‘The One About the Home Guard’

drawing of tins, biscuits, and miceThe local Parish newsletter arrived last week and there, among the notifications about malfunctioning streetlights, an incidence of malicious roundabout furniture knocking-over and the news that we came second (out of three) in the South East in Bloom (Rural Villages) competition, was the alarming revelation that we have a Disaster Committee.

In the event of a nuclear or biological attack, the Committee will immediately set off to guard our water supplies, man the village hall into which we will all be evacuated, and scoop up elderly residents in order to feed them soup and biscuits from supplies stored, it seems, in some secret location.

Given that the Committee totals no more than ten at best and that most of these are the elderly people noted above, I reckon our water supply is pretty well scuppered.  And since the village can be cut off by one three feet deep, twenty yard flood along its only outgoing road, I don’t fancy anyone’s chances of getting hold of the soup and biscuits either.


From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018

‘The Ditching of Dodgy Derek’

drawing of man and carBreaking in a strange vehicle (or vice versa) is for me a rather prolonged and edgy affair.  Not only are the wipers invariably positioned where the full beam headlights used to be, thereby prompting an episode of energetic windscreen washing when trying to send a message about courtesy to some oik in a beat up Cortina with speakers the size of Kent on the back shelf, but all manner of other instruments have generally been transposed to novel and entertaining locations.

Men seem able to climb into new  cars (or vans, trucks, and quite possibly tanks) and instantly blend with the systems in a kind of bio-mechanical union, whereas my process is rather more laborious and involves a great deal of sitting in the drive with the manual and a bemused expression, twiddling knobs and pulling hopefully on levers.

Anyway, with a substantial chunk of leave coming up, this looked like a good time to take the plunge so that I’d have the hang of the thing before needing to mess with morning traffic at the same time as discovering that what I took for the demister button is actually the seat height adjuster.  Advanced Motorist I may be but there’s nothing in the training that covers doing seventy on the motorway while horizontal, although I imagine it works for traffic cops hoping to scare the bejabbers out of people they don’t like the look of but can’t actually nick for anything.

A further spur is the arrival downstairs from my office of a new manager for the MOT and service centre whose approach to business practice is to ‘pack ‘em in and stack ‘em high’ – an objective generally achieved by nabbing our allocated spaces in the land fill site that passes for a car park round the back.  Dodgy Derek, shifting deftly between sucking in air through his teeth via the fag that seems permanently embedded there, and close scrutiny of an oil-stained rag for dramatic effect, is not open to negotiation about this, unless you’re prepared to accept a tirade of unsavoury language that amounts to ‘shove it’ as a reasoned discussion.

He is also numerically challenged – generally in an upward direction so that the bill I received for my old car’s annual service was unusually large – quite the biggest I’d ever seen actually.  Which is probably what Dodgy Derek believes all the girls say after an encounter with him.  So, when another Saab with a full Saab service history pops up at a nearby showroom, an escape plan formulates itself whereby I can rehearse the ear-bashing I might need to give Dodgy Derek about his parking strategies while ensuring that my brake pipes are nowhere near his pneumatic ramps.

A cunning plan indeed – aided and abetted by Dodgy Derek himself as it turns out.  He likes my new car.  He likes it a lot.  He likes it so much he’s willing to park it for me when I can’t find a space. He rasps huskily that ‘She’s a lovely girl’ and it’s very scary.  In fact it conjures up images of clandestine networks of blokes in brown pullovers gathering at pre-arranged venues to drool over tarted-up BMWs and over-blown jeeps, or having shady assignations over a dog-eared copy of What Car magazine and a floppy disc[1].


[1] Remember those? Oh, how we marvelled at the capacious storage space.


From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018

‘New Technology and the Problems of Public Neologising’

Something else likely to result in periods of isolation in a single room interspersed with episodes of careful questioning is Bluetooth technology.  My phone has it[1].  In addition to keeping my diary, taking pictures, downloading emails, and signalling the arrival of texts with a burst of birdsong (the first time was a shock – there seemed suddenly to be a flock of sparrows in my pocket), this thing is voice-enabled so you can give oral instructions to have it answer calls, make calls, and sustain conversations while located completely out of sight[2].  You’re advised to choose for activation an unusual word and since the device is quite often doing something else: writing its shopping list maybe, or having a fag, it can be necessary to yell this unusual word several times quite loudly, and then follow this with whatever other unusual word you’ve chosen for the particular task you have in mind.  It will not now be clear whether the person shouting neologisms into the air while negotiating a zebra crossing is engaging in a heavy internal conversation or just trying to phone home.  After a while, probably both.

[1] It was a Sony Erikson – or it could have been an iPaq – and this was seriously new. The phenomenon is widespread now, of course, and who hasn’t said hello in response to a complete stranger who then strides on oblivious, leaving you feeling a proper numpty?

[2] And you thought Siri was new. We could be just as flummoxed and frustrated long before our iThings started waking us up to tell us they couldn’t make sense of something they just heard on the radio and would we like to try again.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018


‘More Visitations and the Beginnings of Strange Utterances’

No spotlights this time, just a large orange globe hanging about somewhere east of the leylandei in the copse that screens our lane from Death Row (which I think the actual residents call sheltered accommodation). Mars is to be the nearest it has been to the earth for millennia, or possibly just decades, and both astronomers and astrologers are in a lather about it; the former more because of the frothing astrologers than anything else. I pop out to look and there it is; a large orb glowing Halloween orange and hanging just above my neighbour’s kids’ bedroom – which makes examining it through binoculars while creeping about in the shrubbery a bit of a dodgy exercise.  I am glad when it relocates to somewhere less likely to lead to several hours of interrogation and tea in a polystyrene cup.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.