Issue #21 : March 6th - 13th 2003
Sister Janice and The Disappearing Nun
Guess How Much I Love You
The Long Lost Diary Of Miss S L Gleaden
Monuments to Great British History: The Pub
Sister Janice and The Disappearing Nun.
Sister Janice is our new agony aunt. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career. These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed.
Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer.
Hello again, my little quasars of pulsation,
It has been another quiet week, in space. The only things disturbing my contemplation of the void have been the arrival of another letter, and a package addressed to 'Victor' of Colchester. A PVC nun's habit. Not a great deal of use to me, my little ways of milkyness, I was going to tear it up and use it to line my potting trays but it caught my mind, and it pulled it back a couple of years.
Sister Incontinenta, her name was. Well, no, it wasn't. It was Sister Mary Margaret Margaret Mary Bloody Mary Mary Margaret Magdalene or something similar. Her other name was only used by the bitchier nuns, when she wasn't looking.
You don't think nuns are bitchy? Try living with the fuckers for fifteen years.
Anyway, Sister Incontinenta… I'm sure I don't need to spell it out. It wasn't usually a problem. Some of the nuns like to feel like martyrs and cleaning up the bodily fluids of others is a surefire way to feel like you're building up your Holiness Quotient. It only became a problem when they took her out in public. They'd be sitting in the middle of Burger King, munching on onion rings and sipping holy water and suddenly the Fountains Of The Lord would pour, and they'd be chucked out of there faster than you can say 'Hail Mary, Mother of The Big Guy'.
The last time I saw her was their annual outing to watch 'The Sound Of Music'. They went every year and came back singing 'how do you SOLVE a PROBlem like marIA?', full of joy at the possibilities inherent in life. Truth is, they were every bit as bad as the nuns in that film…if not worse. If they had to put up with a nun that sang constantly they'd have treated her exactly the same as someone who…for the sake of example…liked to play Sylvester records at a certain volume:
'No, Sister Janice, I do NOT 'wanna funk', and neither, as a Bride of Christ, should you. Please STOP. I'm trying to PRAY'.
Some people are so unreasonable.
Anyway, the last time I saw Sister Incontinenta….
Well, she was excited, as ever. She used to love the little things… she could find joy in a flower, could be reduced to tears by a forest. You can imagine what seeing the nun-mind-wank film of the Century did for her. It was quite sweet, in a way. When they left, she was almost shaking with anticipation. I waved them off, and went inside to practice The Hustle. She never came back.
They SAID she'd got on a bus… a bus going to Newcastle. And she hadn't come back. They said they had tried to stop her, but she hadn't listened. She was so excited by the prospect of public transport that nothing would stand in her way.
But I'm not so sure.. like I said, the little things… she was shaking, and we all knew what that meant. I'm sure I saw Mother Superior smile grimly to herself as she hefted a Vileda Supermop onto the minibus. She didn't do smiling, as a rule. And she was the last person to see the Lost Sister as she took her road to nowhere..or Newcastle. Whichever was the furthest away from the Convent of The Perpetually Bigoted.
I miss her, in her own way. Yes, the smell was a problem, but it was nothing that a few strategically-placed Magic Trees couldn't dispel. But she was genuine, and kind-hearted and open to a world in a way I don't think I've ever been.
They got rid of her.
How do you solve a problem like Sister Incontinentia?
Stick her on a bus. Or under one, maybe. Who knows?
And, while we're asking, how DO you hold a moonbeam in your hand??
This week's letter:
Dear Sister Janice,
Over the last few weeks, I've paid for a number of
I honestly don't know what you're talking about.
If I DID know what you were talking about anyway, I wouldn't send them back. Those products are a Sin Against The Lord, and I'm saving your Eternal Soul by keeping them from you.
Or I would be, if I had them, which I don't.
By all means, send The Boys round. It has been a while..'
Actually, my little starry-night suprises, it has been a life-time. But he doesn't need to know that. All the same, I'm a little worried by the tone of his letter. I'm starting to wish I hadn't used that pot of industrial lubricant to power the Space Shed Engine.
I'm sure there's a way out of this. I'll offer to solve all his problems for free. He must have a few... I mean, a PVC nun's outfit? There's no need for it, is there? They don't even look good on NUNS..
I might try it on, though. Just to be sure..
Have a brave week, my little Droplets Of Life's Fountain, and be kind to each other.
Guess how much I love you
(To Rachel and Grainne, who made me write this!)
He had long ago learned that it is usually the things you don't expect that turn out to be the best, but he, like everybody else, forgot too much too easily... He had to remember everything ever so often.
Do you know how sometimes you can get very happy after having been in a bad mood, as if you're trying to make up for it? Well, this is what happened to Thomas on that Saturday afternoon.
He had woken up with a sulk, a sulk that he had proudly taken everywhere with him and which he intended to keep all day, thankyou very much, but as he sat opposite Hazel in that cafe something had happened. Maybe it was the sun that fell through the window and the summer feeling in the air, or maybe it was that having nothing much to do but sit back and watch people was relaxing... Or maybe it was just that he had been in a bad mood for too long.
Whatever it was, it made him smile. And when she looked up from her book and smiled back, his heart stopped... It was only for a moment or two, but before it started again everything had changed. Suddenly there were tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, and he needed to hold his breath, or breath deeply, and then he needed to do it again because he didn't know what else to do, and he needed to do something. He had just seen the most beautiful girl in the world, and, this time, she was his.
She was sitting with one leg bend underneath her, as if she was curled up on their sofa rather than sitting on a cafe chair. The sunlight was making her hair shine, and he could see her eyes shining, too, even though she was looking down at her book. She did so rather dreamily, and she was still smiling, not in the way one would smile at book, but rather in the way one would smile to a baby... But that's what Hazel was like, smiling at everything at the most unexpected of moments, in the strangest of ways.
Suddenly he could feel his heart ache with something like love, and happiness, and awe.
She glanced up at him as she was turned the page so he quickly looked down at his coffee cup and pretended to be examining it carefully. He wouldn't know what to say.
You can't say these things, can you?
Hazel smiled when she woke up in the mornings. She beamed at dogs and little kids -and she talked to them, too, kids and dogs alike. She smiled when she hang the laundry -which she arranged according to a pattern in her head so that it looked pretty, as she did with the washing up, books, cds, and the magazines that piled themselves up in their living room. She smiled when she opened the door for him, while singing along to records, while staring out of the window, and he had just discovered he could smile down at books.
It had taken him a while to get used to it. He, like everyone else, had spend most of his like with vaguely grumpy people. Where he came from it was normal to hate mornings. Hazel would jump out of bed, find a record and put it on. Then she would smile at him.
It's hard to believe you deserve all this.
When he first met her, he was convinced that she must have fallen off a whole in the sky that very day. She must have fallen somewhere near the bar where Angie worked. She didn't look like she had walked a long way when she opened the door and walked in... But surely it would take a girl from the sky to walk in just after Angie had said:
"Don't go yet. Maybe the woman of your life will walk in just now... you never know."
When Hazel walked in, Angie looked at him, looking a bit freaked out by what had just happened and Thomas, well, Thomas must have looked back looking happy. The prospect of this girl being the woman of his life seemed exciting.
The waiter came and looked around and Hazel glanced up again absent-mindedly, seeming to wonder whether to go back to reading or not. Before he had time to decide which one he wished for she had looked down again.
Thomas stared at the half eaten biscuit for a moment longer, then he looked at the street outside the window.
A bit before they decided to move in together, he discovered that she was from a place just a bus ride away from where they had met. This made him reconsider seriously the amount of magic-ness he allowed himself to believe there was on the world.
A bit after they decided to move in together, he discovered that she couldn't paint. As in paint walls - not works of art. She wouldn't concentrate, she wouldn't put an effort into painting in straight lines and she didn't mind about making a mess of everything. She also wouldn't listen to him at all. Instead she got angry, she started shouting and when he shouted back she started to cry. He ended up painting on his own for the rest of the day wondering whether he wanted to be there, or if running away while it was still early was a better option.
Painting purple squares on a yellow wall requires a lot of concentration if you want to do it properly, and you can't concentrate when you're angry. At first being angry seemed more important, but he quite enjoyed painting really, so he went back to it; and by the time he was done he was too tired to be angry. The wall looked very pretty and he decided he would miss it if he lived somewhere else... and he felt lonely for not having anyone to show it to...
Leaning against the open window and smoking, he had decided to stay.
(To be continued... I think!)
The Long Lost Diary Of Miss S L Gleaden
She began her journey filled with good intentions. She would see the world, have new experiences, go shopping in new places, but most importantly she would be able to say: "been there!" more times than anyone else in her family.
Her contact with the world she left behind was limited. Not only did she have to trek for days to find remote internet cafes but she had to pray for a miracle that her parents might remember her and check their email once in a while. Fortunately her heroic sister saved the day on many occasions and made sure her contact with the world back home was not cut completely. Before we learn more about this girl and her travels we must first learn something about the adventures of her diary...
Shortly before leaving San Diego, Miss S L Gleaden was packing her rucksack. How on earth was she going to fit in the 129 CDs that she had bought for her father? After many hours mulling over this problem she discovered that by rolling them up and stuffing them in her shoes she was able to save valuable space in her rucksack. In her euphoric state she failed to notice a small book which lay forgotten underneath her bed. Her diary.
Hours later the caretaker by the name of Mr J F Gossett happened upon the diary on a routine room inspection. He routinely placed the book in his jacket pocket and finished his inspection. Later that evening, as Mr J F Gossett walked home, the poor diary slipped from his pocket where it lay neglected once more.
A greedy seagull, who as coincidence would have it, shared the same middle name with Mr Gossett, retrieved the book mistaking it for a piece of food. This mistake was unsurprising considering that at the time the seagull was widely regarded to be the most greedy animal alive. Since this event occurred judges have changed their mind's. The seagull's title was awarded to a small white dog who shares her name with one of the best Scottish band in the world, when judges conceded that any dog who has eaten boxes of chocolates bigger than themselves, not just once but twice, have to be far greedier .
To cut a long story short, the seagull dropped the diary somewhere over the Atlantic ocean when it mistook a yellow and blue lilo for a very large fish. 7 months later our heroine's diary washed up on the shores of a small town in the long forgotten county of Cumbria. Locals were impressed by the story contained within, not to mention the book's ability to wash up on the shores of a landlocked town, and after many hours were able to track down the explorer herself and made sure that the book returned to her but not before they had read it from cover to cover of course...
Unfortunately this page in the diary seems to have suffered in the long journey home. But the locals are able to make out a faded photograph of the traveller herself. The girl is stood with one hand scratching her head and the other on her hip. She is frowning and appears to be lost in thought, oblivious to the mountains of clothes that surround her. They turn over the page to the first entry of the diary
What does one pack when preparing for a journey like this? Obviously a
mixture of clothes for warm and cold weather, wet and dry. But what
about for the unexpected? What will happen if I bump into Mr S Jackson,
and he finally says:
Oh, The taxi is here,I better hurry up. OK quick check:
-Money (12 different currencies, travellers cheques and lottery tickets
because it could be me,)
I think that should be sufficient. Goodbye house! Goodbye town! Goodbye diary...oh no, wait, you're coming with me...
To Be Continued...
MONUMENTS TO GREAT BRITISH HISTORY: THE PUB
"Don't walk away! Where're you going?"
Pubs, bars, ale houses- be they uber funky, cosmopolitan, embarrassingly expensive places favoured by airheaded wannabe fashion gurus, or wood-stained, spittle-soaked, smoke-infested relics populated by inbred plebeians and council estate urchins- are an integral, nay, necessary, part of the British way of life. They can be the solace of the lonely man, and the refuge of the married man. They can be taverns of renewal, or dens of iniquity. Or they can simply be a place to go to escape the weather.
The Cardinals Hat, Newark. A horrible, horrible, horrible place. And my local. Even when I lived on the other side of the country, 'the hat', as it is called by the imaginative locals, was still referred to as my local. I suppose it offers reassurance, a sense of belonging to something, not just for me but for the community at large. It's somewhere for the elders of the community to gather, to take stock, to get a well-earned pint and a perspective on their life. It's also the place where in the haze of a many a drunken hour I have purchased a cockatoo, been stripped naked by a counterfeit policewoman, been barred for falling through a wooden table, and sniffed amyl nitrate in the toilets on OAP's bingo night.
The Ferry Boat Inn, Ullapool. I lived in the town of Ullapool, on the north-west coast of Scotland, in the summer of 1993. It was a mad summer, a glorious time to be young and uncertain, and Ullapool felt like the best place in the world to do it in. The FBI wasn't the only bar I frequented whilst living in Ullapool, but it was certainly the best. It had the best location, right on the promenade, overlooking the wild west coast ocean; it had the biggest collection of whiskies I have ever been fortunate enough to see and stupid enough to try and drink; it had highland music, real highland music where a guy or two would simply come in, tune up, and play until they felt like stopping; most importantly, it never shut. At 11 or 12 at night or whatever time the draconian drinking laws deemed that pubs should close, the FBI simply closed it's doors, drew it's curtains, and everyone carried on until the half light of early dawn. And not once was there any trouble, well, apart from the time that Sandy the barman lost his glass eye and Aylsa found it in the ice cube tray...
The Dirty Duck, Birmingham. We called it the Dirty Duck except I think it was really called something else. Birmingham was hell for us. She was working there, I was studying in Wales, and so it was a 5 hour journey either way every weekend. She lived with a couple of people that she worked with- shallow, privileged, obnoxious Southerners that we did our best to avoid. One way we avoided them was by going to the Dirty Duck every Sunday lunchtime. Cider for her, lager for me, a tub of hot roasted peanuts and, if we were really lucky, a 'jumbo combo' platter- a seemingly endless combination of meat and fish. The Dirty Duck did its job, left us with a sufficient glow to mull over the weekend and prepare us for the week ahead. And that, after all, is what all good ale houses should do.
The Trafford Park Hotel, Manchester. Why it's called a hotel, I'll never know. Maybe it used to be, but it isn't anymore. It's about a mile up the road from Old Trafford, you can park for free in its courtyard (as opposed to paying the local henchmen a fiver to use a dilapidated bit of clay of couple of hundred yards further up the road), it has a big screen showing re-runs of Man United matches, and I have been going there for as long as I can remember. When I went to United as a kid, with my father and my uncles, this was the place where we'd park up and, within an hour of drinking this pungent brown liquid from these large clear glasses, they'd emerge from the Trafford Park Hotel seemingly a lot more jovial than they were before they went into the mysterious building. It would be years before I partook in the similar swilling of similar liquid, but the lure of the Trafford Park Hotel remains to this day.
Uisge Beatha, Glasgow. It's name is gaelic for 'water of life' and, during my short tenure in Glasgow in the mid-1990's, it was the focal point for most of it. It's intricate and eccentric layout appealed to me, as did the fact that you could sit alone, enjoy a pint, and read a book- something in which, it's fair to say, the Cardinals Hat is lacking. It holds many memories: memories of me and my friends drinking pilfered bottles of port in one of its many cubby holes, sharing tables and cheap wine with mad Spanish souls convinced that I was Spanish, old timers- courteous and lived-in, down on their luck with a story to tell. It was a place I escaped to when life punched the soul out of me; it was where relationships began, or failed, or renewed themselves and, most important of all, it asked nothing of me.
Pier Pressure, Aberystwyth. Not a bar, but a club. Forgive it its horrendous name, forgive it its occasionally tacky clientele, forgive the misnomer in calling itself a 'nightclub' when it closed every night at 1am, forgive the mortal sin of watered down lager, even forgive the greater sin of diluted vodka, Lord, forgive all these because it's where I fell well and truly in love. A sucker punch right to the heart, love at first sight and all that. That was me done for. It should've been forever....
The Pack Horse, Newark. This, my friends, is where it all began. I was 15 at the time. It was Christmas. My cousin was 18, but looked about 12. He had his ID, and got the first round in, as I fumbled with change by the juke box. We played pool and drank our drinks, and talked about 'birds' and football. I bet we looked ridiculous. Then it was my turn to get the drinks. My heart was pumping in a similar way to when I first stole a mars bar from the co-op. Guilt, fear, excitement- you name it, and it was probably halfway to making an unwelcome appearance in my underpants. I strode purposefully towards the bar. This was it. A true test of my embryonic manhood. Over came the barman. "Yes, mate" he asked matter-of-factly. Suddenly a voice boomed over from the other side of the bar. "I'll get these....SON." It was my father. Over he came, confidently, casually, as if he had done this thing his whole life. He looked like he belonged. I, on the other hand, had a long, long way to go. We spent the rest of the night- my cousin, my dad, his mate, and I- playing pool, and talking in ever more passionate tones about football. Talk of 'birds' was banned on the grounds that my father and his mate were married. I never had to go to the bar again that night, but then again it didn't matter much seeing as I was drinking coke-cola for the rest of the night....
THE REMARKABLE MOVE
I get up at 6 in the morning. Every morning. I feed all that cats and spending a little time loving them, while the kettle boils. After a drink I kiss my wife goodbye and hit the road. First I pick up another worker and we get to the site at around 8. I switch off. I dream of anything but the events of the next eight hours. I usually turn on the radio and get down to it. The first task is to gel the tank. The tank is a huge mould about the size of a truck. The gel is as hard as hell. You add a little set to it, this makes it go off. Too much and it sets alight. The fumes rot your liver and lungs. While that is drying I have to layer six boxes. Each box has five layers. Two matt and one woven. They are like glass and cut your hands. You use a glue and add the set, you put your head in the box, trying not to breath. After painting the box with the glue, the fist layer of matt goes on. This is repeated till all layers are on. The box layers are then rolled. The glue gets on your hands, head and in your eyes. It burns. I'm used to it now though, and if I'm not the best then I'm not far from it.
All that gets you to dinner. I only ever eat microwave meals due to the rats. The whole event repeats again and again. Five comes and I'm on the way home. I get in the door, kiss the wife, and love that cats. I work on the house till nine or ten then drink tea at the back door. I like to get as much fresh air as possible. I place this recipe in the oven and heat from Monday to Saturday. I get to bed around one in the morning. On Sunday I look at the computer and I hate it. I work on the house till four or five. Then I open a bottle and dream.
My wife says I don't do much. The bully at school said I would never achieve anything. My cats look at me, wanting fresh tuna and not 'Nettos Home Beef and Jam in Jelly'.
Tomorrow I'm on the road. Fixing a broken tank. They pump the blood and shit away.
All I ever wanted to be was a writer. Good or bad.