Sunday, 31 August 2008

On the street where I live

I like the street where I live. It’s a little piece of East London that survived the bombings of WWII, a row of honest brick terraces squeezed between council blocks and tenement housing. I love its authenticity. If you squint you can imagine Jack the Ripper disembowelling a prostitute next to the chippy, or perhaps Dick Van Dyke skipping along the rooftops with a penguin in tow. Or, best of all, Jack cutting off Dick’s head while Mary P and the children sigh with relief.

Our neighbours seemed to have survived from the same era too. Eighty-plus Julia lives next door and we share a low garden wall; she calls me “sweet’eart” and visits her brother in the next street. Jimmy and Joyce are on the other side so I talk to them about the garden, and their daughter Charmaine lives two doors down. Jimmy likes to pop across the street to have a chat with Bill most evenings, a boisterous fellow who shares a house with his wife and seventeen bikes. He repairs them and sells them on again. In fact, the people are so wonderful it sometimes feels too good to be true, like I’ve fallen asleep and woken up in 1952.

I was intrigued to see what would happen, therefore, when a clean cut gay couple moved into the house opposite ours. I first noticed them when – with my usual sense of foreboding – I pulled back the morning curtains to see what stinking turd of a day the English climate had dumped on us this time. Much to my simultaneous delight it was not only sunny but there was what can only be described as Quite The Hottie emerging from number 21.

Further surveillance from my bedroom window over the coming weeks established there were, in fact, two Hotties in residence. Well, one certifiable Hottie and one Fat-Or-Fit?; I would need to invest in a pair of binoculars to confirm the latter. They cycled to work separately - leaving at 0813 and 0840 respectively – had a penchant for Thai home delivery on Tuesdays and were fastidious about separating their recyclables from their household waste. All very interesting but it didn’t give me the information I needed; i.e. how to engender a casual, spontaneous meeting.

A chance reading of texts on the psychology of the criminal mind soon gave me the answer I needed; the hunted needed to become to hunter. The gazelle needed to run to the leopard. The mole to burrow to the garden fork. And the rabbit needed to pop by at the fox’s place, possibly for an afternoon carrot soup with celery scones on a Laura Ashley platter.

Well, obviously, nothing could be simpler. Gay men are like bloodhounds. We can sniff each other out at 60 feet across a gyrating dancefloor, drawn by the top note smell of crisp, ironed underpants blending with tones of hair wax and dirty thoughts. If I’d noticed the boys in No. 21 then it was certain that they’d noticed me.

I suddenly became very absent-minded. I’d come back from the gym, turn on the bedside light and change without drawing the curtains. Or I would realise my heinous error just as I reached my underpants, requiring me to stretch semi-nude for the curtains and causing everything to flex in an alarmingly attractive manner. On my worst days I would even be so silly as to drop my towel en route from the shower, flashing a sculpted buttock before it was whisked decorously from view.

Amazingly, my plan bore no fruits. I thus had to conclude that either 1) I’m not attractive enough to cause complete strangers to abandon the norms of social behaviour and break down my front door in a mad haze of passion, or 2) my neighbours are both afflicted with a terrible vision impairment. So sad, how disability can affect those so young.

Then, amazingly, salvation came uncalled for. I pulled back my curtains one morning to see the postman knocking on the door of No. 21, a brown box tucked under one arm. When he couldn’t raise anyone he rang the doorbells of numbers 19 and 23 but without success. It wasn’t until he began to write out a “we called but you weren’t in” note that I recognised my chance. I pulled on some trousers and a shirt and burst through the front door in the nick of time.

HW: [casually sauntering across the road] “I say, hello there. Are you trying to deliver that to number 21?”

Postman: “Yep, they’re not in. Just left ‘em a note.”

HW: “Oh, don’t worry about that my man. I can take it for you. Quite the little community we have here, always helping each other out, doing our bit wot. I take post for these chaps all the time.”

Postman: “Oh, ta. But I’ve left ‘em a note, about it being at the depot ‘n all.”

HW: [breezily] “Never mind, can’t be helped. I’ll leave them another explaining this silly misunderstanding. Just give me the…gnghh…package…let…it..go. Hrrrmph…there’s…a…good man.” [HW wrests the box free]. “Right, be off with you then. Toodle pip.”

I scurried back to my lair with the Precious intact, and scribbled a quick note laced with the faintest whiff of innuendo.

Dear lads at number 21,
The postman tried to deliver a large package to you this morning but you weren’t in to receive it. Drop by when you get a chance and I can deliver it to you instead.
Yours, HW, from number 20.

I pushed it through their postbox and then rushed off to work. Arriving home that afternoon in a lather of excitement I found that disaster had struck; the Precious was gone. It wasn’t in the living room, or the kitchen, or tucked away under the stairs. It seems the Hottie had knocked and The Sister had failed to pretend to not be home, but had instead blithely handed over his parcel without eliciting so much as a polaroid in return. Unbelievable. You’ll notice she is not nearly as community-spirited as me but thinks only of herself.

There is, however, a happy ending. Three more parcels turned up for number 11 and the clever postman handed them all over to me. Thus I did eventually get to meet The Hottie and his Annoying American Whiner Boyfriend, who is definitely punching above his weight and should check his bike brakes more carefully. Urban tragedy can strike when you least expect it.

I am also now officially The Guy Who Takes Parcels For His Street, which has allowed me to meet Henry and his delightful girlfriend Sally, Mitchell and his dogs, and Fiona and her purple rinse. It’s lovely, and so are they. Every time I hand over an oversized parcel, and they realise that someone has taken their goods and not tried to resell them on ebay, I get a little glow of contentment. Life is fine here on the street where I live.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Life In The Shadows [sniff]

Hi kids, I’m back. I’d like to say I’ve been too busy to write because Mr Right and I have been gallivanting around Italy together, holding hands as the sun sets over the Mediterranean and picking olive rind from each other’s teeth. Or perhaps we’ve been in France, where Mr Right played his lute to me on the steps of the Musee d’Orsay and I sang of autumn sun on the Riviera. Or at the very least I could tell you I’ve been getting some.

Sadly, none of these things are true. Instead, I’ve been pouring all the energy I normally devote to the pursuit of random strangers into “Bettering My Career.” I know, I know; how desperately dull. Do not fear however; I have not strayed far from the dark path. Indeed, my ambition would be better described as “Bettering My Career With The Long-Term Aim Of Saving The Planet Making Shitloads Of Money And Thereby Ensnaring A Higher Grade Of Husband.” Everyone loves a stinking-rich altruist.

For those of you who express surprise that I aspire to be more than a drunken narcissist who lives for the next public toilet touch-up I say "I had no choice." I am surrounded by over-achievers, workaholics and manic-obsessives. And not the nice turn-the-lights-on-and-off-16-times-before-entering-a-room type either. No, I’ve got the ones that make you feel desperately inferior.

The problem started in childhood with The Sister. Hampered by a severe hearing disability from age three, she could have chosen the path of dribbling incontinence, rocking in the corner and talking like “Dark Side Of The Moon” played backwards. Once she’d been tarred with the Disability Stick she could’ve sat back in a pool of her own saliva and waited for life to roll on by, and no one would have judged her for it.

But no. Instead she rises above it all, learns to speak perfectly, gets three degrees, has her first book published by Penguin and by the end of the year will be Dr Sister. She even dresses better than me. What a bitch.

Then there’s The Best Friend. I’m not so clear on the exact details, but from what I recall she was born into a troupe of travelling gypsies who fed her brandy from a goat’s horn and lamed her to make it easier to beg for money. Or was it badgers who raised her? Whatever. She was definitely born in a caravan. On the linoleum table in the kitchen-cum-bedroom-cum-garage.

Yet despite this she has clawed her way from working class vulgarity to aspirational Lady of Bath. Give this woman and inch and she’ll steal your whole fucking ruler. Starting as a humble secretary she worked her way up through a series of marketing positions, was paid to retrain, moved into a completely unrelated field and is now making more in her quarterly bonus than I do in a year. She lives in a Georgian manor and when she speaks it’s like soft rain falling on Norwegian pine trees. No more badger grunting for this one. No siree.

But there’s more. My friend The PopStar recently arrived in London from Australia, having decided that he wants to play with the big boys in the UK. He already has 2 CDs under his belt, sings/dances/choreographs/composes everything himself and found an agent within the first week of landing. Just looking at him you know he’s going to make it. He reeks of determination and oozes success like I ooze the faint smell of old bananas. Bastard.

By far the worst, however, is James vacuum-cleaner-magnate Dyson. For us product designers he is a bit of a god, having proven that by putting design, innovation and engineering at the heart of a product - and sticking to your guns - you can effect incredible change (for more details see my other blog: “Embarrassing Gushings Of A Design Slut”).

I used to work for Mr Dyson, and at a party recently found myself standing next to him at the bar. I’d been studiously sober all night, thereby ensuring my inner dance demon wasn’t able to programme “Flail ‘n Rail” into my discometer and embarrass me in front of my idol. I reasoned that if I did cross paths with Mr Dyson I wanted to be prepared. I would open my mouth and out would flow such eloquence that he would not only become aware of the depth of my admiration, but simultaneously be touched by my deep intelligence and perception.

Sadly I had judged the risk of meeting him passed and was knee deep in free vodka tonics when he struck up a conversation.

JD: “Hello HW, good to see you again.”

HW: “Scchh, Dysun, yrrr fantashic. Yrrr jst… jst ‘mazing you are.” Oh. Shit. HW, what have you done?

JD [stepping slightly sideways to avoid the risk of physical contact]: “Umm, yes. Thank you.”

HW: “Ssslike, vacuums ‘n stuff. Y’know. Sss ‘mazing.” Fuck. Look at him. He’s terrified of you. Quick, get out of here before you do any more damage.

JD [reaching wildy for a distraction]: “Ah, HW, I don’t believe you’ve met my wife. Let me introduce you.”

HW: Oh, bloody brilliant. “Plesssure. Heard shumuch ‘boutcha. Plesssure.”

Oh god. Get. Us. Out. Of. Here. No, don’t touch her! Oh mercy, is there no end to the carnage?

HW: “Right, mush dash. Shum dancin’sin orderrr. Yep, I feel like dancin’. Ta ta.”

And with that I slipped away into the darkness of the dancefloor and gave them my best electrified monkey routine.

Which brings us full circle. Thus is the spirit of drunken revelry cast out and I am reborn full of the passionate desire to Design Great Things! I will reshape the world through graft and personal sacrifice, and in my twilight years the drunks will fawn on ME for my brilliance. Perfect. All the better to give their bums a quick pinch.