Days Like These Chapter 1
If not better, surely it could get no worse… Let's not start at the beginning. I find it impossible to start at the beginning. I don't even know what or where the beginning is. So, let's just say it started with a kiss. No, really, please stay with me. Because after that warm, wet, most welcome waking from Sweetness, it went down-hill fast. I’m hoping that injection of negativity will maintain your interest. I like to think I know my audience. I'd been having this crap dream about work. Not quite a nightmare so I suppose you'd have to call it a dream.
Although I'd always thought dreams were supposed to be uplifting – if not
euphoric, then at least positive. Like, I've always dreamt of scoring the cup-winning goal for
Kilmarnock, or it would be a dream to "go on a date" with Sienna Miller. But this dream had been crap. It was about my foreman (a complete toss-pot by the way. A weirdo who expects everyone to be like him and to think the same way as him. A bully, pure-andsimple. Like the other day, he had his latest bright idea. It was about how our packaging and therefore our deliveries could be sped-up which would enhance our reputation, and thereby reposition our business profile. I mean, who talks like that? And what the fuck does it even mean? We work for a car component delivery company for fuck's sake. Not even a car component maker, which might, in some people's minds, be impressive (I’m a skilled man), but a car component deliverer. Business profile? What a tosser.): and who dreams about their foreman? Maybe I do need therapy. Anyway, in this "dream", I'm having a shite in the works' bog after a particularly hard night on the Tennent's Extra Cold. Why do I drink that pish anyway? I know it's a sad imitation of good (or, as my old man would call it, real) lager they make in more enlightened parts of the world, lagerbrewing-wise.
Yet I continue to seek oblivion, night-after-night, in the bottom of a glass of
Scotland's finest. If I’d done it with pints of real ale then at least I'd’ve earned a modicum of respect from the old man. "Can yeh no' at least drink Calley, son...?". It’s not so much the addiction or the shame of the bail-outs following drunken brawls with Hearts fans in some seedy part of our much-lauded capital, you understand: no, it’s the choice of product with which to seek said oblivion. Incredible really, but who can truly explain the Scottish working class psyche?
Anyway, in he came. I knew it was him just from the sound of his footsteps. So I'm sitting on the pan – and it's a cracker by the way, but not in a good way: a real streamer. The sort you have after about 15 pints of Guinness and a particularly cheap curry. A "Fitzy" I call them - and I'm nowhere near half way through it when he (let's call him Cuntie Baws in case he's reading this – which in reality is about as likely as Hibs winning the Scottish Cup, this century) shuffled around for a few seconds, then said, "Harris, are you... ohhhh, fur fuck sake, whae's crawled in here ‘n shat half-a-pan eh Vindaloo, eh? Harris is that you making such a God-awful stench? Git yer erse out here right now." Now I bet you're thinking no one talks like that: people either talk in the vernacular, or they don't. They don't mix it.
But you're forgetting the bold Cuntie Baws.
He who thinks that a car
component delivery company should be re-positioning its ("our") business profile. You can't really legislate for the Cuntie Baws' of this world. A curious mixture of really pretentious and deeply stupid. Actually, that’s tautologous. "Ah says is that you Harris? A ken it is, because a ken yir smell". What?! What sort of perverted moron knows the smell of folks' shit? Unless it was just mine, of course. Maybe he had studied mine just so he could tell from anywhere in the factory if I was loitering in one of the loos. So, what could I say? I groaned – not too convincingly in retrospect, "I'm unwell. I think I've got that virus that's going around." "What virus?" "The Marion", I responded, remembering. "Everyone's had it. I think I've got it bad." (Marion’s a friend who’s never hung-over after a girls night out: she always has a virus.) "Virus ma erse", he opined without a hint of irony or medical analysis. "Get yir lazy, skinny, hairy arse out here now and get packin HBOS’ Ka brake pads, or yir booted". Now, you may have surmised two things from this outburst. Firstly, he was probably over-stepping his authority under employment legislation to suggest that I might face dismissal for spending 20 mins in the toilet. He claimed it was an hour but there is no way I was in there for an hour, and I am 100% confident that my case would stand up in any tribunal, and that wee Willie McMenzies - my best mate on the same packing bench, despite being a Jambo, and the only guy in the whole factory (possibly the whole of Portobello) that actually knows every word, in the right order, to American Pie - would back me up on this,
because he always times my shites. OK, that may sound weird to you but you're probably thinking about it out of context. The point is, he would back me up. And secondly, that HBOS must have been in a bad way if they're ordering brake pads for Ford Kas. And yes, they were. This was 2008, remember. Our wonderful banking institutions has bought zillions of pounds worth (worth?) of sub-prime loans and other such risky debts with our money and were now telling us that we couldn't afford our mortgages, so they'd have to charge us more. (Itâ€™s only just occurred to me how close in terms of intellectual capacity and propensity for unintended irony that Cuntie Baws and HBOS senior management actually are.) The only good thing about the whole sorry mess that these over-paid, cheap-suited (and in my experience, there's no contradiction there) bankers have visited on us is to see them driving up to Lowland Component Parts in their Kas. No more do they stroll in like they own half of Perthshire, tossing you the keys to their Mercs without even a glance, never mind a word of thanks, and expecting their brake pads to be re-fitted, or whatever other emergency job needed to be done,
tout de suite. No: now they slink in and leave the keys to their Kas on the reception desk with a tag with their names on the ring and slink out again without anyone seeing them. Or so they think. I take great delight in seeing them and their new-found (though doubtless, temporary) sheepishness from my hide-e-hole in the works bogs. Now, returning to the substance of the matter in hand, I had and continue to have no desire for confrontation with my foreman, tenuous link with employment law or no. So I again groaned and said, "Boss... (I felt that a flattering mood was called for) ...I'm really unwell." "Ah'll boss ye, ya wee cunt. Get yir scraggy ginger baws oot here and get packin HBOS brake pads or ah'll wring yir fuckin neck an shite in yir mooth". Now, I'm as thick-skinned as the next Scotsman, and "lazy" and "scraggy" I can take. They are factual after all. And I didn't even mind the colourful if somewhat tasteless threat, so to speak. But ginger! That was totally out of order. I'm no where near ginger. Strawberry blond perhaps, at a very hard push. In fact, ask the old dear, she's always banging on about the mid-wife when I was born. "Mrs Harris... the old dear recounts from that tearful occasion ...you've a beautiful baby boy. Look, see. He's gorgeous, so he is. Everything in working order!".
"Oh, thank the Lord, Mary and Joseph..., said my mother (obviously picking up a vibe because she’s a staunch Protestant whose Father (my Grampa Pollok) still has a print of King Billy crossing the Boyne draped by an Orange Sash on his bedroom wall. "Souvenirs" from a preseason trip to Ulster to watch his beloved Rangers knock lumps - these were the John Grieg years - out of only-too-willing Northern Ireland second division (for which read near-amateur) football teams) ...what colour's his hair"? "Strawberry blond", said the mid-wife without missing a beat. "Oh lovely", sighed an apparently relieved mother. So I virtually crawled out of the trap and pleaded with Cuntie Baws, "Look at me, do I not look unwell?" "You look like the scraggy, smelly, good-for-nothin, ginger waster you usually look like", responded my erstwhile mentor (I'll come back to that). "Now either get packin' HBOS brake pads or get yir arse tae the dole". I honestly think he thought that quoting HBOS with every reference to our current order gave him some gravitas. It's one thing to be working on an order for Scotmid, but HBOS?! That was a different matter entirely. A pleasure to do business with you, Mr Hornby (it'd be great to see him in a Ka, would it not? Cunt.). Anyway, I looked at him with what I thought (probably more accurately hoped) were my Africanpot-bellied-starved-child eyes and said, "But Geoffrey... (honestly, his name is Geoffrey. His mother must have had a premonition that he was going to become a total toss-pot. I mean who in Scotland in the 1960s called their son Geoffrey?) ...I think I've got a really bad Marion this time. I feel really rough." "Call me Geoffrey once mair and uh'll rip yir baws off, paint thum green-white-and-gold and pin thum tae yir ears wi the industrial staple gun". Yes, my friends, to cap it all, this lumpen twat was a Celtic fan. "And you'll feel really bad if you don't get back to..." The next thing I knew, I was feeling wet. My face was tingling.
I slowly realised I'd been
dreaming and was now on the receiving end of the aforementioned wet and welcoming one. Sweetness was kissing me out of that awful “dream”. But I realised this only a split second after I spurted, "Aghh.. what.. yeew.. Oh, it's you."
"Yes it's me”, my beautiful soul-mate stated slowly, suspiciously. I sensed, despite my normal Panglossian state, that this was not good. “Who did you think it was?" "Oh, no one", I said, nonchalantly. She didn't buy the nonchalance. "No one? How could it be no one?" "I was just dreaming", I said, and regretted it the second it was out of my mouth. "About whom?", she grilled? She always spoke perfectly grammatically when annoyed. No idea why; that's just her. "Obviously not about me or you wouldn't have said, oh it's you." This was a no-win situation. If I've learnt anything about women in my 29 years on this planet, it's that you have two situations with them. One is a no-win situation, and the other is a very little chance of winning situation. At least with the latter you do have a chance. A slight chance perhaps, but a chance. Something to cling on to and fight for. Like being a goal up against Rangers at Ibrox inside the first 10 minutes. You've very little chance of holding on to that onegoal lead but you battle like hell, hope-against-hope that Kris Boyd stays on the bench and you might, just might, manage a battling score-draw. A coupon-buster. Well this situation wasn't even that promising. It was more like 3-down with the referee checking his watch and Nacho McNovo lining up a penalty kick. Every Greek bloke you’ve ever met would have had it first choice on his coupon: home win, unfazed by the 1/10 odds. A cert. I was doomed. Again. So what did I do? I said it again, of course – “no one”. What the hell was I thinking about, no
one? Why didn't I just tell the truth. I was dreaming about Cuntie Baws hauling me out of the crapper. OK, you've probably seen the flaw in that one. Your girlfriend wakes you with a goodmorning kiss and after going aghh.. what.. yeew.., you tell her you were dreaming about a Fitzy (she knows I call them that - she does too now, in fact. Mine that is, not hers. They’re normal; whatever that might be.). What's she going to say… oh my kisses remind you of your friend's most potent, world-renowned
flatulence, do they? No, I'd respond lamely, it was just that... Correct, there is utterly no point in prosecuting the truth in this situation. It's going to get you nowhere. There is no point in even trying, you know how it would end. But I should have thought of something better than no one. I mean, I hadn't even done anything wrong for fcuk sake. But the damage was done. No-win. But despite all my experience, and knowing that it was a no-win situation, I battled on. After another couple of lame attempts at trying to explain that what had just happened was in fact totally innocent, and about another 10 minutes of her grilling – it was a Friday and she had to get
to work: if it had been a week-end, this would have gone on all morning – we eventually "agreed" that I simply was not worth the effort she made to look gorgeous "for me", or to cook the marvellous, Michelin-star-quality meals "for me", or to clean the flat "for me" (this one particularly ironic given that it was her flat – a gift from Daddy. I'll return to that one later too, obviously), she stormed off to the shower allowing me ample time to ponder just how badly I'd handled the whole thing. So, how could the day get any worse? As I suggested before, stay with me. Sweetness returned from the shower, glistening with newly washed, radiant skin. Taut. She liked to run, and played basketball for her FPs. Kept fit (for me, no doubt) and suited it. She looked gorgeous, with a hint of the summer tan still evident (I loved you when you opened like a lily to the heat). My God I could have murdered a shag. But that was a pipe dream. I knew it, you know it. No chance. But I thought I may as well kick off the old fence-mending now, and who knows what tonight might bring. “You're looking absolutely gorgeous this morning, doll.” (I didn't call her Sweetness to her face. She was only too well aware of the Smith's song and my baws would be removed and refashioned as hammocks for her woolly mice collection if she knew this was my pet name for her. But I've never called her doll before either, so I've no idea where that came from.) But she wasn't in the mood. "Doll?! Doll is it? Don't Doll me. And if you think you're getting a shag anytime soon, you're in for a major dissy. Forget it. Doll." She could read my mind that one. Not that it was hard to read. On the whole, in all the time I’ve known her, it'd be beer, shites, shags, football. Though not necessarily in that order, obviously. "Do you have a busy day ahead?", I ploughed on. "Yes", was the swift if lacking in texture response. "How's the Lloyds case going? Any nearer a conclusion?" She'd been working on a high-profile case and had been stressed about it for weeks.
(What do you mean, what's a gorgeous
corporate lawyer doing with a loser like me? She loves me for my intelligence, humour, good nature and boyish charm. But, ok, I will return to that one too.) As a master of the art of disarming people with a well-judged word or two, I thought this was my chance. "You should take the week-end off and we'll go to the Lake District and re-live our holiday there."
"Off!? Are you thick or something? (I thought that was a bit cruel: I was only trying to be nice.) I've not had a week off this year. And I told you when this started that there would be no chance of weeks off until after Christmas. How the hell am I supposed to take a week off? Cretin." That didn't go as well as I'd hoped. And I hadn't even said "week". I only suggested a week-end off. But I let that one stick to the wall. At least we were talking. "Yes, sorry", I said. "I forgot." Not the best choice, I sensed.
Because she just looked at me.
rendered speechless by the depth of my stupidity. But I think I could guess what she would have said if she'd thought it worthwhile saying anything to someone of such obviously limited grasp of real life in the world of corporate law. I'm sure you can too. "What time will you be home tonight?" Safer ground, I thought. "I don't know. I'll be late: don't expect me to cook dinner." And with that, she threw her bag over her shoulder and stormed out of the door. No kiss. No cheery goodbye. Nothing. How the hell had it come to this? She wakes me up with a kiss; I make a perfectly innocent remark about that kiss; and we descend into the cold war. Is it just me, or does that seem odd to you? Am I missing something? Do I need to go to classes to find out how women think, or is that pointless?
Are all men doomed to kiss-less
mornings and shag-less nights if we say one, small thing out of turn? You sometimes wonder if you should just say nothing. Try to appear deep, complex and interesting.
And I couldn’t
remember the last time she’d been home early enough to make dinner anyway. But, again, probably best to let that one slide. Ho hum. I lay back in bed listening to the soothing tones of Sarah Kennedy thinking, I'll get up in two minutes. My head was buzzing so there was no chance of my falling back to sleep. Yeah, right. Woke up with a start after dreaming about Sienna Miller, with Terry Wogan wittering in my ears it was 7.30. Shit. But at least this dream had been good. What a honey. But can you credit it? If I'd been having that dream first time round, at least I'd be in the doghouse for something worthwhile.
Not that I think anyone deserves to be in the dog-house
whatever they're dreaming. It's not as if you can manipulate your dreams. I know; I've tried. But at least if it had been that dream, you could sort of see where she would have been coming from. But, no, I was in the dog-house for dreaming about Cuntie Baws and being stuck in the bogs at Lowland Component Parts – for which I was now going to be late, again. Geoffrey would love
this. Another chance for him to boot my arse all over the factory floor. Metaphorically speaking, of course, because despite his threats he couldn't actually lift his leg above knee height. And he's only 5 foot 5, so his knees are lower than most. I finally flew into the place at 8.17. Not bad going, but he didn't see it that way, of course. He had no clue about what I'd been through. All he could see was the clock; my clocking-in, 17 Minutes late; and the HBOS order not being bundled into neat packages as I did so. The HBOS order may now be a full 15 minutes late in getting to its destination (I estimate this on the basis that I could make up 2 minutes lost time without too much effort), and the credit crunch may worsen significantly as a result. I hadn't checked, but the FTSE may well have dropped 200 points as a direct result of my inappropriate actions. Or at least, that's what you'd have thought from the state of his puss. "What time do you call this?" was his predictable and predictably stupid opening question; possibly rhetorical. Now, I was fresh from limbering up with 3-time world champion at the verbal assault stakes, so this was like swatting flies. "Brenda", I said. "What do you call it?" "Don't get fuckin smart wi me, boy. Get yir arse intae that factory and git packin HBOS brake pads or yir booted. Dae a make masell clear?” "As a particularly finely-cut crystal glass, boss, a Riedel perhaps. Is there anything you'd like me to do before I start? I was rather thinking of heading for a boudin noir bap and a mug of our canteen's finest Darjeeling, if you'd like me to get you one whilst I'm there." I don't know why I push my luck. I just can't help it when confronted by idiocy. "If you don't git yir fuckin erse in..." I was through the swing-doors and dispensing hail fellows to my workmates before he made it to the end of his sentence. I don't think I really needed to hear the end of it anyway. I'd a fair idea of the gist. "Johnny-boy”, called Big-Boy Baxter, another of my mates in the work and a mad-for-it sheepshagger. Total fanatic. It's funny how you can hate people to the point of feeling murderous towards them for an hour-and-a-half on a Saturday afternoon but feel genuine brotherly-love for them the rest of the week. “Where the hell have you been? You're really pushin' it wi' Howel." (Cuntie Baws' surname. You couldn't make it up. OK, I know it isn't quite the same as the dead-
sheep mugger, but it was close enough. Geoffrey Howel, for fcuk sake. Foreman at Lowland Component Parts. Really, his mother obviously thought he was going to be a captain of industry or at least the Prime Minister. Sad old bat. Not that I ever met her. She was maybe really nice, but my God, she must have been disappointed with Geoffrey.) "Just slept in a few minutes. I don't know why he gets himself so worked up. I'll make up for lost time by working through my lunch break." That cracked them up – the boys. Four of us worked round the same bench and generally farted around all day whilst doing the occasional bit of packing car components. You had to. (The farting around that is, not the packing.) Your brain would seize-up and turn fungal if you didn't. I mean who really expects fit young men – who do not, in most cases, have learning difficulties – to stand round a table all day packing car parts? It's just not going to happen without at least a bit of banter and ribald humour, with the odd bout of skiving thrown in for good measure. "You git yir hole last night, Pie? Or were ye no' able tae get it tae stand tae attention efter the loony juice?" asked Big-Boy. “Leave it, Baxter”, a supportive JOT joined in, leaning on his brush. JOT is a one-off. (Jerk-off Tam, to give him his full title. Coined by the lads because of his welldocumented lack of conquests and presumed subsequent reliance on onanism.) Not a day younger than 70 but fit as Chinese bookie’s runner and still first to arrive at the factory every morning.
A good old guy, despite his predilection for all-things Russian, especially those
involving Communist militarism, and for his inability to avert the wind-up. But JOT’s not one of the four packers on my bench. The final member is Zac Beaverbrook, but he was off work just now. Zac was perhaps too obviously called Beaver. But it was well suited due to his constant quest to bed women. No relation, was usually part of his opening line, but he always left room for doubt. Not that the vast majority of air-heads he was usually attracted to had a clue what he was on about - early 20th century politics and publishing magnates not normally being on their conversational radar. Beaver was of gypsy stock. His mother – Emily Smeaton - must have thought the name exotic because his father was actually called William Appleby: a chancer, part-owner of a three-year-old trotter, and full-time gambler, except when the money ran out. He then tried to make ends meet by taking on all-comers at bare-knuckle bouts, without recourse the Marquess of Queensbury’s guide, at whatever show-ground he could catch up with. Zac’s parents never married and he was actually given the name of quite a few temporary fathers in his formative years before his mother
finally settled on this incongruous pseudonym – incongruous for Little France caravan park anyway. And whilst I'm on the subject I should explain that my name is John Harris. Sometimes Johnnyboy, sometimes just Harris, and often, since school days, Pie. Harris had become Tweed, Tweed became Tweedie, Tweedie became Tweety, and Tweety was shortened, so to speak, to Pie – obvious really. I’d love to be able to claim that it was actually Pi and I earned it through my gift for mathematics. But no, there are still too many of the old Porty Troops around to set the record straight on that one, so honesty is the best policy. Pie. Kate hates it, obviously.
Loony juice, I thought. I usually drink Tennent's Extra Cold, and that's your standard Scottish 4.2% ABV. Then I remembered. I had phoned Sweetness from the pub around 10 and she was still not home so I thought, what the fuck, I'll have a Stella (your standard Belgian 5% ABV, but still pish because our Stella is not actually brewed in Belgium. No, we, in our wisdom, and with the acquiescence of InBev, obviously, decide to make Stella in Pontefract, or some such shit-hole that masquerades as a bastion of the brewing art in this fair land. Yes, let's take a fine Belgian brew and turn it into piss-water. It’ll be much cheaper to make but the Brits'll love it. Lap it up. And we do. Tubes.). So, about 5 Stellas later, and that was on top of about 7 Extra Colds (you'll have to excuse the approximations), I staggered out of the pub followed by calls of – "Where you gaun?” “It's no' shutting time yit.” “Yeh oan yir hole or sum'in?” “Poof." – ringing in my by now distinctly fuzzy ears. And when I got home, she still wasn't there. So I fell asleep in the huff. Now, you might consider this rather pointless, given that she wouldn't know I was in the huff and the whole point of a huff is for the target of it to know in no uncertain terms how you feel, and why. And you would have a point. But you haven't factored-in the 12(-ish) pints. In any event, when I woke up, all thoughts of huffs were irrelevant. Swept away by the far bigger force of anger in the hands of an expert. Sweetness – corporate lawyer. "Piss off, Baxter, you'll not remember the last time you had your hole so I wouldn't want to excite you by discussing it. How's your wrist after last week’s accident, by the way?" If I said that the "accident" involved a toilet roll, 3 pats of canteen butter, 7 rubber bands and a Heath-Robinson-esque modified battery controlled child's toy – and if you had a particularly imaginative disposition, preferably of the type honed through years of reading the Sunday Sport – you might have a faint idea of what happened. But please don't ask me to elaborate: you really
do not want to go there. Not if you want Big-Boy to be left with the slightest shred of dignity. And he needs all the shreds he can muster. He's really getting close to shred-less. "Never you mind ma wrist, pal. Just tell us how it went with the lovely Katherine last night. She gaggin' fur it when ye got hame?" "Shut it Baxter and get on wi yir work or Cuntie Baws'll be in here the now bawlin at us again", said wee Willie supportively.
"And besides, you wouldn't understand true love, would he
Johnny?" the wee man, my best pal, this time with more than a soupcon of irony, I felt. "True love!?" blurted Big-Boy. But before he could continue his soliloquy on the nature of love and his ill-fated pursuit of that elusive, profound state, Cuntie Baws bowled through the swing doors. And he was whistling. Whistling. I have never in two years and 1 month of working for Lowland Component Parts heard Cuntie Baws whistle. Not once. "That you whistling boss?", Big-Boy asked quizzically. "Won the lottery?" "No, Baxter, not the lottery. Only fools play the lottery. I wouldnae waste my hard-earned on that pish. Happy to let poor saps like you dae that and support the arts and sports facilities the rest of us enjoy, funded by your unintended generosity." Now that was a first too. It wasn't exactly a friendly response.
He had said pish and poor saps, but he hadn't used his usual rash of
profanities when addressing the minions of Lowland Component Parts. Something was up. And the arts!? "What then?", JOT – a true cynic – enquired, "you just had anal sex wi Andy Hornby?" That brought Cuntie Baws back to his true state. "Right, Schlepp … (JOT's step-father was a German Jew – Herbert Schlepp – who came to Scotland in 1939, the day after the war broke out, claiming he was a conscientious objector. He met JOT's old dear at a dance in the British Legion in Portobello, got married 3 months later and adopted JOT – who had been born 6 months previously, father unknown, at least as far as the Registrar was concerned – and was thus awarded British citizenship.
The marriage lasted
11 months before Herr Schlepp on returning unexpectedly to their flat in Duke Street early one Thursday afternoon had found his wife, Stella, in bed with the man who came round each week to collect the insurance money. She tried in vain to convince her husband that the arrangement was "purely business" – she was getting a 50% discount on her divvy payments – but Schlepp was a proud man, so he left her and JOT and moved to Cowdenbeath to grieve lost love and
contemplate life.) â€Ś another word fae you and you'll join Harris here in the black book and on the fast-track tae a written warnin", Cuntie Baws warned. "What fur?" demanded JOT. "Ah've done nowt wrong." "Malingering. Now get on wi it and park the hurt, hard-done-by look." Cuntie Baws waltzed (he was clearly pleased about something) through the swing doors that led to the benches that dealt with packing exhausts, doubtless for a conflab with his oppo and only friend in the world, Hi-Tech Harry â€“ so called because of his appalling taste in cheap (which he thought up-to-the-minute) trainers and other sundry sports wear. That, and the fact that his name was Harry.