Many apologies…

I am so sorry. I know, I know, it’s been ages since my last post, but I have a great excuse. Honestly!

In between lockdowns and running away from people coughing or sneezing, or even looking decidedly dodgy, I have been writing music articles for webzines For The Love of Bands – where we have discovered the best of new, upcoming artists – and God Is In The T.V. – where I have been scribbling about classic albums that are 50 years old this year: albums like Carole King’s, Tapestry, The Who’s, Who’s Next and Electric Warrior by T. Rex!

If you get a moment, please visit us and feel free to let me know what you think.

Normal service here will resume shortly, I promise! In the meantime, keep safe. X

“God*, it’s too hot!!!”

Simon's Ramblings...

I am sitting here, in my very best underwear because I stick to my clothes, melting rapidly to my sofa.

If I wanted to be this uncomfortable I’d move to a country that was known for its ridiculously warm and unbearable conditions and where they employ the small children of the poor to endlessly fan you. But I don’t and I can’t because I am English. I am of a very pale and very white complexion. Therefore, I burn easily.

I am not made to sit in the sun, go out in the sun, walk in the sun, to even contemplate the sun. I can’t read The Sun newspaper without getting heatstroke, especially now the football’s over and they’ve done away with Page 3!

“Please God*, give me back my precious grey clouds and the soft reassuring touch of rain upon pale white skin! Even a light drizzle would be…

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The Dandiest of Highwaymen

This should be an absolute doddle.
Face mask?
Check. And the height of fashion, even if he says so himself.
Three pointed hat?
Check… Although it didn’t quite fit.
Check! The bloody thing wouldn’t do as it was told mind you. It wouldn’t face the right way, move forward or anything. But still.
Check. Plastic, but it still looked realistic from a distance.
Tight leather trousers?
Definitely check! And sexy as hell he looked in them as well, especially after losing those few pounds.
He had seen it on telly. How hard could it be?
And right on cue, surprisingly, here came his target now! Large, white and leaving dark smoky trails.
He took a deep breath and adjusted his mask whilst trotting confidently forward, certain that he would go down in the annals of infamy, just like his heroes of yesteryear.
“Halt!” And he pointed his musket with a certain aplomb. “Your money or your…”
The National Express coach from Plymouth to Bristol didn’t stop in time.

Horace Wimp’s Christmases of Yore… Part 6

I watched the water swirl and splash around and over the white bowl, as I somehow managed to reach up and pull the flush.
I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, leaving a slimy trail that melted the cotton fabric. I held my stinky breath as the room renewed its spin, reinvigorated in its buck… Oh shit. Here we go again.
I promised God faithfully. “If You can hear me. I promise to never, ever, ever drink again.” It was a life of abstinence and purity from now on. Cross my heart and hope to die. I rested my head upon that cold, hard bowl. “And,” while He was about it. “Please make Ellie like me again.” A plea muttered very weakly, but with sincere feeling.
Oh for the Christmases of yesteryear. Those hazardous, ne’er to be forgotten trips to ageing holiday camps in the midst of a windswept, rain-lashed Wales. Where, trapped and helpless, we had to laugh at the compeer’s continuous quips about “Exeter”: everywhere near a strangely pronounced “Exeeter”. Imprisoned nightly in a dining room from where we cheered the introduction of a huge, burning Christmas pud.
“But I don’t like Christmas pud?”
“I don’t care. Eat it,” I was ordered. “Enjoy it!” Everyone eating in time, to a beat.
Where the camp’s guards, in yellow coats, demanded of an evening that we had fun. That we sing, dance and make merry. “Or else!”
Those hair-raising journeys home, where we cheated death over the mountains and through every valley, whole villages washed away by raging currents, terrified goats clinging to flotsam, sheep bleating for help as rivers broke their banks, but where the inhabitants still sang tunefully as they disappeared beneath the rising water level for a third time, or as they disappeared with a cheery “boyo”, swept straight over the nearest cliff.
“We beat the bloodthirsty Zulus singing this shit, you know Boyo. A little water never hurt any…” and away he was swept.
My Grandad opening the struggling car’s back door as we stalled, my father’s shout of warning too late, water now gushing in and through, swamping us, the car sliding sideways, my brother screaming – “Why have Thou forsaken me, oh Lord?” – and grabbing hold of Monkey.
“I’ll push,” Grandad had glugged, before being swept onto the parcel shelf. “On second thoughts.”
Frantically we began to bale out the water, but had to concede against the tide, the car beginning to rock and twist, Dad trying to jump it out of harm’s way on a tiring starter motor, finally diving into the glove compartment as it began to sink.
“Del!” my mother crying out, reaching out, but held back, a water ring thrown forward.
Grandad moaning again, as he finally extracted himself from around an armrest, his only good suit now water-stained beyond repair, and his ashtray completely ruined, a soggy packet of Golden Virginia gently bobbing past his knees. It hadn’t had a chance to give him so much as a cough yet.
Oh for those yesteryears.
I was gently laid on a soft mattress, an old mattress, my young life flashing before my eyes; the retching subsiding and this spinning room gliding to a gentle stop.
With relief, I at last fell into a fitful sleep. Beside me, over me, Arthur closed my eyes and quietly pronounced time of death, placing the old duvet over my head, ignoring my protestations. For he knew best.

Horace Wimp’s Christmases of Yore… Part 5

I was gently carried up the stairs, rather limp. My head banging against the bannister.
I mumbled incoherently. Passed in and out of consciousness.
Was this it? Was this my death now coming to greet me, to comfort me, promising to make it quick and painless?
“He’ll thank me one day,” I heard Arthur whisper. “Admittedly not today, but one day.” If I survived.
It was a ritual, handed down. “His father taught me how to drink by nearly killing me,” he tried to explain. “Gave me my very first lesson in these joys of adulthood. I am merely returning the compliment.” The defence rests, your honour. He sounded concerned though, as my head smacked the wall, Arthur not quite making the turn at the top of the stairs.
I was having an out-of-body experience, watching them carry me, legs “akimbo” from this cradle, arms stiff, head dangling, my tongue rolling out and my eyes spinning.
“What have you done?” There was Ellie, blond and beautiful Ellie: the last vision I would see. My angel. Bloody hell, she was going to kill me, for I was suddenly sure that I’d made something of a mess on her new carpet.
My head, forced down a toilet bowl, kept in place with a strong hand, for they knew what was best for me.
“I’m sorry,” I started to say, about the carpet, about this, about a lot of things really, but I was interrupted by a revitalised urge to throw up. My stomach painfully clenched, rippling now, trying to throw something away, far, far away judging by the force with which I hurled into the ceramic bowl.
God, it hurt!
I sprayed her newly decorated bathroom, totally unable to control myself… and I may have made a bit of a mess in the downstairs one as well, now I come to think of it. I heard her curse. Heard her swear at Uncle Arthur, and threaten certain parts of his anatomy: the vulnerable parts that dangled.
“Oh, I knew that somehow this would be my fault!”
“Sorry,” I mumbled very weakly, hoping that it would make a difference. I wouldn’t be able to show my face around here ever again. I was a disgrace. But head down that bowl again, just in time. And the only way to stop the room from spinning, to lessen that orchestra banging in my head… The strong smell of fresh disinfectant suddenly wafting around me.
I thanked Auntie for her concern, as she hovered over me: a strange voice echoing, assuring her that her care wasn’t necessary. And a weak beg for her forgiveness, all cobbled together with the vow of never again.
“I feel fine.” Such an obvious lie. Hanging to the toilet with all the strength I had left, and smiling up at her, my neck bones cracking, what looked like carrot trapped between teeth and with my breath strongly reeking.
I will never forget the look of disgust breaking through her pity. As she gazed down on me and around at her new bathroom; at the washbasin and the white bath; at the perfect shower unit, finished just yesterday; at the tiled walls. All now dripping.
“I must have eaten something?” The pickled egg the main suspect, not that she believed me for a minute. Another frantic call for yet more strong bleach. Or, failing that, a loaded shotgun, both of which could be found under the sink.
“Don’t worry,” I tried to console her. “I’ll most likely be dead in a minute.”
“You’ve upset her now,” Arthur whispered in my ear. What had I done that for? I had totally ruined their Christmas! He threatened to hold my still spinning head down the toilet bowl now glistening with the lining of my stomach. He threatened to flush it. But I couldn’t understand it. I really thought I had him, the cocky Liam. Especially after the third time. I looked up, apologetic yet confused.
“What did you get him into that state for?” Ellie hissed as I began to hallucinate. “I’ll give you bloody ritual, a bloody rite of passage… Look at the state of my house. I’ll never get that off the wall…” What was it anyway? “And how in hell did the idiot manage to project it all the way up there?”
“I am so sorry…”
“Shut up you.” She hadn’t finished, obviously. And now she’d lost her train of thought.
“Marg and Del will be here any minute,” Auntie suddenly recalled. “And what the hell am I supposed to tell them? Eh?” Asked with a carefully delivered prod. “I’m not going to be the one who tells them he’s dead.” She was adamant.
Death quietly smiled at me while tidying his cloak and then cleaning his scythe. Tutting and constantly checking the watch loosely attached to his bony arm. Despite his pleasant demeanour, I could tell he was growing impatient. He’d appreciate it if we could hurry this along. He was pressed for time. He had another two unfortunates to greet before tea, Christmas being his busiest time of the year. Sad, but what can you do? If your name’s on the list, your name’s on the list.
So this was it. This was to be my squalid death.

Horace Wimp’s Christmases of Yore… Part 4

One of the cats, cuddly little Connie, hiccupped and stumbled through the kitchen, unsteady on little paws and having to rest a while, perched against the fridge, her paper hat weirdly askew. But we set about testing the fermented and hopefully fully settled barrel of “6X”, the name whispered with a revered inflection and a lick of the lips.
“Revered what?” Liam asked, glass held at the ready, taking his place in the little queue beside the cupboard beneath the stairs. This murky brown liquid, full of dead or rapidly dying insects, of fat rats still swimming. Little Connie finally passing out with a screech, a retched meow, once pretty eyes rolling to the back of her head, her tongue flopping on the floor with a last spiteful hiss from behind the now blaring stereo, as the first pint was poured and closely examined against the swinging bare lightbulb.
Dare we? My father’s words of warning echoing.
Gasps of appreciation exchanged, the cough, the shake of the head, the deep gulps… and then lips licked with desire.
We sat, as only those content sit: “half pissed”. With sporadic fits of giggling, about what we neither knew nor cared, but it had started somewhere. Uncle Arthur passing wind, tunefully and on command, as only us men can. It was his house, he had said. Just don’t tell Ellie.
Perched at the edge of new dining room chairs and lounging across the new dining room table that my poor Aunt – as if she didn’t have enough to do already – tried to polish so very proudly, and protect, moving about us, pushing away our feet and tutting in frustration as she flicked out at us, at me, with a duster. The things she had to put up with.
We faced each other with game faces that only the drunk can properly pull off, with stares sometimes intent and not at all properly focussed.
“I love you guys,” someone gushed with genuine meaning, between hiccups.
“Are you sleeping with my wife?” And the conversation turned abruptly again, with unfounded accusations and wildly inaccurate finger pointing, to The The, desperate Ellie hiding the Whisky.
“You’re not married,” it was gently pointed out to me.
“Forty-eight hours,” I again reminded Uncle Arthur. “Dad’s going to be awfully cross.” And with those words, a strong shake of the head, a finger that waggled, I felt my work here was done and I closed my eyes as that warm ale slithered uncomfortably down my throat. I spat out that hint of fur and crunched on what tasted like bones…
“Yum?” How did people drink this?
“Lovely, isn’t it?” Liam licking his lips
Is it? But I nodded weakly, despite the shiver down my spine and with my now rebellious legs stumbling in various directions. Trying to mumble incoherently over the noise of a drowning brain sharply ordering my stomach to “keep it down”, to hold this growing sense of nausea at bay. “What the hell is going on down there?”
“He flinched. I saw him flinch.”
“Did not!” It was a lie. But the challenge was laid down: while my attention was drawn to my now rattling stomach visibly trembling, about to blow! Or during that split second when my eyes had followed my lovely Aunt about the room. Not that anyone would ever know.
“What? I wasn’t staring!” Cross my heart and hope to die… the others now looking at me with some confusion. “Never mind.”
According to Uncle Arthur and his inexplicably stuttered metaphors, I had been slapped hard across the face with the proverbial equivalent of a “gruelling dove”? And now, as a laughing Liam limbered up and prepared to “take me down”, the lined up glasses and ornate silver tankard were being… Lined up. Blimey, I was feeling funny.
The family name of Wimp, once so proud allegedly, had to be defended. For what would my father say? But was I up to it? Up to this challenge?
They laughed at me. Their words taunted me, prodded me, dared me, as I looked into Liam’s eyes, his shoulders being rubbed and soothed… Not finding as much as a hopeful flicker.
My gulp was audible.
“A boat race?”
I didn’t really understand. And couldn’t it be with lager and lime? A question to which they laughed. My father would be horrified, or so they repeatedly reminded me. Would if they could, if it was up to them, they said with sad shrugs, but rules are rules. And they closed in, sensing blood in the water. My Uncle and his bloody metaphors.
“Play nice,” but Ellie quickly shooed from the room, and with her, any last hope of salvation. But if this was how they wanted it… And as the family name was so important.
Liam remained so bloody calm as his silver tankard was filled, even smiling as I fumbled with my pint glass, my hand slipping rather awkwardly through the handle, sweat on my anxious brow in spite of winter’s chill.
I waited for the countdown, beginning to wilt under the withering look, including Ellie, her worried face pressed up against the frosted glass.
“Play nice.” But oh God, this was going to end badly. “Remember the new carpet.”
Finally, “Go!” and Arthur’s fist banging down on the table, the loud tribal chanting erupting: “Down! Down! Down!”
I went for it straight away, eyes closed and pouring this foul tasting liquid down as fast as possible… God, it was horrid! But if I was going down, then I was going down with a fight, and I was taking one of the buggers with me.
“Oh, fighting talk.”
I was encouraged, slapped hard on the back, which didn’t help much, if I’m honest. That ale, ever fouler with every desperate gulp and soon trickling down my chin, dripping onto my shirt. But, across the table and perched comfortably on his chair, with long legs folded, Liam calmly smiled, licked his lips, even managed a sure wink at Arthur, towards Bill, to a terrified Ellie… Finally picking up his tankard and coolly mopping his brow, the cocky bastard.
The last few drops trickled down my now burning throat, or dangled attractively from my chin. I swallowed, shook my head and banged down the now empty glass. For I had won, surely? A triumphant, ha bloody ha! ready to erupt. Opening my eyes to accept the plaudits…
I could only gasp… Fumble. Could only shake my head… Mouth enquires into how?
What would my father say?
But Liam merely smiled and Bill simply shrugged, pointing to the silver tankard, back on the table, placed down so very carefully – for Ellie was still watching. He calmly brushed back his hair.
If you play with the big boys.
“Again.” I demanded another chance. Suggested the best of three? They tutted, sadly shook their heads, pondered my request while stroking chins, my Uncle Arthur unable to look me in the eye, such was the shame. “Again.” Sliding my empty glass forward. “Please?”
I could do it, I was sure. I could beat him. Next time I’d try harder, do better. I’d got the hang of it now. The taste for it.
“Well, as you’re family.” But they wouldn’t normally, of course. Just this once wouldn’t hurt.
The glass and the tankard, slowly refilled. Lips wiped clean and shoulders, Liam’s shoulders, again massaged. The last minute words of advice.

Stolen from the upcoming novel Reluctant Country Boy

Horace Wimp’s Christmases of Yore… Part 3

We entered a welcome warmth, Uncle Arthur and I. A fire roaring in the corner and people laughing in the crowded public bar, toddies held high in the spirit of Christmas. Kisses of the season planted firmly on my uncle’s cheeks under mistletoe bunches, before the door had swung shut behind us. To fight our way to the bar, through this excitable crowd, my glasses steaming up: bashing into chairs and up against chests, my apologies mumbled into an ample cleavage, my disability quickly explained, and hopefully before the boyfriend’s fists began to fly.
“Merry Christmas!” Noddy Holder hollered painfully.
The pints began to flow, passed back over heads very carefully, through or around this scrum – drinking mine discreetly, while the landlord wasn’t watching – and we became more cocksure with every gulp or sip, our burps more fruity from the mulled wine. Elbows now in deep puddles of spilt ale and poorly consumed crisps and peanuts, spat out when in deep excitable conversation, or while laughing far too raucously.
“You lot! Shut it.”
We propped up the wooden bar, or slumped down on any available stools – my head beginning to spin – those around me busy, winking at the new barmaid, trying desperately not to dribble down their chins when in front of her, this petite brunette with a nervous smile but the most enquiring of eyes, with hands on shapely hips, defensively perhaps, as she struggled to peer above or between the pumps, struggled to reach the optics, as she gingerly held out a hand for the money.
“Now there’s something I wouldn’t mind in my stocking.” And she still found a sweet smile for this highly unoriginal line.
With another lager and lime at hand, or sucking up a Malibu with coke through a straw, I listened politely to their adult stories. Of those fast cars, so often crashed, and the wild teenage escapades. Of drunken girls from long, long ago now, whose names were easily forgotten, or necessarily changed to protect already fragile reputations: “Especially that bird from Greenford.” The Looker, to use the vernacular, who could hold a lit cigarette to the back of her hand for thirty seconds and who do wonderful things with a ping-pong ball that would make my hair curl, all for the promise of a rum and coke and maybe a lift home, if it was not out of their way?
“Doris.” What had ever happened to Doris?
“I married her.”
“Oh yeah.”
I laughed, ha, ha, ha, and loudly, following their example closely, so as not to give myself away, but my mind boggling all the time, trying to keep afloat.
In the secluded safety offered by a dimly lit corner, we talked of manly things, suddenly brave once out of “their” earshot.
“Don’t get married,” was the basis of their advice. “If you know what’s good for you,” and relayed with a finger pressed firmly against lips. “Not that I’d be without my Doris.”
“Or my Lynne.”
“Or my Ellie.”
“Or his Ellie,” this group of friends agreed.
“Peanut? They’re a bit soggy now, but…”
I tried my best to join in, to become involved, to be “one of the lads”. “You wouldn’t believe the trouble I’m having with this girl at school.” Faces looking at me. “She puts it about with everyone,” according to the usual gossip on the toilet walls. “But me…? Not a bloody thing.”
“Probably ‘cos you’re funny looking?” someone advised, the others taking this into consideration… Before nodding wholeheartedly. Cruel but true, my uncle thought.
“Not as much as a quick fumble behind the bus shelter, or up the secluded water tower.”
“Never heard it called that before.”
They laughed. I laughed, rather overdoing it though, bringing nothing but suspicious glances in my direction and cricking my neck, but understanding the premise of a saucy joke at long, long last. At least, I think I did.
Someone, as yet unseen through the cigarette smoke, bitterly sighed. It was the same with his wife, he said sadly, chewing on the slice of a bitter lemon. She was, we were all informed, a rather fetching lady with “umpteen” tattoos all proudly displayed and boldly proclaiming both love and hate in equal coverage, “depending on what hand she hits you with first”. He pointed her out, by the crowded bar, this gentile creature arm-wrestling the drunken sailor.
“You don’t know how lucky you are.” Liam draped an arm around sagging shoulders, the rest of us singing loudly to the tunes on the jukebox; Slade, again, Wizzard, again; Bowie and Bing Crosby, again. A landlord short of Christmas cheer, despite the little drummer boy, now growling and shooing everyone away with a dishcloth, needing silence to count his takings.
“Bah humbug!”
My coin dropping into the jukebox and the buttons chosen and pressed, a record dropping into place. Not particularly Christmassy perhaps, but who could resist just a little bit of Tenpole Tudor?
The landlord!
Quietly watching now, banished to a distant corner, and trying to catch my breath. To calm a stomach beginning to bubble and gurgle. And so I sat before I fell, all of a sudden light-headed… But the room continued to spin… And those around me drifting out of focus.
I tried to negotiate my way about a glass of Malibu, navigate an ornamental umbrella and the straw continually poking me in the eye. A conga line materialised and shuffled from bar to bar in time to Wham! and Modern Romance, embarrassingly. I wasn’t that drunk, preferring instead to become morose along to Tears For Fears.

Horace Wimp’s Christmases of yore… Part II

Simon's Ramblings...

Christmas at Uncle Arthur’s.

A quiet family Christmas in Pinner. The endless arguing between endless rounds of that new board game, Trivial Pursuit, after one too many drinks.Standing to attention during the Queen’s Christmas Speech, and then falling asleep after dinner: burping because of the turkey and farting due to the sprouts.
“God bless her,” Dad always said of his Queen, somewhat embarrassingly throwing up a crisp salute as the credits slowly rolled for another year, and as we settled down for Top Of The Pops, Ellie bopping to Hungry Like A Wolf.
This was still a few days away, but my dread was growing.
Aunt Ellie meticulously lined up the Christmas cards, spreading them around the living room on lengths of string, trailing them into the hall, through the open front door and across the street. Uncle Arthur prepared himself mentally, to do battle with the ostrich-sized turkey flatly…

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