Friday, 31 March 2017

Lunch with Danny Trejo

'Are you doing anything tomorrow morning,' my wife asks, 'around half past ten?'

'Not particularly - why?'

'We're going somewhere.'

'Is there any point in my asking where?'


'It's one of your surprises?'



Three hours later, Danny Trejo pops into my head for no particular reason. I recall how Bess mentioned some event at which he'd be speaking, although that was a couple of weeks ago. She said the tickets cost a bomb. I'd looked at the publicity and was unable to work out what the event was in aid of, which rang alarm bells and seemed to suggest something a bit culty; so I forgot about the thing because we wouldn't be going.

'Is it Danny Trejo?'


Danny Trejo is an actor whose face you will almost certainly recognise even if the name is unfamiliar. He's the voice of Enrique in King of the Hill but otherwise tends to play bad guys. His formative years were spent in and out of prison, involved with drugs and all manner of gang activity until, at the age of eighteen - or at least I think that's how old he said he was - he took the twelve-step program and cleaned himself up; following which he took to helping others kick whatever habits they had. One day, running to the aid of some kid on a film set, he was spotted by a director who thought he had an interesting look about him and who subsequently hired him as an actor, leading to a string of appearances as bad guy number one, inmate number one, chollo number one, and so on; and even though the tickets cost a bomb, we're going to see him speak.

Next day, we turn up at the hotel and are directed to the function room. It's filled with circular tables all laid out for dinner just like at the Oscars, and there's a podium up front with screens on either side. I realise that the cost of the tickets is probably going to determine what sort of people turn up for this thing, and sure enough Alamo Heights is well represented. The event is put on by Alpha Home, a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. I've never really had any problem with drugs or alcohol, excepting possibly tobacco which I kicked when I moved to America, so I'm out of my depth. I am naturally ill at ease around both conspicuous displays of wealth and anything with even the faintest tang of a motivational poster, but then anything which helps people beat an addiction has to be good, so whatever prejudices I may have brought with me probably don't count for much.

We are at table thirty-three. Each place is already set with salad, cutlery, a glass of iced tea, and alternating plates of cheesecake and chocolate gateau. We sit, then realise we are the only people apart from hotel and event staff. Somehow we have crashed the place, although no-one seems to mind. The doors officially open after another ten minutes and guests flow in. They're all very well-dressed, or at least more formally dressed than I am. I pick croutons from my salad and crunch them because I'm already hungry.

We are joined by a woman named Leonora and her friend, who both sit next to Bess; then some guy takes the chair next to mine, and then another woman is sat next to him.

'I read about this in the newspaper,' the man tells me. 'Danny Trejo is a great guy.'

'The San Antonio Express News?' I ask.

'Yes.' He asks what I do, and I tell him I'm a writer just for the fun of it, prompting the usual questions which I answer with the usual excuses.

Leonora tells my wife that she herself works for a homeless charity, dispensing legal advice and aid to those without a roof over their heads. She was once homeless and an addict.

'That's what his mother does,' Bess says, pointing to me.

I make a few calculations and realise that I suppose it is what my mother does, although her legal advice is dispensed to members of the immigrant, unemployed, or similarly inconvenienced community. I try to describe this, but realise I probably sound a bit mad. The word immigrant has come to serve mostly as a pejorative, and I'm keen to make it clear that I have nothing in common with anyone who would use it in that sense. I'm probably trying too hard.

Leonora appears a little concerned but I suppose it's the accent. It always seems to throw people.

The man on my left is talking to the woman. They've both been through recovery and they both play golf. He is describing how he had to give up the golf because he's not very good at it and he gets angry. Now he asks my wife what she does.

'I'm a programmer. I work with computers.'

He begins to ask her about facebook. He doesn't understand it or how it is able to make money.

'Advertising,' Bess and I respond in unison.

He gets out his phone and scrolls down, still puzzled.

'Like that one,' I say, pointing at something headed suggested post. I'm not sure why I'm having this conversation.

The room is full but for a few empty seats here and there, leaving salad and cheesecake which will presumably go uneaten, and there's a woman on the microphone. After a few moments I realise her accent is English. I guess that it might be Lancashire. She explains some of what Alpha Home does, tells us a little about the raffle and the silent auction by which further money will be raised on top of whatever has come in from ticket sales, and then I realise that we have somehow segued into prayer without my noticing. Heads are bowed and eventually we all murmur a dutiful amen.

More significantly, bread rolls have arrived and people at other tables are eating the salad. I decide to be mother and convey the basket around those sat at our table, and then we all eat. Coffee turns up but somehow I miss it, then breaded chicken and spaghetti served by event staff carrying those plates with the metal lids designed to keep food hot. It's hotel food but the timing is right so it's pretty good, although a glass of wine would have been nice.

Never mind.

The speaker comes over, apparently doing the rounds of all the tables. She is from Manchester. I tell her London for the sake of keeping it short, inviting some remark about Mancunians being down to earth, something about accents, posh Londoners blah blah - it's clearly supposed to be jovial, and once again I am reminded how little I value these infrequent encounters with persons from the old country, generally speaking.

Danny Trejo comes before us just as I've begun to wonder how long this whole thing will last. It resembled some efficiently bland corporate function in the publicity, and thus far there hasn't been much to assuage my feeling a little bad about how much my wife spent on the tickets.

I notice a coffee pot unattended on an adjacent table so I nab it, doing that walk with the knees half-bent so as not to draw attention to myself. Danny Trejo speaks for about an hour, details of his life story as apply to the cause, a tale which by his own admission is interesting to everyone except me. He's funny and amiable, and it doesn't sound scripted. He's one of those people with natural charm and a gift for telling a story. The hour slips past quite quickly. I eat my cheesecake, then Leonora passes me another from one of the vacant settings.

We are invited to ask questions, and a few people pipe up with enquiries about Danny's views on this or that aspect of dependency or recovery. The final question concerns the legalisation of marijuana delivered in a tone suggesting that the person who has asked believes it to be a bad thing along with all that other stuff by which Satan tries to corrupt our kids. It's a wearyingly loaded enquiry offered in expectation of one very specific and unequivocal answer.

Danny Trejo suggests that those who enjoy marijuana will probably be in favour of its legalisation, and those who don't enjoy marijuana probably won't be in favour of its legalisation; then he kind of blows it for me by suggesting dope to be the thin end of a wedge leading almost inevitably to heroin and prison. I've known a ton of people with heavy weed habits, and not one of them graduated to anything else or ended up in prison. Personally, I can't even stand the smell of the stuff, but if people want to smoke it then they'll smoke it legally or otherwise, so I suppose they may as well do so without having to obtain it through illegal means; but then what do I care?

The event draws to a close with an autographed t-shirt auctioned for a thousand dollars, and our Mancunian hostess tells us that a total of about one-hundred thousand has been raised during the previous ninety minutes. We shuffle off in the direction of Danny Trejo, but he's a little guy and is buried under a mountain of selfie hunters.

Later, I find online reviews of Alpha Home to be mixed. One former employee regards it as a massive money-making scam, but other reviews seem favourable, and I notice with pleasure that no holistic mumbo-jumbo is involved; which suggests to me that it is almost certainly on the level, and is therefore probably a good thing.

Friday, 24 March 2017


'There's this church I'd like us to go to,' Bess told me. 'Our security guard preaches there, and I've told him we would go.'

It seemed an unusual suggestion given that I've spent most of my life avoiding churches, or at least avoiding the services taking place within; but on the other hand, I tend to trust my wife's judgement on most things.

I intersected with the Church of England only infrequently whilst growing up, mostly weddings, funerals and baptisms and probably not quite reaching double figures. The Reverend Dilwyn Morgan Davies made regular visits to Ilmington Junior and Infants School, pootling the hundred yards down the road from St. Mary's to deliver unto us a weekly sermon during school assembly. He resembled Spike Milligan's impersonation of a Church of England vicar and all I can recall were his overly dramatic performances stretching out each syllable of his own name, then Mattheeeeeeeeeew, Maaaaaaaaaark, Luke and [pause for breath] Johhhhhnnnnn, none of which left me with any enduring impression of who these people were or why it might concern me. With hindsight, he was good with children in that he made us laugh, and he was a lot more entertaining than the anonymously stuttering pink-faced goons presiding at most services I've witnessed since.

My view of religion is probably too messy and sprawling to be of much use in the context of this particular sermon, but could probably be distilled to if it works for you, then fine. Whilst history is a testament to the many unspeakable crimes perpetrated in the name of one religion or another, I would suggest that the overwhelming majority of these crimes derive from human ambition expressed as power structures within which religion tends to have been co-opted as one of a number of supports. If you're one of those people who genuinely seem to believe that religion must be wiped from the face of the earth in order for a better society to come into being, then I'd suggest you're as bad as any witch hunter, any inquisitional wielder of a burning brand, or any snake oil selling televangelist bleeding money from his flock; and I'd also suggest that you haven't really made an effort to appreciate what religion is, what it does, or why it would mean anything to so many people. If that's too hard to understand, then it's the wiping things from the face of the earth detail which is the problem, not the identity of whoever may be calling for the wiping.

Anyway, Bess had told me that some guy from her work place was a preacher at a church, and she had asked me to come along to a service. I said yes because it would be a new thing for me.

She'd already been to a service a few months earlier when I'd been tied up with something or other. The security guard was actually one Reverend Gregory Harris and it was his church, inherited from his father, the previous incumbent. It was called the White Robe Missionary Baptist Church and was situated over on the eastside - the black neighbourhood, so to speak. I'm still a little phased by large American cities being so clearly racially divided, but then I've only been here five or six years and segregation was a recent thing in this country. The service, so my wife reported back, had been small but powerful. The congregation was just a handful of people gathered in a church resembling what I would think of as a village hall, and which could have stood a few repairs here and there. It was at the opposite end of the scale to the huge evangelical money-hoovering schemes I see at the side of the highway heading to Austin, buildings gleaming as though from the covers of seventies science-fiction paperbacks, places I avoid because I don't want to be either mugged or brainwashed by anyone less intelligent than myself.

My experience of Baptist churches is limited to Helen Martin battling a rival grandmother in Don't Be a Menace to South Central When You Drink Your Juice in the Hood, and skits on southern rap albums, skits mostly using organ swells to emphasise a testimonial condemnation of persons who be playa-hatin' on Master P and that sort of thing. So realistically, I really didn't know what to expect, although I felt anything in the vein of Helen Martin's spontaneous breakdancing was probably unlikely.

The place was small and, as promised, not in a great state of repair, but you could see that they had done what they could with it. There were four rows of pews, and with padded seating which made for a nice change. There were nineteen of us once everyone had arrived, a couple of kids, some Latinas, and just four white people - which I found oddly comforting. You get less bullshit flying around in the absence of white people, and I say that in the awareness of being one myself. A woman introduced as Miss Wells played the piano. The instrument probably could have stood a little tuning, but I have a vague memory of piano-tuning being expensive, so she made do with what she had. She played well, with bluesy passion and a real feeling for the music, and so well that it ceased sounding like an early Residents album after just a few minutes. Miss Wells also led us in song, mostly compositions of just one line repeated over and over, mostly relating to having faith in Jesus as you would expect; and because it was just one line repeated over and over, it was easy enough to join in, so we all did; and of course we clapped our hands. Seen from outside it would have struck me as odd, but I was taken by the moment and it felt pretty good; and - just like on the telly - our song was augmented with random interjections of tell it like it is or amen to that and the like, and all quite natural and heartfelt - none of the showboating or ostentatious piety I've seen elsewhere. The singing brought us all together in such a way as to make it seem ridiculous that anyone should feel self-conscious or awkward in the company of these strangers. I've resentfully muttered along to the hymns in the few church services I've previously attended because I've always felt like an intruder, like I'm required to do time before being given the secret code, but this felt entirely different.

Song alternated with sermon, readings from the New Testament delivered with warmth and in terms of our daily lives, and even with jokes. I still feel that the major problem with many faiths - or at least certain brands of Christianity - has been a tendency to focus on the speaker more than what is said, so it becomes a money-spinning fan club with no real currency in the message of doing unto others as you would have done unto you, because that would interfere with the direction in which the dollars are supposed to flow. Here I realised that the emphasis seemed different, and that the message was heard very well, and that the message was helping some of these people get through the day.

This was underscored by the individual testimonies which followed. Members of the congregation stepped forward and told their stories - personal trials and tribulations, poverty, death, cancer, domestic violence, and more; and in each case thanks were given to the man upstairs for his help in getting them through their troubles, for keeping them straight. My inner Richard Dawkins - thankfully a fairly muted voice these days - rationalised that these people had simply found God in their own strength of character, which may be true but misses all of the important points. If that which serves as your point of focus helps you in times of trouble and isn't hurting anyone else, then maybe what we call it is secondary.

The full service lasted about two hours, never once seeming to drag, and what most impressed me about it was how honest it felt. It was a communal experience. We had two preachers and Miss Wells at the piano, but we were all of us involved in one way or another, and there was nothing which felt forced or like it was going through the motions. It felt like we had been brought together by a message, albeit through the agency of a messenger, and the experience had done all of us good. This was no emptily ritualised worship thrown dutifully in the general direction of the heavens. It was something fundamentally human and real.

Afterwards we had food, barbecued chicken, brisket and beans with cornbread. I found myself sat next to the Reverend Larry Smith who had also spoken that morning. He told me he was born in Louisiana but had spent some time in England, which he mentioned because I'd brought it up, telling him, 'I'm not from around here - I guess you can tell by the accent.' Despite his earlier half hour under the spotlight, he seemed a shy, retiring type, so I figured I might as well do the honours with regard to the jolly old elephant in the drawing room.

'I was at Greenham Common,' he told me. 'That was back in the nineties.'

'You were at Greenham Common!'

'I was in the air force, you know?'

I've known several people who were at Greenham Common, but they'd all been on the other side of the fence; and now here was a guy who'd been paid to load bombs onto the aircraft which had drawn protesters to the base in the first place.

'So how did you find England?' I wasn't even sure I should have asked, given the potential for a seriously uncomfortable answer.

'I liked it, but you know when you're on a military base you don't really get to see too much of the outside world.' He asked me about England and why I wasn't there any more, so I told him about getting married and how much I hated the cold. 'It must have been rough for you if you grew up in Louisiana with the heat.'

'Well yeah, I didn't like the cold too much, and it rained a lot.'

I told him I had been a postman for twenty years. 'Outside in the wind and rain, and you know how sometimes the cold just gets into your bones and there's nothing can shift it...'

'I'm a mailman myself.'

'You deliver the mail too!' I couldn't help laughing. We both laughed.

'I got me a route over on the westside. I been doing that seventeen years.'

At that point we had finished our food, so we said our farewells and left. I still don't feel particularly converted, but we left with that glow you develop in the company of good people, or in this case, great people with whom I feel honoured to have spent time. The world can be a shitty place, but I try to maintain a belief that no-one is deliberately evil and that the majority are generally good, and every so often it's nice to be reminded that this is surely something more than just a belief.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Coco Loco

I first saw Coco when she was just a facebook avatar, a weird grin with pigtails and eyes so wide set they seemed to be making separate journeys around to the opposite sides of her head, like characters in a novel by Jules Verne. The photo had been taken during Oktoberfest, hence the pigtails. My wife knew her from work. The woman had picked up the name Coco when a colleague likened her behaviour to that of a guest at a chimpanzees' tea party. She flounced and pouted, complaining loudly that some prohibitive condition or other would not have applied had she been born with a penis, and then once Sherlock Holmes had turned up to apply his characteristic wisdom and insight to the mystery, the problem always turned out to have been her own doing.

She hadn't understood some detail.

She had neglected to include some part of the code, something so simple that even I understood what had gone wrong when my wife described it to me, and I'm not a programmer.

Everyone had reminded her of that one element, that repeat offender blind spot, and she had testily informed them that she knew perfectly well what she was doing, thank you very much; and yet it always turned out that she hadn't known what she was doing.

It wasn't her fault.

It was never her fault.

It was because of sexism, despite her being the highest paid person in the company anywhere below the level of management. It was because of every possible reason other than her having screwed up, and so it was observed that Coco the Chimp is flinging her faeces around - everyone duck.

They would all rally to locate and tackle the problem, to write the code as it should have been, as it would have been had anyone else been on the job.

'I fixed it!' Coco would beam, dancing from one cubicle to another waving metaphorical pompoms, having taken no actual role in correcting her own mistake beyond providing the initial problem.

'I am a good programmer. I am a good programmer,' she would tell herself over and over, sat alone at her cubicle, broadcasting like some horrible motivational radio station; and yet the simple repetition of the words somehow never made it so.

'How are you enjoying your stay in Texas?' she asked me, screeching across the table at Taco Garage with what might be the least sincere smile I've ever witnessed, the smile you keep ready for a foreigner. It was the first time I met her and was able to put a face to the pigtailed avatar. Bess and I had been married a year, but stay seem to redefine this as a temporary arrangement - not how do I like Texas, but how am I enjoying my stay?

How's married life working out for you?

Will it last, do you think?

Owing to the frequency with which she dropped them, I assumed passive-aggressive observations of this kind were learned behaviour, a pre-emptive defence mechanism designed to put the other person off guard before they could properly formulate the realisation of Coco being a bit of an idiot. She had somehow devised a way of kissing your ass whilst flipping you off at the same time. It was confusing, annoying, but also quite impressive.

She'd address my wife Bess as Beth, and with much greater frequency when getting pissy over something, revealing the affectation to be anything but the innocent slip of the tongue she made it out to be. She would claim my wife's programming victories as her doing, having supposedly helped with the parts my wife didn't understand whilst undermining her own story with gibberish about programming in the cloud; and even I know what a cloud is.

She tried to give us her swimming pool, one of the kind which can be set up in the yard and filled with water. It was twenty feet across and free because she was having a proper pool installed in her own garden. I said no, immediately detecting a situation which would become horribly complicated, and because I quite liked our garden as it was without some shitty used pool taking up space; and it would become horribly complicated, because every part of Coco's world was horribly complicated - her two boyfriends for example. She couldn't decide which she liked more, and so she'd been sat between them when we all went out for dinner, not even an example of free-thinking polyamory, just someone who couldn't decide and was taking the general concept of awkward to a whole 'nother level, as they say. Eventually she married the former Scientologist and spent a year planning what she clearly hoped would be the most magical wedding of all time, something to make even the most saccharine coated Disney extravaganza seem like one of Joseph Beuys' more harrowing performances. She spent a year telling everyone about the wedding. It didn't matter who they were or whether they were interested. Sometimes she would be moved to tears in contemplation of how beautiful the wedding was going to be, and the rest of us began to worry about what she was going to do after, with no more magic to look forward to, just her and the former Scientologist sat around their pool and beginning to realise that nothing had changed.

The day of the wedding came and went, and on Sunday the 11th of May 2014, I tried to write about it in an essay provisionally entitled Wedding of the Century.

We were heading for a wedding to be held at the Newhaven River Inn which is near a town called Comfort. It was to be the wedding of the century, at least in the imagination of one of the participants. The rest of us, despite having already had a year to think about it, were yet to be convinced. In fact we anticipated disaster. An event carrying that much expectation seemed destined to failure, not least because of who was involved...

I started on a second paragraph, but had begun to bore even myself. It was just a day out in the country with a ton of people we didn't know, and Coco screeching and getting my wife's name wrong, and cooing like a googley-eyed Care Bear over those members of her family which had turned up because they were actually still talking to her. It was okay, but nothing memorable aside from being a conspicuous display of money which went on too long, and we left with a little bag of small white pebbles with which to commemorate the event. Then many years later I discover them to be sugared almonds and that this is a common marital tradition over here.

My wife is allergic to almonds.

After the wedding, it was the honeymoon and a series of lurid heart-shaped photographs of herself and the Scientologist on the beach; and although we've heard bad things about the Church of Scientology, both my wife and I began to wonder how bad it really could have been. The Scientologist seemed like a genuinely nice guy, so how come he ended up with Coco?

After the honeymoon, it was back to the usual onslaught. How she couldn't stand it in Texas with all these Republicans and rednecks, then right in with the jokes about camels and joining Al-Qaeda when the Moroccan guy takes a couple of weeks holiday. She's from New York, she reminds us on a daily basis, where everyone is wonderful and no-one tolerates racism; and it's true in that she's certainly more liberal than most.

Her daughter has married a man she has known for a matter of months, and they've just had a baby, and now the husband has decided to go for gender reassignment surgery. Coco tells us she is going to be as supportive as fuck, because that's the kind of big-hearted New Yorker she is, leaving the rest of us to wonder why it didn't occur to this guy to mention his gender dysphoria nine months earlier; and if this is genuinely none of our business, then maybe we shouldn't have to hear about it all the fucking time, and particularly not with diagrams of penises bissected and inverted on the office whiteboard whilst we're trying to get some work done.

'They turn it inside out and make it into a vagina, but he'll have to use a dildo so that it doesn't close up. That's what happens.'

Thanks, Coco, but we're trying to eat right now.

Still, it probably isn't any worse than when the dog had cancer, inspiring cross section anatomical diagrams of dogs' arseholes on the whiteboard, because she knew we'd all want to know how the vet was going to proceed.

Still trying to eat, thanks.

Every day she petitions my wife to take lunch with her, sometimes popping the question before Beth has even sat down, because eight hours of Coco the chimp talking about dog's arseholes, her dream wedding, and why she hates the entire state of Texas is just not enough. If they do lunch she gets to keep that monologue going all the way through.

'Do you have any plans for lunch?'

'No, I'm just going to grab a sandwich today. I can't go to lunch with you.'

'Oh - well I guess I'll just have to eat an old shoe then,' because apparently that's what you say. It's supposed to make the other person feel guilty.

I finally get to see the swimming pool with my own eyes when Beth and I are invited over for dinner, one evening - the pool which was going to make Coco's life perfect back in the days before the wedding was going to make her life perfect. It's just a pool in a back garden in a leafy part of San Antonio. Since we've arrived Coco and the Scientologist have spent most of the time telling us what a pain in the arse it is to keep clean. I get the impression that it's less for swimming, more for sitting around whilst drinking Martinis. Then the other previous boyfriend turns up, the one who lost out to the Scientologist. I expect it to be awkward, but oddly it isn't because he seems one hell of a lot happier than the last time we met.

'I always read your blog,' she tells me grinning like she expects a cookie. 'An Englishman in Texas,' she adds, proving to me that she knows what it's called and must therefore be telling the truth; but I hear variations on the theme all the time.

Let me know when your book is coming so I can buy one.


We eat something that's been roasted and drink wine, beer, or iced tea. The food is okay.

'Do you make fish and chips for yourself?' she asks with the volume the rest of us keep in reserve for the hard of hearing, and again with that smile, already congratulating herself on all that cultural sensitivity she wields like a master swordsman.

I don't answer because I'm actually in the middle of a conversation with the Scientologist, and the interruption seems unusually rude and stupid. How does he put up with this, I wonder.

Eventually she leaves. They sell the house and vanish from our lives, somewhere cold and liberal, where they just know everything will be amazing and magical, and they'll finally have the perfect life they've always deserved once they're settled and Coco has an obscenely high-paying job based on her countless skills, not least of these being her people skills. People just gravitate to her. She doesn't know how it works. It's just a gift.

I remind myself that I only met her a couple of times, and most of the suffering was experienced by my wife, but often it feels as though I was there too; and that's the magic of Coco.

Thursday, 9 March 2017


Everything seemed to be in flux back in September, 2006. I no longer recognised nor understood either the world nor my place therein. My landlord was dead and I was on borrowed time, the sole occupant of a house without an owner. I'd been told to continue paying my rent to the solicitor who was handling my landlord's affairs, but no-one had told me what was happening or what would happen. I was usually in Mexico at that time of year. Twelve months before I'd been over there with Rob Colson and we'd celebrated my fortieth birthday in Oaxaca, but now Rob was getting married and I had a girlfriend and it was all spinning out of control. I couldn't get a handle on things. I was just biding my time, seeing where the cards fell.

Marian wanted to visit some place called the Centre for Alternative Technology. This was supposed to be us getting on a train and going off on an adventure, but it all sounded a little dry to me.

'Aren't you interested in renewable energy sources, Lawrence?' This was the kind of question she habitually asked, phrased so as to coax you into giving the answer she was after. It was cut from the same cloth as so don't you care about the little children?

It turned out that the Centre for Alternative Technology was in Machynlleth, Wales at the northern tip of Powys, so I said okay because I've always liked Wales. The presence of mountains is usually enough to swing it for me.

We left from Euston station on Wednesday the 20th of September, according to a bank statement somehow still in my possession. We found a bed and breakfast, one I am unable to locate by looking at a map, but which I suspect may have been situated along Heol Y Doll because I recall the window in our room affording a good view of the hills to the south of the town, overlooking the fields on the western side. The bed and breakfast seemed to be huge, many floors and with a room tucked away everywhere you looked. Marian was unhappy with the bed in our accommodation and announced that we had to change, which meant that I had to do something about it because I had a penis, making it my job despite that the bed seemed fine to me.

Day one was the Centre for Alternative Technology which meant walking a little way out of town and catching a bus. It was basically an old farm up in the hills turned over to windmills, waterwheels, solar panels, demonstrations of composting and so on. The public get to walk around, and if they're interested in renewable energy sources, they will almost certainly have at least as much fun as Marian did. Personally I found it okay, undoubtedly worthwhile, but not actively fascinating. Marian took her time, stopping for rests, reading everything that there was to be read and pushing every button on every interactive display that there was to be pushed. We were there four or five hours, which seemed like a lot to me. Our approach to the exit became one of those exercises in mathematical philosophy where one is forever crossing half of whatever distance is left to cross. I bought a mouse pad recycled from pulverised orange juice cartons at the gift shop to use up some time, then came back to find Marian still giggling and pushing buttons to operate animated displays designed to educate the under tens.

Eventually we escaped, and ate, and I suppose we must have found something or other to talk about for the rest of the evening.

Next morning, I got up early and went out for a walk. I followed the main road south out of the town, then followed a path up into the hills. We had ascended this same path on the first afternoon, fresh off the train, but I wanted to go further and without stopping. It took me about thirty minutes to get to the top of the hill looking down over Machynlleth and across the Dyfi Valley. I could see our bed and breakfast. In fact I could see the window of our room - which made me happy, possibly because it was far away.

I celebrated by smoking a fag and my phone rang.

'Where are you?' She sounded pissed off.

'Look out the window. I'm on top of the hill.'

I waved.

'Can you see me?'

'Yes.' She didn't seem to appreciate the novelty.

'You sound pissed off.'

'I didn't sleep very well. This bed is as bad as the other one.'

I trudged back down to the town and we had breakfast at the White Lion. The White Lion also had a room going, so we were going to switch accommodation rather than move to a third room in the other place, but first we had things to do and sights to see. Marian wanted to return to the Centre for Alternative Technology and do it all again.

'But we went there yesterday,' I countered, not unreasonably in my view. 'We spent four or five hours there.'

'I thought you enjoyed it?'

'I did,' I said, genuinely bewildered, 'but why would we want to go again when we were there only yesterday?'

Marian went on the defensive. 'You know, Lawrence, I'm fairly sure that I told you I wanted to come and stay in Machynlleth so we could visit the Centre for Alternative Technology.'

'What? Every fucking day?'

I wasn't backing down this time, and she grudgingly agreed we would travel by rail to a town called Borth, the appeal of which was that it was on the coast, had a beach, and there was some kind of animal sanctuary nearby. We returned to the bed and breakfast, rearranged the contents of our backpacks accordingly, then set off. Borth was pleasant but not particularly memorable, and the animal sanctuary was nice enough but the weather had turned cold.

'I'd like my cardigan now, please,' Marian informed me.

I had to ask what she meant.

She explained that her cardigan was in my backpack, and she would like it now because it was getting cold.

The cardigan wasn't in my backpack because I'd taken it out back at the bed and breakfast, having assumed I'd somehow picked it up and stuffed it in there by mistake. Marian explained that she had put the cardigan in my backpack because there was no room in her own, and that I should stop messing about and just give her the damn thing because it was getting cold.

'No really, I don't have it,' I said.

'Why not?'

'Because I took it out, because I didn't know why it was in there. Maybe you should have told me you put it in.'

'I have to explain every simple little thing to you, now? Is that how it works?'

I should just have said yes. We caught the train, following a long walk on an increasingly chilly beach back to the station. Neither of us said a word. I made overtures but Marian refused to speak to me, even to look at me. My crime was too great.

That night we stayed at the White Lion, which was nice because it was an old half-timbered room with wonky floors and a television so we could watch Pobol y Cwm. We had a couple more days, so we ate at restaurants and went for walks. It was okay. It wasn't the worst holiday, but I've had better, and the world still didn't make any sense when we caught the train back to London.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Saturday Morning

The boy is with his father this weekend, which means his room comes under my jurisdiction and is thus included in my daily round of sweeping things up and trying to prevent the house too closely resembling a tip. The Paw Wars poster fell from the wall above his bed on Wednesday and lay at an angle at the centre of the room for several hours. Junior would have picked it up but had been busy with his game. 'What's it doing on the floor?' I asked.

'I have no idea how that could have happened,' he explained at an angle to my question.

The Paw Wars poster is printed on thick card and is probably marketed as suitable for framing, so my five blobs of blu-tack just weren't up to the job. I don't know what Paw Wars is supposed to be. It doesn't even fucking rhyme properly.

The poster shows a squirrel and a groundhog, both cut out from existing photographs, apparently battling with light sabres like you would see in Star Wars.

Ha. Ha.

The thing has always struck me as being a very special kind of lame, and I have a hunch I know how we ended up with it, which doting relative sent it our way on the grounds of it being both a real hoot and just the cutest thang you ever did see; but why Paw Wars specifically? Both squirrels and groundhogs have paws, it's true - but then you might argue that so do humans, albeit by a different name, and Game of Thrones was presumably called Game of Thrones because the title made a fuck of a lot more sense than Hand Wars - in reference to most of those involved being in possession of said appendages. The majority of mammals also have a colon, but perhaps Colon Wars was already taken. I don't know and I have no intention of finding out.

Anyway, having googled Paw Wars, it turns out to be a series of short YouTube videos recreating scenes from Star Wars using footage of domestic pets and a relentless stream of creaking puns, the sort of thing which is probably funny if you're thirteen or thereabouts. That said, I'm not convinced the Paw Wars poster is even directly related, at least not beyond the shared theme. Not that it matters because I'm replacing the bastard with a Pokémon poster. I bought it at Michael's yesterday whilst looking for something by which to organise all of the nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and nails in the garage. The poster shows a host of peculiar looking Japanese cartoon monsters all lurching towards the viewer wearing the usual determined grimaces of children's entertainment taking itself too seriously. I roll up balls of blu-tack, then stand on the bed and press the poster to the wall.


'What?" She comes in from the other bedroom.

'What do you think?'

'Looking good.'

I step down from the bed. Behind us on the other wall is a poster of Marvel superheroes, similarly purchased from Michael's a month or so earlier. Having once had a heavy comics habit, I know who most of the characters are supposed to be, but I'm out of my depth with this Japanese stuff. 'Bulbosaurus is the only one I know, but I don't think he's on there.'

Bess points to a thing resembling a cross between a turtle and a flower right at the centre. 'That's Venusaur. He's evolved from Bulbasaur,' and she gets the name right too. In this regard I've turned into my own grandmother indulging me and my boundless enthusiasm for that Captain Thunderbirds show.

'I don't know any of them.'

'Well, I don't know all of them,' my wife admits.

As a fifty-one year old man, I was able to identify most of the characters on the superhero poster, even setting the kid right on a few points.

Actually, I rather think you'll find that's Medusa from the Inhumans. The Scarlet Witch is over there next to Hawkeye.
I feel my ignorance of Pokémon characters redresses a balance, handing something back to the kid. He will return on Sunday afternoon and the poster will allow him to once again lecture us on subjects for which we care nothing, beyond that it obviously makes him happy; which has been the whole point.