In which The Author has a very odd day
There’s always been something rather peculiar about Thursdays in Aberdare. When I was a kid, virtually every shop used to close for a half-day. When I was older, and started frequenting the Carpenters Arms, Thursday was always weird to say the least. That may have been because it was Giro day, when some of those of us who were unemployed got our money. There’s a great joke which I still remember from the Thatcher era:
Q. What’s green and gets you pissed?
A. A Giro.
Thursday, as it turns out, was (and still is) the big day out in Pontypridd for a fair number of Valleys lowlife – their meeting with their Probation Officers. It must have taken an absolute stroke of genius to open a Wetherspoon pub directly below the Probation Office. Because the scum are mostly tagged and/or on curfew (see Strangers on a Train
), the evening trains are full of them. Shanara and I usually made a point of catching a later train home on Thursdays, to give things chance to settle down again.
Thursday was also the night when bands played in the Carpenters. We met up for our weekly dose of Metal Hammer in the Bush to whet our appetites, before heading up the road for some live music action. When the Bush closed, we used to meet in the Carpenters instead.
On one particular Thursday evening, we were sorry we had. Picture the scene, if you will: Pam, Jason W. and I were sitting by the window; Tracy from the council offices was standing near the bar; Neil J. and Herbie were in their usual spots at the bar; the rest of the regulars were at the back. Being Giro day, one or two of the boys had set up their ‘stall’ of recreational drugs on the pool table and were doing a steady trade. As usual for a Thursday evening, Sid was behind the bar – which turned out to be extremely fortunate. We were chatting, minding our own business, when the door flew open and a well-known local jailbird named Paul G. strode in, demanding to see Colin, the landlord. It didn’t take any of us long to register that he was wielding a loaded crossbow.
It’s true that subjective time slows down when your adrenaline kicks in. It seemed to take forever for Paul to stop waving the weapon around and concentrate his attention on the back of the pub. As soon as he did, Pam, Jason, Tracy and I legged it into the street and up to the phone box on the next corner. I dialled 999 and asked to speak to the police.
If this was a Hollywood blockbuster or a BBC drama series, within a matter of moments the street would be sealed off. There’d be an Armed Response Vehicle at a safe distance, and officers with firearms would be preparing to storm the building. A helicopter would be circling overhead, and a trained negotiator would be trying to reason with Paul through a loud hailer. But this was real life in Aberdare, nearly twenty years ago. The woman at the other end of the line seemed to be far interested in recording the minutiae of my life than in actually doing anything. I eventually hung up, and we headed to a different pub to carry on where we’d been so rudely interrupted. As we were walking away, we saw Paul being escorted from the scene by one of his friends.
Several weeks later I found out what had happened in our absence. Sid had managed to satisfy Paul that Colin wasn’t around (he was actually upstairs while the whole thing was going on.) At the same time, according to Neil, a noted hard man of this parish had stood up and told him something like, ‘You’ve got one shot. You’d better take me out, because you won’t have time to reload.’
About an hour or so after we returned to the pub, a police sergeant and a special constable strolled in and asked, ‘Everything all right now?’ Magnum Force it wasn’t!
That may have been the worst-ever Thursday in Aberdare history, but it seemed to be simply a very
low point in a set of low points. I recounted another one in That Was The Month That Was
, when I accidentally spent an evening in Mountain Ash. Today was another one. I was woken at the crack of dawn by rain hammering against the bedroom window. It had been forecast, but even so it wasn’t the sort of start I needed. At about 10 am, I left the house to be greeted by a post van pulling up outside. The driver got out and said, ‘That’s good timing – I’ve got a parcel for you.’
I glanced at the label and said, ‘It’s not for me.’ The postcode related to a street of the same name in Aberaman, a couple of miles away. I’ve been getting post for that particular house since I moved in, but I’ve never actually caught the postman in flagrante delicto, so to speak. It raised an interesting question: why, for over three decades, has the Royal Mail been exhorting us to ‘Please use the postcode’, when it doesn’t actually serve any useful function at the sorting office? It also solved a mystery: the fate of the letter which the hospital allegedly sent me in October 2012, asking me arrange some blood tests. Whereas I always make a point of amending the envelopes and putting them back in the postbox, the inhabitants of the other house must presumably bin my post upon receipt.
I walked into town before the rain returned. As usual, I headed for the Library, and this time I had a target in mind. A couple of weeks ago I’d requested a copy of Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe
, and Judith had emailed me yesterday to let me know it had arrived. I picked it from her at the front desk, and took the opportunity to collect my new membership card while we were chatting. Then I headed upstairs to show Steven my letter in yesterday’s Daily Mirror
(see A Letter to the Editor 15
.) On the stairs, I bumped into the librarian who gave me a row a few months ago for daring to offer Tech Support on the new microfilm scanner. This was when the second odd thing happened.
‘There’s a book here for you,’ she said – and I could almost feel her pain as she wrenched the words from her respiratory tract. She didn’t make eye contact, mind you. That would have been pushing things a step too far. Even so, it was a remarkable diplomatic breakthrough. If we proceed at this rate, we’ll almost be on first name terms by the time she retires.
I went to the surgery and saw Dr Ahmed, who put my mind at rest over my sudden partial deafness. He reckons it’s a build-up of fluid in my Eustachian Tube, and should clear itself over the next couple of weeks. Reassured, I headed for the pub and had a glass of Coke while reading the paper.
Out of interest, I turned to the racing page and checked out the alphabetical list of today’s runners. I don’t know anything about the horses, but if there’s a name I like, I have a small punt just for my own amusement. I had a nice little win on Masked Man back last summer; Vix and I shared the winnings on Veiled a few weeks later, but Helen R. and I crashed and burned entirely with Bondage a month or so ago. (I left it too late to back Flirtinaskirt yesterday.) Over time I’m ahead. I found a horse in the 5.00 at Chester named Proofreader. It was too good to resist, so I put 50p each way on it.
I hadn’t been in the pub long when my phone rang. It was Margaret, one of the medical secretaries at the hospital. She asked me if I could go down on Monday afternoon for my long-awaited blood tests (see my other blog Regeneration
for the background to this saga.) I’ve been waiting for these for nearly a month. A fortnight ago, the doctor was on study leave. Last week, she was on annual leave. I rang again yesterday to chase them up, and this was the promised phone call. Unfortunately, I had to explain that I couldn’t make it. I start a work placement on Monday, working in the very office which oversees my work programme. I’ll be helping the Loteks come to terms with David Cameron’s ‘digital by default’ agenda, as well as doing odd bits of admin when they’re needed. It’s all good preparation for my PTLLS course (when that starts) and it’ll keep me out of mischief for a month. I can’t very well turn up for the first three hours and then disappear to the hospital, can I?
Margaret said she’d have a word with the doctor, to see if she could fit me in this afternoon, and ring me back. The call came in time for me to catch the 1352 train to Fernhill, and I was in the hospital just after two o’clock. I thought I’d be there for the long haul, and come out with an arm like a pin cushion, but times have changed. Instead of drawing individual syringes of blood, the doctor inserted a single needle into my vein and swapped the various tubes in and out while she took the four samples she needed. I was in and out within ten minutes or so.
I made my way back to the station and waited for the train back to Aberdare. By now it was pissing down, and the ‘shelter’ failed dismally to live up to its bill matter. I couldn’t even read my book, as the rain kept blowing onto the pages.
As I’d expected, the train from Aberdare arrived first, and the conductor asked me if was waiting for its opposite number. She told me that it had been terminated at Mountain Ash (the previous stop) as a passenger had been taken ill on board. At that point I knew it was definitely Thursday. I asked if, since the fare is the same to Fernhill as to Mountain Ash, I could travel down to the next stop. I figured I’d call in and see Anthony and Claire and have a swift one in their pub between trains. She said it would be okay, so I did. Even a wet Thursday afternoon in Mountain Ash has got to be better than a wet Thursday afternoon in Fernhill. Unless you live there, have kids in the village school, or you’re buying or selling drugs, there’s hardly any reason to hang around there.
I walked as far as the pub, but it was closed. By now I was soaked, so I walked back to the high street and called into a different pub. You’re not exactly spoilt for choice in the town centre – at least until the new Rhymney Brewery pub opens later this year. I’d only been in the pub for about thirty seconds when a woman appeared at my side and invited me to go and sit with her friends. She started asking me about my collar, and I heard alarm bells ringing in the back of my mind. I told her I was going to sit and read my book, and went and sat by the other window, where she and her pals couldn’t see me. I don’t know whether she was on the game, or whether she thought I’d be an easy ‘mark’ for a drugs scam, but I made it obvious that I didn’t want to play.
I’d only been in there a little while when another woman came in. I don’t know her name, but she seems to know me. I think she must be another Carpenters survivor – although I’m in considerably better shape than she is. The first time I encountered her was the day Rhian and I went to Mountain Ash to take photos. She accosted us on the bridge in town, and straight away I spotted the tell-tale signs of a long amphetamine/cocaine habit: a haggard complexion, gaunt appearance, and incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness babbling. The second time we crossed paths was a fortnight or so ago, when she came into the Prince of Wales. Rhian was working, and even though the woman was drinking Coke, it was obvious to everyone that she was speeding her tits off.
I stayed in my little cubby hole and hoped to Goddess that she wouldn’t spot me sitting there. According to the book I was reading this afternoon,
[t]he brilliant Hungarian-born physicist and mathematician John von Neumann once calculated that over the course of the average human lifetime, the brain stores something on the order of 2.8 × 1020 bits of information (Talbot, 1996: 21).
It’s also on the order of the number of words which this freaky incoherent creature utters in an average minute. Within a few moments of her arrival at the bar, she was joined by the other woman. I knew I’d made the right decision by politely declining her invitation to join her and her friends. I’d have been well and truly captured. Instead, I finished Chapter One and my pint, returned my glass to the bar, and made my excuses and left.
On my way back to the station, I spotted a display of jigsaw puzzles in a shop window. I was looking at them when Martin H. appeared in the doorway. He’d been in there talking to the owner, Geraint B.’s father. Terry B. and Dad were councillors at the same time years ago, but it’s the first time I’ve met him. Martin’s not having a good week either, but he said he might come into town tomorrow.
I got back to the pub and carried on updating the links on my blog until the results of the 5.00 at Chester came in. Proofreader, the 4-1 favourite, had finished third. At least I got my stake money back in full. The day had suddenly become, if not exactly productive, at least slightly better than I’d expected.
I might have an early night tonight. It’s been a strange week, and I need to begin psyching myself up for an early start, not only on Monday, but every day next week. Still, unlike Waterstone’s, I won’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and spend 13½ hours out of the house in order to work a 7½-hour day, and spend £100 a month getting there. It’s an easy twenty-minute stroll from my house to the office. There’s also a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. And, unlike Waterstone’s, it isn’t the first warning of an oncoming train.