On the Up

In which The Author feels that his luck might be changing

The weekend was something of a curate’s egg, to say the least. It was okay in parts, but could have been better. Friday was just weird. The pub had somehow attracted a crowd who were pissed and annoying. One chap in particular (hereafter referred to as the Dancing Queen) was a real pain in the arse. He was irritatingly camp, the sort of stereotype gay guy who gives gay blokes a bad name. He was pumping the jukebox full of Madonna and Lady Gaga tracks and dancing around the room. The Dancing Queen got drunker and more annoying, until he nearly ended up getting punched by another lad. Claire H. had to intervene, and it set the scene for the rest of the evening.
Gema called in briefly; she was going to Pontypridd for her birthday. She asked me if I fancied it for a change, but Ponty’s even more of a shithole than Aberdare at weekends. I decided to stay put. In retrospect, I doubt if I missed very much.
To prove the point, I went for a wander on Friday night. I had a quick pint in the Lighthouse, and was one of only a dozen or so punters in there. Then I walked past Beluga, formerly the Bute (which was closed), Judges (which was closed), the Market Tavern (clientele just nudging into double figures, I reckon), the Pickled Pepper (barely a dozen punters and Big John’s Meat Loaf disco megamix in full flow), and back to the Prince for another one. Compared to the bleak picture I painted in Something for the Weekend, it’s getting worse, if anything.
Finally, I went up to Wetherspoon, and joined the other four customers at the bar for a while. I told them that it just was a dry run for the following week, Friday 13th, when the Goddess of Chaos usually does her worst. Piss-poor isn’t the word.
Saturday started rather quietly. In the morning you’d have found me in Aberdare Library working on Josie’s thesis and trying to print out the Guardian crossword. It took me a couple of attempts, as it was only available as a PDF and the Library’s software was barely up to the task. I should have known what was in store even before the printout emerged. It was one of Araucaria’s Alphabetical Jigsaws, which can’t be displayed normally on the website. When the library closed at one o’clock I went in search of wifi.
It was a fruitless search, which eventually led me to the Prince. It was quiet for a Saturday, so I worked my way slowly through the crossword before returning to my book. It’s not strictly speaking my book, you understand, in the sense that I’m not writing it myself. (I’m reminded of the old Frank Muir quip: ‘I’d gone out to Italy for a month while I finished a novel. I’m a terribly slow reader.’) It’s the result of a serendipitous discovery in The Works the previous day.
I’d been browsing in there a few days earlier when I spotted a book called Rivers of London. It was in amongst some history books, so I’d assumed it did exactly what it said on the tin – related the story of London’s buried rivers (the Fleet, Lea, Tyburn, Effra, and the rest) which were covered over as London expanded into the countryside. I’ve always been fascinated with London, since I first explored it at the age of eighteen (see London Orbital), so I made a mental note to pick it next time was in the shop.
It was still there, so I read the blurb. It wasn’t history at all; it was actually a novel, the first of a sequence by Ben Aaronovitch featuring a London policeman who finds himself enmeshed in a strange web of supernatural events. It was on offer, so I bought it and the second book, Moon Over Soho, for a fiver. I’ve almost finished the first one, and I’m glad to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
It’s a remarkable story of ancient forces at large in the city. Naturally, as soon as the critics saw the magic word ‘magic’, they trotted their lazy ‘grown-up Harry Potter’ comparisons. It’s much darker than that, though; if anything, it put me in mind of the first episode of Torchwood, where Gwen finds herself drawn into the paranormal world by accident. You can check out the website relating to the author and his book if you like; it’s named after the house at the centre of the action, The Folly.
As I mentioned in A Superposition of States, I’ve been planning a trip to London for a while anyway. Reading Mr Aaronovitch’s novel fuelled my desire to go back up and explore the area at the centre of the action – Covent Garden and Bloomsbury. I wondered about going up on the coach, walking around the centre at night, and coming back on the early coach the following day. I made a mental note to check out the National Express website when I got online again.
People came and went in the pub, and the club rugby matches came and went on the TV. Rhian wanted to watch Strictly Come Dancing, but when that finished I persuaded her to switch over to the Last Night of The Proms. It was time to cast some pearls before swine, the porcine plebs in question being a gang of youngsters whose loud and frequent sweariness had already earned them two public warnings from Rhian and Nicola J. A middle-aged couple sitting by the door were impressed with our choice of programme; it turned out that he was a horn player in a brass band, and had actually played in the Royal Albert Hall.
We were chatting with one eye on the TV during a particularly powerful aria sung by a particularly powerful soprano. As Victor Borge said, ‘She not only fills the role of the heroine; she overflows it a little. She is what we call a Messy Soprano.’ Then, without any warning, the pub was plunged into silence and near-darkness. The heady combination of water and electricity in the dishwasher had proved too much for the pub’s somewhat jury-rigged wiring to handle.
There followed a very confused half-hour or so, while Rhian and Nicola tried to resume normal service. Between phoning the area manager to let him know what had happened, trying to reset the security system, open the till, and placate a guy who’d been on a winning streak with the fruit machine, it was a small outbreak of localized chaos worthy of Mr Aaronovitch’s novel. I drank up and decided to leave them to it. I caught the bus home, had something to eat, worked on The Chronon-Gluon Interaction for a while, and went to bed at about 2.30.
Sunday was meant to be a day of working on Josie’s thesis, so I went into town to do some shopping in Iceland. From there I went to the Prince, where I set up the Netbook and made my painstaking way through her Lab Study on the dream-lag and day-residue hypotheses for an hour or so. Then Olly came in, and although I was able to work on autopilot while chatting to him, eventually I admitted defeat and we started reminiscing about the old days of bands we liked. I showed him the mention of his conversion to Punk in The Chronon-Gluon Interaction, and he agreed that it was a pretty fair account of events.
While we were chatting, Martyn E. came in and joined us. One thing led to another, and by the time Rhian came in we were well on the way to having a Silly Day. By early evening it was pissing down again, so the Sunday evening regulars – Brian, Carl, Jeff, Ross W., Tony Tiger and his girlfriend – decided to stay put. We had a fun couple of hours by the bar, chatting, swapping tall stories, and generally entertaining Rhian until I left in time for the last bus.
The weekend had started to take its toll, so I had something to eat, had a bath, and went to bed fairly early. The cheese on my pizza must have had beneficial effects, because I had a couple of strange dreams (see Where I Go in My Dreams (Part 12)) during the night.
Yesterday got off to a decent start as well. The rain had cleared off overnight (Ross D. and Richard B. reckoned it had made its way as far as Brighton, where they’d had a terrific hailstorm mid-morning) and the sun was shining. I called into LIDL and picked up a few things on the way to the Library. I set up my Netbook in the ‘Reference’ section and started looking through Josie’s thesis. I don’t get hangovers any more, but I was still thirsty, so I nipped out to Gareth Rees’s shop. He was selling cans of cream soda for 39p, so I treated myself to one. It’s my favourite pop after dandelion and burdock, and it’s not easy to find in cans. They’re on offer at the moment, so I might buy half a dozen later and keep them in the fridge.
On the way back to the library, I got an unsolicited smile from an attractive young redhead, and a copy of the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer of Great Britain for a quid from their never-ending deaccessioning sale. The day was getting better and better. Martin H. rang me soon afterwards, to say he was on his way into town, so I pressed on with the thesis until about four o’clock.
We bumped into each other when I was on my way to the Prince, and then yet another Silly Day got started for no apparent reason. Janis and Grace came in, with one of their friends who’s just graduated in Psychology. We chatted for a while, but Martin went home and we carried on. I asked Janis what was happening about the PTLLS course, and she told me it should be starting some time in October. She and Grace want me in their training company, handling basic skills, IT, and maybe some science-related materials as well. I’m fairly versatile – just don’t ask me to teach art. (I once came 33rd in Art in school, and there were only 31 of us in the class. Mind you, I pissed the Maths O Level – unlike our Art teacher, apparently.) That’ll be another string to my bow.
Soon afterwards, Olly and Richard W. came in, and the pub started to fill up with some nutters who’d been drinking all day. Lauren B. was working, and Rhian came in to keep her company, and the whole night became slightly bizarre.
I had an odd conversation with an extremely pissed chap named James from the Rhondda, who wanted to talk about astrophysics – in particular, Quarks and Nachos. If you’re not up on current thinking in particle physics, Nachos are hypothetical particles which can travel through the Earth without leaving a trace. This is because they have no mass, no charge, no texture, and no flavour. (Richard B. pointed out this morning that Quark, in contrast, makes a tasty low-fat sandwich.)
Shortly after that, one of the all-day drinking women decided to sit on my Netbook case (fortunately, Richard and I were using the Netbook at the time.) She was a big woman, and the incident gave us an idea. You can reduce laptop theft by sewing a squeaker into the case. When the would-be thief tucks it under his arm, the ensuing fart noise will attract everyone’s attention. There must be a business plan in there somewhere.
Olly, Rhian and I gravitated back to the bar and stayed there until last orders. I’ve been trying to persuade Rhian to join me for a trip to London. She said she’s always wanted to go to a West End show. I’ve already done that – when I was about fourteen or fifteen, we saw Oliver! in the Wyndham Theatre, with George Layton as Fagin and Helen Shapiro as Nancy. We must have put the concept of ‘live London shows’ into a Morphic Field, as you’ll see. We talked about the idea for a while until the pub closed, and Lauren gave me a lift up before dropping Rhian off.
This morning I was in the Library when my phone rang. The call came from a Birmingham number, which surprised me. I was even more surprised when the caller said her name was Sophie, and she was ringing from National Express. I’d almost forgotten about entering an online draw a few weeks ago; the prize was two tickets for Roger Waters’ The Wall concert in Wembley. Sophie was ringing to tell me that I’d won. The tickets should get to me tomorrow. Huw F. and Jon R. are going up to the gig as well, so my transport there is sorted.
They’re staying overnight and coming back on Sunday, but I’ll put Operation Covent Garden into action. I’ll make my way into central London after the gig, maybe catch a last pint somewhere, and then walk around taking photos of the sights the tourists don’t normally see. I’ve booked the Megabus to Cardiff on Sunday morning – a snip at a fiver – so I can be back in the Prince by early afternoon. I can catch on my sleep on the journey home.
I looks as though (so far, at least) I’ve managed to placate the Goddess of Chaos. The approach road to Friday 13th has been fairly trouble-free until now. Will it last? Watch this space…