Friday, 30 August 2013

Issue 11: Where's your caravan?

A stiff test of parenting skills is knowing what do when it’s raining and you’re sitting in a seaside caravan. We go away every August Bank Holiday and it always rains on Saturday, even though those lazy-get BBC weather presenters forecast otherwise. Instead of practising with hairbrushes in front of the mirror, dreaming of becoming the next Wogan or Parky, Carol Kirkwood et al should read the manual of the £15m weather supercomputer and figure out how the damned thing works. 

This year, we abandoned our usual retreat on Dungeness’ nuclear coast and decided we’d give Great Yarmouth a crack of the whip, following favourable reviews from my usually unimpressed brother. Alas, the Saturday weather curse followed us into East Anglia, but by lucky hap, when we checked in at Haven Wild Duck Caravan Holiday Park, I'd lunged at the leaflet display. A series of colourful pamphlets offered wet-weather refuge.

In East Anglia, animal worlds and safari adventures abound, but elephantine entrance fees means there’ll be no big cats or ungulates for us in this six-week holiday. It’d be cheaper to book a taxi to Africa. One of the leaflets looked most enticing – the East Anglia Transport Museum near Lowestoft. With its collection of half-cab buses, trolleybuses and trams, this would be a place that my two kids would no doubt love, but they haven’t been with us for this trip. I'm with the wife and her two kids, whose appreciation of transport only goes as far as Transformers.

Apart from ants in the kitchen and the defective guard on the gas fire, this year’s caravan, situated five miles south of Great Yarmouth, is more plush and better kitted out than most homes. I could have done with a couple of pieces of ice in my gin and tonic in the evenings, but that’s a small gripe. You can see why gypsies aren’t keen to move into houses. All children would rather live in a caravan than a house. The door’s always open, so they’re getting a taste of pre-1980 Britain, where you could run in any direction you wanted and not fear too many murdering strangers or internet paedo rings.

In the early Eighties, my younger brother used to tell me that strangers, who invariably drove vehicles made by British Leyland, carried garden canes in their car boot. Rather than an interest in nomadic gardening practises, my brother would explain, with some joy, that the canes were for “shoving up your a***”. This is when he was eight. As a public-information exercise, it proved a powerful tool on our estate.

He was very good at off-the-wall character sketches, was our kid, especially touch-feely family members, weaklings and our stepfather, who used to shout a great deal. He would mimic our stepfather like a mynah bird. When we had the house to ourselves, which was a lot of the time, my brother would stand at the bottom of the stairs and bawl as loudly as he could, “Ehhhhh! What do you think you're doing? What do you think you are, bloody radged?” Radged was a term localised to the railway plant works, meaning “simple”. He’d then thump upstairs, slam open the bedroom door, and proceed to give me and my sister an enraged good hiding. The good hiding was an improvised bolt-on for comedy effect; smacks were rare in our house. Our kid would also do a superb sketch in which our stepfather would playfully change a light bulb while tap-dancing. It was Vic Reeves entertainment five years before Big Night Out ever reached Channel 4. We didn't really need the telly on.

I expect my brother would be very good at building sandcastles, but I’m the master. Me, the wife and her two boys lead the world in sand-forged construction. We’ve become a very tight unit and, through years of practise, are able to build extremely complex islands in a short space of time. Typically, our sandcastles will feature a moat, several bridges, dominant castellated towers (with flags), roads, substantial sea wall, intricate tunnels and stone/shell trim. We could show Balfour Beatty or Clancydocwra a thing or two about effective urban planning. If I knew how, I’d wire up miniature street lighting.

Our latest projects, while staying in the caravan, have been typically avant-garde. For the first time ever there was a curved tunnel on one of the moats, while a road passage ducked beneath an entire island – it was a bit like the one in the Alps that has so many crashes and blazes. We’re also adept at three-way tunnels, and have been known to construct the odd viaduct. There’s very little in life that’s more exciting than building a fortress settlement when the tide is rushing in. It’s a vision of London’s future. The first extended wave will be effectively repelled by the sea wall, but you know that doom is close at hand. We have people gathering to witness the destruction of our St Michael’s Mounts. The sea eventually surrounds our islands, then engulfs the streets. All those hours of crafting reduced to soft slop-dob. I have to say, the quality of sand around Great Yarmouth is among the finest we’ve ever worked with.

I’ve never been a fan of 2p gambling games at seafront amusement arcades but if it’s raining, I can see that £5 thrown away in one of these mesmerising grottos of flashing lights and mirrors shouldn’t be knocked. Holiday time works in much the same way as a taxi’s meter. It charges by the minute, and an amusement arcade is just as cost effective as buying four ice creams and a couple of coffees. I’m not one for gambling, mind. I've only bet on the gee-gees twice, and that was at an actual racecourse. Mug’s game. However, once a year, we allow ourselves the thrill of hearing small coins crashing from a copper overhang, especially if there's drizzle and sea har. The wife becomes very focused on the 2p games. We won quite a few prizes during our gambling hour, including two tin soldiers, a "gold" bar and a one-eyed soft toy from Despicable Me.

Can fantasy football be described as gambling? I’ve been playing the original Pro Fantasy League since 2005 and now see it as an intrinsic part of my existence. I support my own fantasy football team more than I do any league side. I’m happy for Manchester United to run away with the Premier League title every season, but the reality is, if I’ve got a Manchester City striker in my squad of 15 overpaid poodles, I want him to score. In Pro Fantasy League, you play in a division of like-minded souls and hold an auction at the beginning of the season to determine who owns individual players. By the time the season kicks off, only one person will own, say, Rooney or Lampard. Added to this, your division of pals’ teams is interlinked with the rest of the country, so in January you’ll enter a nationwide cup or, if you did well in the previous season, a “European” competition. 

There are around 10,000 people playing Pro Fantasy League, and there’s a list of the top 100 players on the site. I once led the country for two weeks, a halcyon fortnight in 2007 where I could do no wrong. I’ve done little right from that point on. I didn’t even win the title in my own league of ten mates that season. Last May, I finished bottom of my division, putting too much emphasis on a Manchester United strike partnership that featured the usually net-clobbering Rooney, who’d decided his interests would be better suited on Fulham Road SW6, and Welbeck, who scored once in the entire season. Interestingly, now that I don’t own him, Welbeck netted twice in Man Utd’s opening game against Swansea. I wanted to kick the telly off the shelf.

Choosing a name for my fantasy football team takes on huge importance during the summer. Former titles have included Baldwin’s Casuals, Wimbledon Miners Welfare, MyPie 47 and VVV-Vimto, to name a few. This season I’ve opted for Rubbish Rovers. As usual, it works on two levels. Having grown up in Doncaster, I naturally started visiting my local club from 1980 onwards, and by the time I was in my 20s had become something of a regular. This was back when Donny were in the bottom division or the Conference. One of the most frequently uttered sentences I’d hear at Doncaster matches was, “Oh, that’s rubbish Rovers, absolute rubbish.” Back at the old Belle Vue ground on the opening day of one season, I timed how long it was before I heard “That’s rubbish Rovers!” and it was 30 seconds. Half a minute into a fresh season and the crowd were on the side’s back! As I finished bottom of my fantasy football league last season, it seemed apt to name my side Rubbish Rovers. Next season it’s going to be Ujpest Dozy.

I hope to finish mid-table. I’ve proven goalscorers in Fellaini, Cazorla, Ba and Aguero, but they’ve done bugger all so far. It comes to something when you’re looking at the crash-helmeted Chelsea keeper Petr Cech to provide the bulk of your season’s haul. I was watching Match Of The Day with the wife the other night. We usually catch the first game then drift to bed – the kids make us too tired. Last weekend, we commented on how slick the opening titles were, although she thinks the MOTD logo looks like a pair of metal underpants. Around ten years ago, I wrote a big story for a men’s mag about Match Of The Day. I had to interview Walker’s Gary Lineker, housewife’s choice Alan Hansen and Albert Sewell, who’d been the programme’s statistician since 1968. It was a feature that largely wrote itself, but the one difficult aspect was tracing Barry Stoller, who, in 1970, penned the Match Of The Day theme music. He proved spectacularly elusive.

After a month, I managed to track him down to Australia – by the sound of it, he’d moved to the other side of the world to escape the Match Of The Day theme. “My career was so much more than that,” he emailed, sounding somewhat agitated. “It’s because of this that I don’t want to be involved with your story.” I explained the excitement that the MOTD theme conveyed, how it had lit up Saturday evenings for generations of football enthusiasts, how it had bonded grandads, dads and sons, how it stood as a piece of music every bit as thrusting and evocative as a Bowie or Hendrix composition. He was having none of it. I’m led to believe that Grange Calvely, the writer of Roobarb, emigrated Down Under to escape incessant enquiries about his cult wobbly cartoon.

Maybe in ten years time, I’ll have to jump on a Qantas space rocket and hide out at Ayers Rock or Erinsborough to dodge lunatic interest about the humble beginning of Morning Warship. “I don’t want to talk about Morning Warship any more," I'll whine. "It was closed down in 2017, I lived at Moscow Airport for a year, then I took refuge in the Honduran embassy, and yes I'm pleased it has maintained cult status and eventually led to Peter Hook re-joining New Order – but nobody ever wants to discuss my fantasy football team, my DJing or the incredible sandcastles I’ve built. There's so much more to me than that blog!”

I suppose we’d better start packing. Checkout at Wild Duck is 10am prompt. After a final promenade along the beach, the Skylark leaves for London at midday. It’s blazing sunshine outside – always is when we’re leaving. My limbs ache from long jump, excessive spade use and skimming stones. These are all good strains to have. I think we’ll be back to Great Yarmouth next year. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Issue 10: European culture

Lee Gale is away. Well, he’s been clocking up the miles, travelling between Budapest and Doncaster, Europe’s two great capitals of culture. I realised this week precisely why I loathe international travel and it’s more to do with airports and airlines rather than the countries themselves. Flying gets worse. The days of rawnging over three seats and sitting down in peace for your in-flight meal like a lord – Jack Lord, possibly, in a James Bond film – are already golden images of a past era. Nowadays, you’re lucky if you can sit next to the person you’re travelling with. When you fly with Wizz, the Hungarian carrier, the 1997 Nicolas Cage film Con Air looks like a promotional feature for business class. At airports, parking’s £85 for four days. Eighty-five pounds!

“Did you check in online?”
“No, I thought I’d cock it up – I wanted you, the experts, to do it for me. The flight’s £330, so I reckon I’ve paid for the privilege.”
“We’ll have to charge you £20.”
“What, £20 for clicking a button?”
“Why did you not check-in online before you left, sir?”
“Check-in online… I don’t actually know what that means. You check-in at the airport, surely. What if I was involved in a motorway pile-up on the way in?”
“Huh! Highly unlikely.”

Everyone at airports is in a state of confusion and panic, like there’s been an earthquake. You shuffle down queues, pay some money, get pointed to other queues, pay more money – these are spot fines for not logging on to the airline’s website – and you spend hours and hours being processed and numbered. You do at Luton anyway. No wonder we almost missed the flight.

Much as I appreciate Budapest and the Hungarians, getting there is a major headache, but as this was a work trip – I was covering the Sziget music festival – I didn’t have much choice. I suppose I could drive to Central Europe, but the road system in Budapest is completely alien and I’m sure I’d end up driving in the wrong direction on a busy stretch of highway, causing deaths, and then I’d be in prison for ten years. But when you factor in the industrialised mayhem of Luton, where you feel like a fish finger in a Findus plant, it’s a close call to make.

In its favour, you can get from London to Sziget quicker than it takes to travel from London to Glastonbury. I’ll not go into detail about the weekend right now because I’ve spent every spare moment of the last seven days writing about it. You can see it here:

Having found a new appreciation for Franz Ferdinand – I really like the new single, “Right Action”, and they were the stand-out group at Sziget ­– once back on familiar territory at Luton David Pleat International, I tried the new ePassport gate and realised that once you’d gone through the rigmarole of having your passport scanned, and your eyes scanned, and your hands scanned, and your shoes scanned, and your arse scanned, and your DNA scanned, and your soul scanned, you’re moving more slowly than the people queueing with old passports. So much for technology! I think I managed to convince the Sziget organisers to make an approach for New Order in 2014, so I’ll no doubt be heading to Budapest again next August. Next time, I’ll pay more for fast-track, longer legroom and preferential seating – anything to beat the system. And this is what they want you to do, to pay extra for every aspect of the flight. This is the same trick the banks were pulling with payment protection in the Nineties.

From Luton, I had two days in London then drove the kids up to Doncaster to see how real people live. Although Donny has its detractors down South, my two lads think this much-maligned district is like Disneyland, but better, because rather than losing money at every turn, people are pushing cash into your hands. They’ve learnt that Doncaster is a money-spinner. Pensioners can’t give ackers away quickly enough.

People that live in Doncaster refer to its central-business district, ie: shops, as “Town”. It’s not a bad town centre, although all the women look like Mutha from Viz. The recent addition of fairground rides on its streets has certainly hit the right note with the boys. They think that Town and Doncaster are different places but somehow twinned, the Castor and Pollux of northern industrial settlements, almost identical, but apparently Town just edges out Doncaster in terms of fun. I’m not sure how they weigh one up against the other. I used to think Spurs and Tottenham were different sides – when you’re seven, you’re still unravelling the complexities of the universe. “Right then, shall we go to Town or Doncaster this morning?” “TOWN!”

When we visit the North, we stay on the floor of my 90-year-old nana’s pensioner bungalow. It’s like sheltered camping for us. There isn’t really anywhere else for us to stay and she’s overjoyed to spend time with us. The arrival of the lads, age six and seven, creates much excitement among my nana’s group of wartime survivors. My two don’t realise how lucky they are to know a great-grandparent so well. People say Nana’s slowing up a bit and getting more forgetful, but she runs rings round most women 30 years her junior. She still goes to Town to get her shopping once week (or gets the bus to Doncaster if she wants slightly less fun).

Last Friday, having a glass of wine and discussing family matters from the late 19th century onwards, Nana told me that she hadn’t long left but had enjoyed her life and wouldn’t change anything other than she wished my grandad hadn’t died when he was 57. Nana never re-married; you don’t when you’ve been truly in love. She still cries when she mentions him. Nana then asked if I’d do a reading at her funeral. I said I would and that it was something that I’d also been thinking about, but I didn’t want to start writing the passage until the deadline (literally) was approaching – after all, I’m a professional writer. It’s unusual discussing the funeral of somebody you love who’s still alive. I’m convinced she’ll be getting a letter from the Queen in 2022; the wartime diet worked wonders for Nana’s generation. One of the funniest things I ever read was in NME in 1999. The Fall’s Mark E Smith was asked what song he’d like played at his own funeral and he replied, “I’ll just get the organist to hold down the note of F.”

You may have frowned with some confusion in the opening paragraph of MW Issue 10, when you read the word “rawnging”. You won’t find it in the dictionary. It isn’t there. I think it’s a Manchester term – it’s the act of lazily sprawling, usually over furniture, especially a settee, often with your shoes on. Just to recap - we're a Manchester/Doncaster mix of a family. “Give over rawnging on the bloody settee.” Another term I’m very fond of is “monk on”, which is localised to Doncaster. It refers to the condition of being in a bad mood for no apparent reason. “What’s up with you, have you got monk on?”

Accusing somebody of having monk on only deepens the condition. It’s a state that can last for hours. It’s a morose ailment, usually associated with boredom, and tends to strike in the late morning or early afternoon. I’ve never suffered from monk on, but have certainly dated women with terminal cases, to the point where their mouth turns down permanently, a bit like that rabbit Miffy. The wife says that the north-west London word for monk on is “greuse”. “Are you in a greuse?” they’ll ask. “No, I’m not in a greuse!” will come the angry response… meaning they are in a greuse! Sufferers never admit to having monk on or a greuse. It’s a diluted, short-term depression, but asking somebody if they have monk on leads to a deep-seated gloom – their face turns grey, eyes become watery and they look like they want to kill you. It’s great to see.

I don’t get monk on, although the cost of the school holidays is certainly pulling at the corners of my mouth. It’s costing me a bomb. Remaining true to my part-Yorkshire heritage, I keep an eye on every penny that’s spent by noting figures into a red Silvine cashbook. There’ll have to be some seriously boring weekends in the run-up to Christmas if we’re going to balance the books. But if you’re a parent with boys and looking for something to do before that glorious Monday in September, the following places are highly recommended…

1.     Crich Tramway Village, Crich, Derbyshire: Stroll through a Twenties town and take a 1926 Blackpool tram along a mile of track. We went on a Thursday and it wasn’t overly full, although there were a lot of fat tourists and some of them didn’t like children very much, tutting at the slightest misdemeanour. Apart from that, my two felt truly alive here. I may have to take them to Blackpool.
2.     Skate King’s Cross, King’s Cross, London: This is a pop-up roller-skating park, not particularly big, but big enough to realise you are rubbish at roller skating, and haven’t improved since you last tried in 1984. Kids either instantly understand skating or get monk on, crawling around on all fours, shaking their head, saying they want to go home. Afterwards, let the kids cool off in the 1,000 fountains outside the nearby Granary Building.
3.     The View From The Shard, London Bridge, London: For two adults and four kids, this is over £100, Premier League money, but the 40-mile view is spectacular. However, kids get bored after just seven minutes at the Shard and are much happier running around at Coram’s Fields children’s playground near Russell Square tube.
4.     National Railway Museum, York: It’s massive, and as much fun for dads as sons. The major problem is that boys get so excited that they naturally feel the urge to dash from locomotive to locomotive. Now, these engines have got very, very hard buffers, roughly at head height to a five- or six-year-old. Maybe visit when they’re ten.
5.     Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire: Again, huge – there’s much ground to cover, and you can even take a flight in a de Havilland Dragon Rapide from the Thirties if you’ve got birthday money to burn. I think it costs £35 per person to get airborne. You have to be careful at Duxford, though. My two got so giddy the last time we visited that when we were in the Battle of Britain hangar, my eldest, for some stupid reason, pushed a display cabinet with his hands, showing off, which then rocked as far back as it could without actually toppling over, then rocked forward, and continued this back-and-forth motion for an agonising 10-15 seconds, while furious World War II veterans looked on. By the time the cabinet was static, the memorabilia, model aeroplanes and artwork within looked like it had been strafed by a Messerschmitt Bf 109. We left instantly.

My final word this week concerns perceived Yorkshire tightness. It’s a male disease – most Yorkshire women can’t get the tenners out of the mattress quickly enough. A few years ago, my friend’s mam and dad went on holiday to Egypt. While nosing round a bazaar, the dad – a shopkeeper – thought he might forge a great deal on a new rug. The bartering between the Egyptian carpet salesman and Arkwright-type Yorkshire shopkeeper continued for a good two hours and by the end, a compromise had almost been reached. The Egyptian market trader was probably at the stage of making no profit at all, worn down, but at the point of sale, the Doncaster dad said, “I’ll tell you what, son, I’ll leave it for now,” and promptly walked off. Incensed, the Egyptian leapt into the air with his fist waving and shouted, “TIGHT YORKSHIRE B******!” I enjoy the fact that Yorkshire penny-pinching is so well known, even in Africa. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Issue 9: Give over and lie down

When it comes to animals in the workplace, I don’t have a problem as long as you’re a farmer, a cowboy or a butcher, otherwise leave the poor bloody things at home. Where I work, swathes of the staff are upper crust and, having rarely heard the word “no”, they’ve developed a laissez-faire attitude to pets at the desk. At any one time, you’ll find dogs lying by the printer, dogs nosing through bins or dogs nudging your arm with their cold nose while you’re trying to eat a sandwich (or, as is my style, eating salad with a plastic teaspoon). On the odd occasion that a dog isn’t in the office, people are looking at JPEGs of dogs on their screens, discovering comedy dogs on YouTube or discussing the dogs they saw on other floors of our building a few days/weeks/years ago. It’s like a syndrome.

I’ve actually worked out why dogs have overrun the workplace – they give an opportunity to down tools and do anything except the job you’re being paid to do. For many metrosexual men, a hound is a baring of one’s soul – “I’m sensitive, ladies!” – when actually, it’s more of an Alan Partridge-type “let’s talk about meeee” ploy. Dogs provide a subject matter, a pristine opportunity to crack up a conversation with a dollybird whose bra straps are on show.

I don’t know what my grandad would have made of it all. In his day, dogs carried strict second-class status, but today’s dogs are lords. Dogs were different prior to 1980, more grown up, more sensible. Modern dogs never stop being puppies. I suppose hounds have always mirrored their owners, and people had a lot more on their minds in the Seventies. My grandad’s dog was Sheba, an Alsatian/Labrador cross. Sheba didn’t like children; dogs rarely did back then. I developed an unhealthy taste for dog biscuits when I was about four, and an approach towards Sheba’s bowl was always greeted with an “Rrrrrrrrr, rrrrrrrrrrrrr, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” Sheba never snapped, but she was a bit like an old-bat teacher nearing retirement age. You knew you could only take pranks so far.

At my nana and grandads, the biggest crime a dog could commit was to whine. With my grandad, you had three strikes and you were – literally – out. The first whimper would be met with a fierce, “Give over.” The second cry would bring a furious, “Give over, and lie down!” If Sheba was bonkers enough to take her pleading further, she’d be grabbed by the collar and dragged, claws scraping, into the garden, whereupon she’d be “fastened up” in the “hut” – a black-painted, windowless cube made out of corrugated metal panels. It was quite Burma 1943 in its design. Sheba would remain under lock and key for anything up to four hours, whether it was snow, rain or shine. She’d also be fastened up when my nana was hoovering, which could sometimes be twice a day. In summer, moulting was another misdemeanour.

Apart from the frequent visits to the hut’s dark heart, Sheba would never be far from my grandad’s side. Grandad would only ever be seen by the hearth with a poker in his hand or out in the garden digging soil. I don’t think I ever saw him upstairs. Despite the fact that my grandad could easily have chinned a Nile crocodile or torn a poltergeist in two (and probably locked them in the hut), my nana says he was devastated when Sheba’s back legs finally gave way and the immobile dog had to be put down – or “destroyed”, as was the parlance of the day. When I heard that Sheba had been destroyed, I had images of the aged, bad-tempered creature being blown to bloody rags by a rattling war tank.

My mate’s grandad was a gamekeeper and kept numerous Alsatians. Out of the pack that lived in his kennels, only one was allowed into the house. For some reason, the dog – Gemma – had become fiercely protective of my mate’s nana, a fact that my pal’s lorry driving uncle enjoyed testing. Uncle Stuart would arrive, entice Gemma into the front garden, quickly shut the door and then pretend to give his mother an almighty beating by the front window. From the lawn, Gemma would watch with absolute disbelief as her kindly owner was thumped, slapped, shook and shouted at. “You don’t bloody learn, do you?” Uncle Stuart would blast. “I’ve had enough of you, ENOUGGGGHHH!” The dog would go crackers. Great entertainment. 

People don’t train dogs any more. Barbara Woodhouse was the end of the line. To train a dog properly, you had to take a few days off work, disappear into the countryside, repeatedly wallop the dog in woodland until all fight had left its body, then you’d return home with a pet that would sit, stand, beg, jump through flaming hoops and obey every order instantly. Around 1990, we became too lazy and passive to teach dogs basic rules of behaviour. It could explain the problem we now have with sharks on leads.

We had a fantastic Labrador called Whiskey. He was destroyed around the time of the Madchester movement, an era when my brother would pull his paisley Y-fronts as far up his pigeon chest as was possible, bound like a drunk towards our younger sister, and sing “Hal-lel-lujaaaah,” mimmicking Shaun Ryder. I think it proved too stressful for the dog – his nerves couldn’t stand it any longer. My sister would run off screaming and my brother would follow her like a zombie, still singing. Before Whiskey popped his paws in 1989, my mam, perhaps a little prematurely, ordered his replacement – another Labrador, called Benjaman (sic). Mam’s not a speller.  These two yellow animals were stark evidence that dogs were rapidly transforming from respectable pillars of society into cumbersome, greedy teddy bears with learning difficulties.

The characters of Whiskey and Benji were so dissimilar that it was like having Steve Ovett and Gazza in the same room. Whiskey was distinguished and statesmanlike, although he had some curious traits. He was a tough dog, and had many brawls with Alsatians, Dobermans and Rottweilers down the years, but he was frightened to death of field mice and for some reason he couldn’t look you in the eye. Benji, on the other hand, was like a clumsy child.

Me and our kid would take the dogs on long walks into the Doncaster outback, even when Whiskey had slowed to the pace of a Chelsea pensioner. Our kid used to get very vexed on these walks. Whiskey would approach a sapling to p*** his underpowered trickle down its stem, then Benji would appear like a Barnes Wallis bomb and absolutely banjax the near-disabled Whiskey. Benji would then hurtle off like a small van in a bank job with our kid sprinting after him, swinging the lead, shouting, “Get here!” Benji felt the leather of the lead a few times across his rump and the odd kick with a DM. Benji was so thick that sometimes when he went to p*** on a lamp-post, s*** would fall out of his arse. This would annoy my brother too.

This morning, I finished Danny Baker’s autobiography Going To Sea In A Sieve. I like the good-time banter of his radio show. It’s full of ideas. I particularly enjoyed his tales of being on a European tour with Ian Dury And The Blockheads in 1978, when Baker was writing for NME, specifically bits about Dury’s valet and minder, Fred “Spider” Rowe – “a real-deal hardnut”, as Baker describes him. During one tourbus conversation about the growing problem of mad dogs attacking people, Spider jumped in: “You make me die, you f***in’ hippies, straight you do. No such thing as a mad dog. It’s a myth. Thing is with a dog, if it comes at ya, you grab the nearest stick or newspaper or anything you can hold by both ends, even your keys. Then, just as it leaps at ya, you hold it out. A dog will always grab the middle of the stick, see. And as he does, you bring your knee up – bang! – on to its mouth and, because it’s open and weak, it’ll shatter its jaw like your old nan’s f***in’ glass fruit bowl. So don't talk to me about mad dogs, because it’s not a problem.”

I also liked how he dealt with a sozzled fan in Holland who’d outstayed his welcome:

Spider: “Sorry to interrupt, friend, but can I ask your name?”
Drunk: “My name is Andreas, what’s it to you?”
Spider: “Do you mind if I call you Superman?”
Drunk: “Why?”
Spider: “Because in about 30 seconds you’ll be flying straight out that f***in’ window. OK?”

I’m a sucker for a stylish hardcase. I don’t think Spider would have had need of a canine companion – he had too much going on. Perhaps the pinnacle of my experience with workplace fleabags came earlier this year when I was stood by the printer in the hallway. As I collected flapping pieces of A3 paper, a dog approached and whined. “Give over and lie down,” I growled, on autopilot. Just then, a female member of staff walked through a nearby door and said, “Helloooo!” I thought: “That’s friendly!” and in the traditional Northern way, I raised my eyebrows, smiled at 15 percent and replied, “Alright.” “Oh, I didn’t mean you,” she said, “I was talking to the dog.” I felt as flattened as Whiskey after a bouncing Benji bound-through. I quickly realised that my place in the office pecking order was lower than a lurcher. I may start eating dog biscuits at my desk with a plastic teaspoon to try and raise my status.