Friday, 28 October 2011

Nasty muscle

It was touch and go, a snip at £1299 but as a wise man once said, “if it seems too good to be true then boy it is too good to be true.” A 2002 Saab 9-5 2.0 manual Arc in bright red with all the toys and coming in at a mere 69k on the clock. A private seller not trade so the possibility of waving a wad of cash to a desperate man could get it for maybe £1100 or less. Always one for a bargain and the opportunity to make a quick buck I was sorely tempted. So tempted that the pain was physical but I knew that I had to play a waiting game, had to bide my time, this was my chance to make money and timing was everything. After the requisite number of days the advert remained live, hook in the water I thought. My palms were sweating as I made the phone call, 12 miles away I'd be quick, punchy, decisive and out there with the cash and the signed owners slip in moments and on for a resale and nice weekend profit. I'd expected a gruff middle aged male to answer the phone or maybe an Asian accent, maybe some early haggling, then maybe it'd be gone.

What I got was a prim, pretty, Edinburgh, Morningside female, better than ever, an ignorant rich bitch selling an unloved shopping cart to a charming man like me. Candy and babies sprang to mind as she gave me her address; “Yes, I've had a number of calls, quite a bit of interest but nothing has come of any of them, I'm rather frustrated, I'm due to take delivery of another vehicle quite soon and there isn't much space in the driveway and I've no wish to leave it on the street.”

“Well madam, I'll be over in about 30 minutes if that's ok with you?” “Fine”, she said and passed across her address details. I finished my coffee and looked quickly over the A to Z, easier than sat nav no matter what the geeks might say and don't start me on those stupid thumb bursting smart phones.

As it was the middle of the day the traffic was relatively light and I made good time across town. I found the address and the car, gleaming in the driveway it sat proudly outside the house. Somebody has spent time polishing it up and there was a “4 sale” sign on the windscreen. I couldn't understand how it hadn't been snapped up, was business really that bad, why had the sharks dipped out on this little honey? I rang the door bell and looked at my shoes, clean enough.

There was a pause and then a shadowy figure came up to glass and unlocked two locks and drew back a chain. The lady from the phone call pulled the door open and smiled, her eyes had a definite sparkle, we were away. “I'm here about the car that's for sale” I said in a fairly obvious and awkward tone, shrugging slightly and trying to hide a little of my enthusiasm. “Of course” she said, “I'll just get you the keys”. A few seconds later she handed me the keys, “take a look yourself, I'll just get my coat.” I took the keys and checked the car, clean as a whistle, sweet as a nut and tidy as a brushed hamster. Of course I'd have to find a few niggles to focus on so I could argue her price down a bit which I duly did. She seemed a little put out when I mentioned the miss-fire, the tracking and the discoloured oil but we agreed on a final price of £1050, as good as I'd hoped.

“I don't like to see cash being handed over outside or in the street” she said, “you'll have to come into the house”. I followed her in through the glass door, it closed behind me. “To the kitchen” she trilled. I followed on thinking about the denominations of notes in my wallet, I didn't want her to see how much money I actually had, that was a bit vulgar and in these circumstances when I'd negotiated downwards by a decent margin, pretty inappropriate.

When I awoke I was sore and damp, tied up and sitting in a puddle in a derelict warehouse of some kind. “You're lucky son” said the policeman looking down at me as I looked up at him. I felt sick and disorientated and stuck in some kind of numb shock, my face was sore. “You're the tenth one they got with that scam, must've taken £25k in cash, a few cards, your own cars and the contents of all your wallets, then away they go. All you need is a mobile phone number, a posh squat and a little bit of nasty muscle, a little bit of nasty muscle, does it every time.”

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Mr Clock

Catching up with Mr Clock

I was running late (or was I he in some other story?), a little late anyway, nothing unusual, just what happens when you run out of time. It had all seemed simple in the beginning, catch a train, catch a lift, get there, get changed, then get to the church, Jesus, it wasn't even him who was to be married. It was a friend of an ex, not a proper person at all. It was somewhere in Yorkshire, for some reason that made it complicated, who knows why. It doesn't help either when things start to run in the wrong order, well the train was fine, a few minutes late, then she was supposed to pick me up; I waited. That's all you can do, when she did arrive there was only a gushing explanation and a blurred set of instructions. Due to a bereavement and a complication (family related) could I go and open the hall first, then the caterers could come in and prepare and then we'd meet up and it's a funny kind of combination lock and the numbers are blah. It's all on the yellow sticky, now folded in my back pocket, ready for later, for the thing that happens later.

I really worked hard and took it all in and wrote the number on my palm to be safe, ok less time to change into the kilt but at least I had a role, albeit very much a back room one, to play in the day. She dropped me near to the hall. The church wasn't the usual kind, the people there were enthusiastic, they participated or so I'd heard. The church itself really was a small complex of separate buildings, an obvious meeting room, offices, sheds, halls and outbuildings. I wasn't quite sure which one was the hall and strangely there was nobody around to ask. I decided to follow the instructions I'd been given (why would I do otherwise?) and arrived at grey stone building with a brown door and a rather fearsome looking gun metal combination pad with letters and numbers.

Each pad I pushed seem offer some stubborn mechanical resistance but I entered the six digit code; nothing happened. Perhaps I hadn't pressed hard enough so I tried again, still nothing, no clicks or whirs or sounds or movements that might reveal a degree of success. The deep frustration and anger you get when faced with a mechanically stubborn situation like this is hard to describe. I felt the rage and I felt the trembles but I held myself together and tried one more time. It still wouldn't open. I was undone in this dream, in this role and situation. I hate ever so when I let people down, that's a horrible feeling, any author or artist will tell you that, though they may not mean what they say. That thing that I cannot quite name is clearly the prerogative of the creative types (those with the radiant souls) and I am not in their company.

What had happened formed a typical, familiar dream or nightmare for you, being late, losing teeth from your mouth, forgetting your underwear or falling into pillows from a great height. Then something snapped, maybe in me, maybe in the lock, it was open, it clicked. I pushed against the door, there was resistance for a second then a forgiving creak and the door travelled inwards, open. I fumbled for a light switch but that was unnecessary, there was a light in the room, in the space. Dull and bright, clear but opaque, the light of somewhere was from somewhere else. Time was not important and attitudes towards it changed in me, in that room. I met with Mr Clock and shook his hand, I held his gaze and he held mine, it seemed that there was a mutual respect and acceptance from our opposing positions. Mr Clock leaned forward, there was no need for him to introduce himself, I'd dreamt of this moment many times, in many times. He smiled an old man's smile and I felt as if he approved of me. That feeling made me feel six feet six tall and eighteen inches wide at least, worth all the effort and the rambling. Then he looked me up and down and said three very simple, straightforward words to me. I still remember them, “Be patient son.”

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Track rod adjustment

MoT'd and street legal, the mechanics may be sound, you can never really tell, anyway that's it over for another year so I've some borrowed time to spend. I added two new tyres, got the long term slow puncture fixed and the track rods adjusted to whatever it is they should be - all under budget but costly just the same. The occasional joys of motoring. The weather improved briefly today so I applied some sticky gunk to the op of the windscreen in a last chance bid to stop the water. I've no regrets sticking with this beast, three years plus and still going...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

MoT & Taxi

Cougar's gone in for that annual surgery and the tense revelation that leads to the production of an MoT and another year of possible safe and legal running. It's not a day for the faint hearted, large amounts of money are at stake as well as the probable untimely end of the driver car relationship. That's what you live with when you own and run an everyday classic jalopy.

So after leaving the car overnight I found out today that it's really down to the front discs and pads being worn and not too much else, the routine service will no doubt help smooth out the rough edges: looks like an affordable result and continuity, at least until some major component fails and at 133k anything can happen at any time.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


“It's not essential that you are able to ride a horse but it would help a great deal, some skills with 4 x 4 vehicle driving and the ability to prepare meals for up to twenty people would also be useful.” James listened as the manager described a few more details of the job. “Ever done any survival training? Know a little about first-aid and can you use a high powered rifle?” James eyes glazed over as the words slapped against his ears like the back of his mother's hand. He cleared his throat and prepared his answer, he tried to summon up a confident voice and curb the almost uncontrollable desire to blink. “I can turn my hand to most things and yeah, I can survive up there, spent a few winters with my grandfather in Norway, he taught me a few things...” James let the sentence tail off and watched for a reaction from the manager. “Ok, maybe you are what we are looking for, you seem to have a handle on things, these mountains are tough, trouble's always just around the corner, let me take five on this.”

James took a few steps back, the light was poor and he was unsure about what was directly behind him, he wasn't thinking straight and he told himself so. The manger who was staring the other way turned around suddenly, just in time to see James fall backwards into the dark. “Whooo!” In a second he was gone, over the edge, two hundred maybe three hundred feet, the manager ran forwards as if to make some kind of a late grab for the boy, all too late.

When James woke up he remembered very little, he was warm but his arm felt sore and there was a dull pain at the back of his head, his tongue explored his mouth and he could taste blood, he coughed. Over in the corner a light came on, held in a long grey hand. James blinked and tried to focus. The light turned slowly but could see through to the source. He was inside a large, airy space, it felt warmer than it should have, there was no wind and there was the smell of fire and burnt timber. The light came closer and the long grey hand shrank back to a more normal size.

“Hello, I'm Grace, I found you near the foot of the gully, I brought you here, you're ok now.” James swallowed but couldn't find a voice to answer with. He saw that Grace was cloaked, whispering and now leaning over him. She seemed to be an old lady. He found some kind of voice, “who are you and how did I get here?” “Peace”, she said, she stood up and swayed a little, “I may just have saved your life.” James tried to answer but no words came, just a grey coating of sleep that overcame him and that pushed him back into the place he'd just stumbled from.

A bright hospital light was burning, burning up in a green sky, shining down like some foreign sun, warming and warning. This time James woke with a start and arched his back upwards, spitting like a drowning man hitting back through the surface. The room was empty and unfamiliar but was a hospital and he was alive. He sank back into the pillow and tried to put the pieces back together. The job opportunity, the manger talking to him on the hillside, the fall, the time and then Grace bringing him back to life in the cave or bunker or cabin, whatever it was. He drifted back into sleep.

“A lucky lad, out there, at the foot of the hillside, this time of year and with those injuries, no wonder he's been out of it for ten days.” James heard the words drifting by from the far end of the room, his eyes stayed glued shut. Sleep and some impersonal anonymity seemed a good place in which to remain.

“We were amazed that we found him, the fog came down and the weather turned, it was the dogs that found the body, we'd given up.” James felt like he was climbing stairs, step by step, up the inside of a skyscraper, ringing concrete steps ignored by everyone else, they were all in the elevator.

“Funny thing was that he was wrapped up, wrapped in a blanket, placed out there, like he'd had some care, the head wound had been cleaned, the arm was straightened, somebody had found him.” James' thoughts were as grey as the hillside, there were no colours, no shapes, just the voices floating by. Then a light came, a light wrapped in a memory, days old and indistinct but real. He remembered the light, the hand, the cloak, Grace.

In the spring when the weather had calmed James returned to the hill, alone, still puzzled, still none the wiser. In the clear air he walked the path and saw the spot where he had fallen, near to the manager's cabin. He stood in the clearing looking down, he studied the rocks, the edges, the boulders, the plants clinging onto life two hundred feet below. A silver stream threaded through, running north and out to the head of the valley. No caves or cabins, no landmarks, just the sharp V stretched and cut across the landscape. James walked back down the path, back towards the road turning for one last time to look. It was then that something caught his eye.

Over on the far side he saw a figure, moving away between the scrub, no bright colours, no hi-vis or backpack as you'd expect with a walker or climber. “Hi!” he called across, maybe three hundred yards between them. “Grace, Grace, is that you?” The figure turned, slowly, as if it took great effort a hand motioned a feeble wave. At that moment the sun emerged from the clouds and a light passed between them, instinctively he shielded his eyes. The moment passed and he looked across, the figure had gone, the landscape turned backwards, empty, unforgiving, hostile.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Every so often your faith in faith and the milkyness of the milk of human kindness is restored by some random event or in this case car advertisement. £1995 for a twelve year old Cougar smacks of the unrealistic or the desperate or perhaps both. I don't mind, in the troubled times we live in I'd like to think that there is somebody out there with two grand to spend on this old lady. He or she probably wont regret it right away, it's only when you become trapped into the way of the Cougar that you realise the actual price.