Blackpool.

Australia. Sharks.

Wellies made from surf material.

He got his pen and notebook out and jotted down the idea. A pair of boots made from wetsuit material, running just below the knee with firm soles. His father had made him go into the sea with his shoes on, to keep steady on the pebbles. This way you could feel the salty wet properly, stay warm and not look like a spastic.

Could be worth millions.

He looked around again. Efes. Turkish beer. For God's sake, why did so many pubs have that muck on tap. Who in their right mind would drink Turkish beer?

He felt bad for the Armenians.

He had once had a young lady from Armenia as a client. She had told him about the Armenian genocide by the Turks at the end of WWI. He hadn't known a wit about the event, even though hundreds of thousands of men, women and children had died. Old people too. Marched to their deaths.

He waved a finger for another pint.

No, he was lucky to live in the time and place he did. Imagine how much those thirsty travellers would have given to be able to raise a hand and get a refreshing high-caloric alcoholic beverage on the dusty road to Demascus (or wherever they were going).

Why did human beings do it to one another? Why couldn't David Cameron have just left well enough alone, let attrition trim the ranks, looked for areas to cut that didn't necessitate damaging the lives of people who knew nothing but their jobs?

Because he didn't understand.

For all the talk of a classless society, there was still a chasm larger than Mariana Trench (11,033 metres deep in the ocean - good trivia to know).

He jotted the name down and wrote: excellent name for a female protagonist in a crime novel!!! Now that he was redundant, perhaps he would turn his hand to a novel.

And yet he knew pursuing a life even more solitary than the one he was living would most certainly send him over the edge. Perhaps he was already over the edge. Perhaps that was why he had been chosen for culling at JobsfuckingPlus.

He drained a third of the pint in one go, belched like a champion and closed his eyes. He began to feel warm and happy.


He'd show them. He'd do something amazing and let it filter to Pickle and the other draconian thickos that getting made redundant was the best thing to ever happen to him.

He opened his eyes with a smile. The Australian was eying him warily.

What did the koala hugger care; he didn't have to take Kenneth home and put him to bed. No one did. No one. The bed was cold. Tea was never made in the morning. He didn't awake to the smell of toast and the sound of the knife spreading butter and jam across the jagged wheaty surface. It was just him and one ungrateful cat.

"Give us a vodka," Kenneth said. "And two for these lads."

His new mates toasted him.

Suddenly he was part of a society he had never wished to join. Still, it was better than drinking alone.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Homelessness of Kenneth Fleetwood - Chapter 2


The orange was a beautiful but frustrating mistress. Kenneth turned it in his hand, letting the faint afternoon sunlight dance across its mottled surface. The skin looked wet, inviting, like something you could slip into on a hot day.

And yet he knew how the engagement would end, with sticky hands and a wet chin, rinds to be deposited in the bin, eventually choking birds when dumped as dehydrated rusks. He'd read about the problem on the internet. It wasn't all porn, you know.

He began to peel, his thumb smarting as it dug beneath the thick skin. He should have packed a knife.

What the world needed was a pre-peeled orange enclosed in a water-tight bag.

Kenneth stopped. He grinned despite being in a public area surrounded by people in blue suits.

It made perfect sense.

Bagged peeled oranges would be healthy for little ones and convenient for business people. The technology had been unleased on boiled eggs. He'd seen them in the shops. But no one had thought about further applications.

"If there's a box, I am thinking outside of it," he murmured triumphantly.

Kenneth searched the pocket of his jacket for his pen and small notebook and jotted the idea down. Might be just the ticket. Salvation. Like Armageddon for Americans or unpasturised cheese for the French.

As he often did, Kenneth imagined himself rich, able to have a long lie-in, ordering takeaway Tikka Malasa every night, with garlic naan. He would get those fancy entrees, the mini chicken tikkas and bhaji, instead of rationalising the cost and the fact that one man shouldn't eat that much rich food.

If anything tasty were in the flat, he'd eat it. He could finish a roast chicken in his sleep. Fruit and Nut bars died in appaling numbers. Crisps didn't stand a chance of seeing daybreak.

If he were rich, he could share the extra entree bits with the butler. Or the pretty Asian maid, Moora. Or Maanika. Or Madhura. Something with an M.

Kenneth liked Asian women. They were exotic down to their DNA. He also liked how M sounded coming off the tongue.

He checked his pocket watch and embarked back to his desk, tumbling from Neverland with each footfall. Seven minutes and thirty-three seconds later, he arrived - more than two minutes off his best time.

He blamed poor lift efficiency. People didn't cram in when they had takeaway salads and coffees.

His in-tray was listing dangerously to starboard, threatening to capsize onto the floor and take all the hopeful yet discouraged jobseekers down forever.

He righted them as best he could, the top file sticking to remnants of citrus too devious to come off.

"Been wanking?" Spiv said.


"You've got bits of tissue on your jacket."

Kenneth looked down, his face colouring. "Oh right. I ate an orange. You know what the world needs, don't you?"

"A good kick upside the bollocks."

"Yes, well... No..."

"This isn't one of your loopy inventions?"

"They're not all bad," Kenneth began.

"A kettle that makes gravy. A cat shaving kit."

"The kettle idea is quite good."

"Like I said, a bollocking. Looks like you might get yours. You've got a Pickle incoming."

Spiv darted away as Kenneth turned to see Maggie "Pickle" Johnson walking his way. She was like a turnip bi-ped, round and a revolting shade of yellow-white with bits of purple in all the wrong places.

Kenneth hated turnips. Most people did. They were simply too polite or indoctrinated by childhood nostalgia or cultural propaganda to admit the fact.

"Just getting back to it, Pickle," Kenneth said, preempting.

Maggie thought the moniker a term of endearment, but the lads had come up with it in the pub because she walked around like she had a gerkin shoved up her back passage.

"Not why I'm here," she replied.

She held out a manilla envelope. The skin around her eyes was creased in such a way as to look dangerously gleeful. Much more of this and the epidermis might crack and fall away.

"This my bonus?" Kenneth said.

"Even better."

He kept his hand back, like one does from an aggressive goose.

"Come on, take it." She smiled. "It's been nice."


"It's your redundancy, you idiot."

Kenneth's tongue went thick and he felt heat. For a second, he thought about hauling off and giving her one in the mouth. He wasn't that sort of man, but...

That's out of line, he thought. Out of line.

The walls metastisised to liquid - Kenneth's legs giving way to the vibrations.

West Ham United. Founded in 1895 by workers from the Thames Ironworks. FA Cup winners 1964, 1975 and 1980. Most goals in one match, six, achieved twice: Vic Watson, February 2, 1929 versus Leeds United; Geoff Hurst November 19, 1968 versus Sunderland in front of a young Kenneth Fleetwood and his soon to be deceased father, Archie Fleetwood.

The repetition of facts made difficult moments endearable.

The walls reformed into solid three-dimensional space. Telephones and voices washed through his auditory canals.

Kenneth was aware of citrus stickiness between his fingers. He looked up at Pickle.

"You know what the world needs?" he began.

Everything would be alright.

Surely, everything would turn out fine.


Friday, June 10, 2011

The homelessness of Kenneth Fleetwood

Chapter 1

It was a typical day really. The tube was delayed by nesting birds shorting out a signal box. A light rain had found the minute hole is his left work shoe. Breakfast had been a bacon sandwich made on the run that had dripped mayonaise on to his plain black tie.

But somehow Kenneth Fleetwood made it to his office with body and soul together. He'd even managed to catch the lift as the doors were closing, giving a friendly nod to the new security lad, who'd put his hand in to hold it up.

Kenneth settled at his desk, fixing the position of his rubber plant. It had been a gift from a thankful Malay he had helped in obtaining a position in a kitchen. The man had begun on washing up duty, worked his way to kitchen hand and gone on to open his own small kiosk offering Laksa and Rendang.

The plant was a reminder of success. One needed such icons at Jobcentre Plus. It used to be the Department of Work and Pensions, but the government had paid an advertising agency several thousand pounds to jazz it up and come up with an energetic new "brand".

You can't fight change, Kenneth thought.

Cup of tea, two biscuits, faint sugar high and then first file of the day. He turned on his computer, a plodding PC that refused anything more modern than Microsoft's 95 Office suite. It refused to recognise his password on the first two attempts. Yes, the universe was in order.

PCs... Kenneth was an Apple man. Along with West Ham United, the odd sneaky wank and bacon, it was his sole vice. When a new product came on the market, he'd be first at the doorstep. He'd even taken two days off sick to camp outside the Apple Shop to get his hands on the first iPad.

Yes, if a new Apple computer was spied in the office, you could be fairly certain it was Kenneth Fleetwood's Mac.

"Watch the match?" asked Daniel "Spiv" McTierney, doing the cubicle lean, one arm propped on the top, the other leaning down with apparent palsy.

"Might the pope be a catholic?" Kenneth replied.

"Assume so," said Spiv. "As well as a Nazi and a paedo."

"Friend and protector of the paedo," Kenneth said. "There's no evidence he diddles himself, just covers it up for the bishops. I won't have slander in a government office."

"Goes without saying."

Spiv was a good man. Solid. Did everything he could for the people who came in down and out.

Kenneth's first client was an accounts person, pretty, tired looking, as if she had had a big night, perhaps with karaoke.

They used to be called jobseekers, but that was now said to be humiliating and belittling.

Isabelle ("Call me Izy")had chipped nail polish and wrinkled clothes that suggested she hadn't quite made it all the way home (though a lucky lad might have had that thrill). Kenneth imagined her having a go at "Heart of Glass", holding the microphone at a suggestive angle, slight slur in her voice.

She had the right dirty blonde hair for the part. But she was in her late-20s and probably wouldn't know Deb Harry from David Blunkett. No, she'd be on your Lady Gaga or Adele (Amy Winehouse without the crack).

Kenneth sighed.

"You alright?" Izy asked.

"Long week," he replied.

And I'm old, he thought. Too old to ever know the faint taste of nicotine on your kiss. He gripped his tea with a full hand around the porcelain, the painful heat bringing him out of his moment of unprofessional longing.

"Did you have a big night," Kenneth asked.

Her shoulders tensed. "Does that affect my dole?"

"No, of course not," Kenneth said.

The rest of the session was conducted in tense tones with minimal banter.

Izy was another castaway from downsizing Government departments, happy to take her redundancy, thinking it a chance to catch up on the party. The young didn't understand that the Blair years were an anomoly. Rarely in history did the banks line up to offer mortgages to punters without two quid to rub between their thumbs.

But it wasn't Kenneth's job to lecture. In his kind uncle voice, he had outlined programs that might help land a new job, but Izy was looking queasy and in need of a full English and the afternoon buried neck deep in a feather pillow. He wished her luck and told her to ring anytime.

And then she was gone, her stocking clad legs disappearing down the polyester carpetted corridor.

There were so many folders.

The in-box was practically overflowing.

"Get your finger out," Spiv said, walking by.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Trip (part 2)

Hello dear readers,

Now, some of you may expect my account of the coach journey to involve a very public panic attack or act of indiscretion, such as immediately removing my shoes or unwrapping a Stilton and cress sandwich to enchant the nasal cavities of my fellow passengers. Well, though I may not travel much, I am no animal.

I sat quite quietly and put on the I-Pod given to me by my good friend Piotr for use over the holiday. And yes, it was a real I-Pod, not some sort of Polish knock-off, called an I-Pol, with only one earphone and the capacity for one and a half songs. He is in IT and very savvy about technology. He even loaded the contraption up with some of my favourites, which I believe he may have pirated from the internet, the first of which was 'If I Can't Have You' by the Bee Gees, which was apt given I recently spent so much time, emotional currency and physical currency on a futile pursuit of my lady friend from work. Truthfully, my heart ached.

Yet, I resolved not to cede my spirit to despondency. I also resolved to be mindful of my breathing exercises and take no notice of my fellow passengers, even those who felt compelled to speak at volumes high enough to drown out the velvety harmonising of the brothers Gibb while providing a well-detailed, blow-by-blow account of some bint's naked escapades.

The first 90 minutes was fraught with anxiety and frankly I had doubts as to my ability to stay seated and silent. Thankfully the late hour cast the coach and its human cargo into a contemplative lull by the time we were shot of the city's gravity. At this point Mrs Donaldson removed our near-odourless sharp cheddar and pickle sandwiches from their wrappings and I removed my earphones.

We chatted about our possible itinerary over the next four days, agreeing to do some of the typical tourist activities - the Roman baths, the Jane Austin Centre and the city walk. I inquired as to jaunts to Stonehenge, which thankfully she dismissed as ridiculous, and Stow on the Wold, which elicited a snort of disgust.

'The countryside is reputed to be rather stunning,' I ventured.

'I've no need for countryside. I'm not a farmer.'

Now, I have long known of Mrs Donaldson's aversion to rural life. Her evacuation from London as a child during The Blitz was a defining experience in her life, yet one she has long refused to discuss in any detail, despite my many subtle inquiries. The odd scrap of detail has emerged, of course, such as that she was told very little by her parents about what was happening and was physically labelled like a parcel before being shunted onto a train. I know she has a soft spot for orphans and the like...

'What can you learn from a bleedin' tree,' she continued.

As our relationship is largely founded on aimless debate and being contrary for the sake of conversation, I argued that the entire canon of Romantic poetry had been based on the pastoral.

'A complete waste of time. And to think they cut all those beautiful trees to print their poems.'

I replied to this by reciting the first two stanzas of Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind', which was forced into my brain in secondary school by a Literature teacher fond of heartfelt poetry and throwing chairs at his students.* Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to remove Shelley, Keats or several passages of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar from my grey matter. Mind you, my keen mind kept me from ever being struck by a chair.

'What good has a poet ever done anyone?' Mrs Donaldson asked.

'They have sustained me in many a dark hour.'

She then went on a rather long monologue about how people needed to work, not think so much. Apparently the solution to death, disease, depression, heartache and hair loss can all be found by picking up a broom or spade and rolling up one's sleeves. As I've mentioned before, despite her advanced age, Mrs Donaldson is forever doing work with the church or coercing other ancient types into inappropriate social activities (see past posts re: elderly improv).

'No starving man ever chose a book of poetry over a hot supper.'

'I would,' I replied. 'I spend my wages on books. What's left over I waste on food and drink.'**

'Turn away your food tomorrow and I'll buy you a lovely meal or any book you like in the shop the following day. I suspect you won't be dining on DH Lawrence.'

I pointed out that most book shops on the high street were dead or dying, so there were no guarantees she could fulfill her part of the wager. We lingered in silence as the darkness hung outside our window. I then inquired what the Blitz was like, in case our proximity to countryside had stirred the faintest hint of melancholic nostalgia.

'You're the flippin' writer,' she said. 'Use your imagination.'

She then closed her eyes and feigned sleep.

Stay well,

*I know the first five stanzas
**I believe I may have stolen this line from someone... I can't recall from whom

All conversation approximated from notes. NF

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Trip (part 1)

Hello dear readers,

Yes, I have borrowed my title from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's spectacularly uneven series about their adventures driving through the north of England eating in swish restaurants. Of course, the difference in my and Mrs Donaldson's tale of exploration is: a) we are more erudite and sophisticated b) Mrs Donaldson does not do excessive Al Pacino impersonations and mug for the camera c) we have fewer BAFTA nominations and d) most of our meals are budget.

Still, we did leave our local area in search of adventure and a pleasant way of celebrating my dear neighbour's 79th birthday on the tab of her only son, who 'does something with numbers with the government' and has been doing so for long enough not to fear the swath of forced redundancies sweeping the nation. So may I begin by first saying, Happy Birthday, Mrs Donaldson. You look younger than your years and are as spry as a 60-year-old with mild arthritis, an ambitious hair colourist and a King's capacity for sweet sherry.

Now the plan to leave London began in jest, a remark on my part in relation to my desire to write a Bill Bryson-style travel book. Being carbonated with vim and vigour, and feeling somewhat low about the turning of another page on the ever-shortening calender of life, my dear neighbour practically goaded me into action, making the arrangements herself and doing everything short of packing my bag. I suspect she would have pressed and folded my pants and socks if given the chance, which would have left me terribly uncomfortable.

The bare facts:

Mrs Donaldson arranged for us to travel via National Express coach, leaving from Victoria Station at precisely 7pm (give or take a cup of tea and the last bit of pastry being consumed by the driver) for the princely sum of £13.50 (one-way). Apparently she paid the same rate, due I would suppose to our late booking, proving rather emphatically there really is no good reason to get old anymore in our ruthless modern society. Because of her languid joints and our desire not to be separated for the journey, we also paid the £1 surcharge for priority seating. When did this blatant money grab come about? You tell me, ruthless modern society. You tell me...

Now, for international readers, to get from Islington to Victoria Station we had two options. The first was to take one of our city's famous black cabs, helmed by a well-trained and regulated driver who would have had to have passed a rigid exam. These chaps possess an intimate knowledge of both the intricate geography of the city, as well as its vibrant soul, and are tremendously professional (as long as you do not vomit or act like a prat/lunatic/French Prime Minister). 

Instead we opted for a mini-cab, because frankly, they are considerably less expensive and I have an aversion to people driving and speaking, which black cab drivers are also famous for... It seems like a potentially deadly distraction. I get a tad nervous and nauseous.

Now, the key is to pre-book a mini-cab, as basically any rapist-cum-serial killer can plaster some signage on an automobile and agree to drive you to Luton. The other rather disagreeable problem with mini-cabs has largely been solved by GPS, but a decade or so ago (when I travelled more) one had a 70-30 chance of the driver either asking you to give him street by street directions or hurling an A-Z into your lap. To be fair, this only happened if you were going somewhere atypical he didn't know, like for example, your home. Drivers were more adept at locating major landmarks and airports, or a shop selling rugs owned by his uncle.

Anyway, the advent of GPS has changed the game completely. Our driver was a pleasant enough chap, and after Mrs Donaldson had thoroughly inspected his license, we settled into the back of the vehicle and had a fine 20-minute ride to our destination.

Being a dedicated walker, I admit having been somewhat agitated by the rapid acceleration and braking, tooting and hand gestures of the city's vehicular life clattering around me, but was calmed by Mrs Donaldson's firm suggestion that I 'buck up and stop moaning'. To an outsider this might sound harsh, but what my dear neighbour was actually saying was, 'It's all fine, Nate.' Communication is a generational thing...

And so, we arrived with body and soul intact for our journey to Bath, Somerset - an outpost of the Roman Empire established around 60AD as a temple to Minerva - sister city to Shower, Loofa and Bidet - home to the most remarkable natural hot springs in Britain.

Now if only I could keep my supper down on the three-hour journey...

Stay well,