Week 98: Gum Part 1

Friday, 15 November 2019

Reading time 2 minute 47 seconds 

Write the theme toon, sing the theme toon – Little Britain

As a child I loved the TV show Minder. It featured two central characters, the boss, a cockney spiv wheeler dealer type named Arthur Daley who was always trying to make a few easy quid and Terry McCann his minder. He provided muscle if Arthur ever got into trouble, which luckily enough for Terry was weekly, thus ensuring he had regular work.

Arthur Daley was my hero. My entire family were like this guy. They were market traders, thieves, rogues, parents. There was always a dodgy scheme and as children do I emulated that behaviour.

The most fun I had with my money-making schemes was the chewing gum business. It was a pop up before pop ups were called pop ups.

Myself and my best mate Gary had a car washing enterprise so had stake money for the next venture and at our weekly strategy meetings asked what did our next market a captive group of fellow schoolchildren want? The answer was simple, something that’s not allowed. Chewing gum. 

Gary had heard of this place called a supermarket. They were rare back then and we had one only a bus ride away. This one was as large as our ambitions and named Asda. I know how common they are now in all sense of the word, but back then they were a wonder to behold. Huge out of town places where you could buy everything under one roof. Little old me was used to a high street or Romford market. In Asda you could buy everything and not get rained on. The future was looking good for mankind! 

Gary explained that gum sold for 20p in the newsagent yet Asda were selling it wholesale. 10 packs for 60p. It had two less sticks of gum but looked the same as a 7 stick pack. If we sold it for 10 pence per pack, we’d make 40%. That wasn’t a bad return.  

One day after school we walked casually into Asda and loaded a trolley with some Yellow Juicy fruit, White Mint and the Green One. No one knew what the Green One was back then, I still don’t today.  

The till assistant would want to know why we were buying so much and would probably report us to the police if we couldn’t answer so we concocted an elaborate story like only two 11-year-old boys could.  

We split up and took 50% of our purchase to separate tills looking like we were trying to smuggle drugs across a border. I looked over at my business partner and best friend in all the world. One of us might shortly be going to prison.  
Gary was his normal cool self, he’d get away with this and it would be me who was caught and sent to chokey. What was the punishment for trying to flood a school with chewing gum. 6 months? When you don’t know something as a kid, you fill in the blanks and they were bad blanks.  

I started to sweat, I checked the exits in case I needed to do a runner and peg it. I’m unsure why we pegged it but we pegged it everywhere for a while. 
As calmly as possible I handed the product to the assistant. To indicate how long ago it was she typed the value into the till. I handed over the money, was handed back a receipt and that was it. I nodded to Gary, he was getting the same treatment of being ignored by his till operator. We sauntered Oceans 11 style to the doors. I was Clooney to his Pitt. We were going to make it. I’d never felt more alive. My heart was pumping. The only prison for me would be a bad roll of the dice on a monopoly board. 

On the bus home we made eye contact for the first time and started laughing. We’d done it. The adrenalin high was delicious. We truly thought we were brilliant because we clearly were. We celebrated by each partaking in our product. We both know we shouldn’t but one wouldn’t hurt. He took yellow as did I. No one eats the other flavours, it’s all about the Juicy Fruit.

The next day at school was going to either go incredibly well or we’d be looking at spending years in detention due to selling illegal contraband.

To be continued…………….

Photo: A Very young me again

Week 97: What’s In A Name?

Friday, 8 November 2019

Reading time 2 minute 19 seconds 

All right Dave – Trigger

Telephone conversation;

“My names Mat, not Mark”
“I’m sure you said Mark”
“Why would I say that?”
“Maybe you made a mistake”

This has been a common occurrence over the phone for a long time now. It used to wind me up until I discovered I’ve been calling someone by the wrong name for over 20 years.

I’ve two godchildren. They’re OK. Children are like a good Whisky and improve with age. When they were much younger their mums mum would visit from Spain and I’d occasionally be asked to collect her from the airport.  

She is a little old Spanish lady, kind of cute but has the look of someone who would give a mugger a punch in their face if they tried anything and that includes a mean look. The woman has gravitas and emits a strange scary power in her tiny frame. Her English is as good as my Spanish, she could probably order a lager but not with a lemonade top.

I’d greet her in Spanish “Ola Abolita” and she would always look at me with such affection and love. 

The car journeys from the airport should have been frustrating for us both as we could not communicate as we had no translators with us but those trips were brilliant. The language barrier didn’t stop us talking to each other, it’s just stopped us understanding.

She would speak in Spanish for ages and I’d listen as it sounded beautiful and important and then I’d speak in English. After a while I confessed to her about my relationship insecurities and opened my heart and soul. I was vulnerable in front of a person like I’ve never been before or since and it didn’t matter, she couldn’t understand a word I said. It was so easy and freeing to talk to this incredible woman. I’d always leave the car feeling lighter in my soul than when I started. It was incredibly cathartic. 
As for her I always fantasised that as I was bearing the dark parts of my being, Abolita was also confessing. Could she be a serial killer of very bad people, or a secret vigilante at night protecting her Neighbourhood from ruffians? Either way she also looked as if a life burden was lifted when I dropped her off.

Abolita was a very Spanish name, my god children would call her that as well and I thought this a little new age but then there was always that kid at school that called their parents by their first name so I just rolled with it.

My god children are now my God Adults as time crept up on us all. One recently turned a quarter of a century and mentioned how Abolita speaks very highly of me and loves how I call her Abolita.  
Well that’s her name what else would I call her?  

Stifling giggles this 25 year old child who is becoming a great whisky taught me that Abolita translates as Grandmother.  
I argued that it couldn’t and I received the look that said “What do you know Mr. one language?”  
I continued to state my case that it can’t mean grandmother because I’ve been calling her that for over 20 years. Apparently a long enough time line does not make a wrong a right. Who knew!

I then enquired why no one in the family ever corrected me and was told they thought it was an East London thing that West London folk like them didn’t understand, and there was always that weird kid in School who called his parents by their first name and maybe I was one of them. 
I didn’t even call my own Grandmother or even Gran for that matter. I called her Nan because it was part of my social class. Grandmother was well above my family’s paygrade. 

A few years have now passed and Abolita is still Abolita. I’m an old dog who cannot be taught the new trick. She calls me Uncle Mat. I’m not even her real uncle but it’s still my name and I burst with pride hearing it from my Spanish Nan. 

If I’m to be murdered after the publication of this story then I assumed correctly and Abolita was using an in car confessional and even though it was clearly she what did me in, please forgive her as I’ve ratted her out in error and deserve my comeuppance. 

Photo: I was sent this by an old friend. I may have been a little bit tipsy, but only a little.

Week 96: Bunking Off

Friday, 1 November 2019

Reading time 2 minute 59 seconds 

This is my step ladder, I never knew my real ladder – Old Joke

The first person I ever bunked off school with was the kid I now call my step brother, we were six and three quarters and luckily didn’t know any better.

Since as long as I can remember I have always been connected to him, even before our parents met and we were bound that way. I’m unsure why this bond existed but recently read that we are drawn to people who have similar things in common. 

We share the same first name. I often wonder if that was it, and if that’s the case why don’t we ever see the other Matthew who was in nursery and primary school with us?  

If you saw us together we are very easy to tell apart, he has one T in his MATHEW and I have two T’S in my MATTHEW. Weirdly he has two T’s in his MATT and I am a one T MAT. He’s also fractionally taller, marginally better looking and probably owns and can operate a drill. 

At almost seven years old we were both fairly independent, him a little more so than me. He probably already owned that drill or at least had the aspirations too by having the Argos catalogue tools page pinned to his bedroom wall.  

I don’t think I’m dumping him in it here but it was clearly his idea to break the rules and skip school. He made the suggestion, I immediately said yes then took care of the logistics and the plan. I was Face to his Hannibal.  

From about the age of five I was a latchkey kid so I had an empty house plus a treehouse. Two homes at that age is very impressive and it’s significantly better than I’m doing now.

We sneaked like only children can out of school. He was so cool, I thought we should run, he said just walk to make it look natural. It was just after lunch and no one would miss us. There was always the other Matthew, I’m sure the teachers would be happy with just him. 

So we sauntered to my properties like people who didn’t have to live by society’s rules. My heart was racing, he on the other hand was super relaxed. This may have been my first shot of adrenaline and I loved it. He had clearly drank from this adventure cup before. My Step brother was more of a man at six and three quarters than I am today.

Upon arrival to my homes I checked the coast was clear. We then sneaked, in an empty home to my treehouse, got inside and said to one another, what now? 

Neither of us knew what to do. We skipped school and we hadn’t worked out what to do next. What’s the point in school? What’s the point out of school? So we sat there, he looking all suave and sophisticated, me coming down from an adrenaline high. What a rush!

The next day back in the confines of our real life he was caught by the teacher and punished. Looking back I was surprised he was missed at school and I wasn’t. He was the quiet one and I was me. How did no one notice I wasn’t there? Even today I’m still a little miffed by that.

We were good friends then and neither of us are sure why but have remained friends ever since. We don’t see enough of each other but when we do it’s always one of my favourite times and we go straight back to that friendship that was forged over 45 years ago. 

The reason I love him then and it’s still with me today is because he stuck to the Eastend code and didn’t grass me up to the teachers. He, as he does, played it cool and took his telling off like a man. I would have squealed like the little Rat Boy I was and probably still am.

I bet if I asked him he’d lend me his drill and knowing me like he does he’d offer to make the holes for me as I don’t know how to operate one of those things.

Picture: Me, Matt and Gary 

Week 95: Isn’t Frankfurt Airport Big

Friday, 25 October 2019

Reading time 3 minute 31 seconds

I had arrived at the airport one hour early so that, in accordance with airline procedures, I could stand around. – Dave Barry

If I‘ve a 6am flight with my girlfriend we arrive at the terminal for 3am due to the just in case rule. The same rule is applied the moment our gate number is called, even if we have to sit there for 40 minutes, we’re ready to board. This is her idea, her anxiety, not mine and while I make fun of her for it, secretly I’m pleased. Very pleased.

I once used to commute to Germany and spent a lot of time in Frankfurt airport which is massive. It’s so huge the staff travel from one part to the other using bicycles. Bicycles through a terminal! Europeans are weirdly efficient and health conscious, maybe that’s why we’re leaving Europe.

I love Germany it’s an amazing country, they have vending machines that sells cold beer, strong good German beer available 24 hours a day in a machine that was outside the front door by my apartment.  

Travelling home on a Friday night was my favourite part of the week The first time was the most memorable. I’d got to the airport with more than enough time to spare and went for a peek in the shops which back then were called Duty Free. I’d never understood this concept, but I guess I wasn’t the only one as it was scrapped a short while later.  

My flight was called and was taking off in 45 minutes. Sweet. I started walking to the plane and thought I’d find me one of those vending machines.

I arrived at my gate and found out I was in the wrong part of the building and there was another gate with the same number and that it was a 45-minute walk away. What? I’m at an airport, not on a city tour.

I was told to run by a German man so I ran, like the wind. Sadly drinking Superb cheap German cloudy beer every night and the fact I’d never ran before produced very poor results. I stopped 60 seconds later coughed up a lung and vowed to quit smoking one day. 

I started to walk as fast as my little legs would take me, 35 minutes later I arrived with minutes to spare. Hot, sweaty, flustered and knackered. Luckily I’d passed two vending machines so had a few cold ones ready.

I was ushered onto the plane feeling very pleased with myself. The plane was tiny and it was almost full it held about 20 business looking people. Each one of them glared at me. The pilot who was unable to glare had a pop at me by announcing that due to the late arrival of a passenger we’ve missed our take off slot and will sit here awaiting a new one. This may take a sometime. The back of my chair was hit. The man across the aisle from me referred to me as female genitalia. It sounds harsher and has more impact when the deliverer is in a cheap suit. He was right though I had delayed the flight. I was the reason these people wouldn’t go home to see their families until later. I was mortified and sat there red faced. People were quite rightly being passive aggressive towards me, passengers and crew and when that had run its course they were just aggressive. 

We sat on that little plane all not wanting to be there. Time passed. Slowly, then my saviour arrived. Just as they had in 1941 a American sauntered in and saved the day in Germany. He was loud, remarked how big that damm airport was and that he went to the wrong gate with the same number. I was the only one to laugh in agreement.

It wasn’t me that delayed the plane, it was him, it was all his fault. The American looked at the angry faces and he had an expression that conveyed that he really didn’t care about them. He came and sat in the spare seat next to me. We finally took off. I gave him a vending machine beer and joined him in his couldn’t give a fig about anyone attitude.

As I got up for a wee, one of the angry passengers remarked that me and my new American friend were both sexed genitalia, which was something I’d not been called before.

These days I happily sit at the airport gate making fun of my other half for being a nice person to her other passengers. 
Deep down though I’m pleased, just don’t tell her.

Picture: Unhappy commuter me 

Week 94: The Infamous Cream Egg Challenge

Friday, 18 October 2019

Week 94 

Reading time 2 minute 4 seconds 

I’ve got the brain of a four year old, I bet he was glad to be rid of it – Groucho Marx

This story is not mine. I was just an instigator, but I instigated so well that another man may have got very sick all because I love a ridiculous childish challenge. Every Easter I’m reminded of this and the creme eggscapade of 2006. 

While in the office one day I complained loudly that I couldn’t find a Cadbury’s Creme Egg anywhere. I was informed that it wasn’t the season. Who knew that eggs were cyclical?

My office was mainly blokes and like the dumb males we were we started to brag how many creme eggs we could eat. I don’t have very many skills but eating chocolate is something I excel at and I bragged that whatever the highest number was I’d double it. 

We suddenly went from the hypothetical to a challenge of me eating 15 Cadbury’s creme eggs. My stupid ego was in town and with cash being thrown around like a Peaky Blinders gambling den I accepted the numerous bets and the rules were laid down. 15 eggs in 15 minutes, no puking for 1 hour afterwards. We spat into our palms and shook, the deal was done.

I then mentioned it at home that night and my girlfriend said it was childish, stupid and dangerous. Excellent. That’s the perfect trifecta required to begin any proceedings. 

I was told that I’d become a diabetic. That’s not possible I argued but it scared me enough to book an emergency appointment with a doctor, which you could back then. It was a crazy time.

The following morning I was given a telling off by the doctor for wasting their time and was told that it was a very stupid thing to do and yes diabetes would be an issue. Really? I thought that was nonsense. You can’t catch diabetes in one sitting. Can you?

I ummed and ahhed and then partook in my favourite past time and went on holiday. Upon my return I’d made up my mind and decided not to do it. I was already too close to diabetes and I’d worked out an elaborate tale on why I’d love too and would succeed but sadly at this junction in my life I couldn’t carry on with the challenge.

I then had the wind taken from my sails. While I was away, my colleague attempted the challenge. One of the other lads phoned Cadbury’s who in a moment of utter madness sent 15 eggs for free. The pot was about £150. I was told it was a quite a sight to behold.