Saturday, 12 December 2009

Porridge and cider

I've been looking back through my blogs.  They're not bad.  There's always room for improvement, however, and I've identified at least one fault; a lack of killer intro's.

Shame on me: I was the star pupil of the Midland News Association's Class of '78 where the one thing that was constantly drummed into us was the need to grab and hold the readers' attention with a punchy lead paragraph. 

So, from now on, there'll be no slow builds; no fey literary meanderings; no taking the leisurely, linguistically elegant B-road to our subjectival destination - and no showing off with big words just for the sake of it like that, either!  No, killer intros rule from now on.

You'll have noticed that we're on paragraph four already and have still to encounter so much as an injure-you-very-slightly intro, let alone one of the killer variety.  That's because this blog hasn't started yet.  I know it seems to have, but it hasn't.  This bit's just the prologue or foreward or preamble or whatever you want to call it.  The real thing is about to start.....NOW!

I had a very interesting chat with a drunken convicted killer yesterday.

(See?  I've still got it!  Let us continue.....)

I was on a train to Wales and he came and sat across the aisle.  I was writing Christmas cards and so was disinclined to chat but he was determined.  If you were brought up, as I was, by a mother who believed good manners counted above all else, there are only so many conversational opening gambits you can ignore.

This small, middle-aged, non-decript chap was going home after serving six and a half years of a twelve-year stretch for manslaughter.  Rather than savour every moment of his first day of freedom with a clear mind, he had made a conscious decision "to get rat-arsed on cider" and, by midday, was well on the way.

He was an amiable soak, which made his crime all the harder to imagine: a bloke bumped into his wife in a pub so he hit him, too hard and in a particularly vulnerable part of the body, the front of the neck.  The man died and my new best mate was convicted of manslaughter.  If his fist had connected higher or lower, the victim would have lived and a far lesser charge would have been brought, but there was no bitterness or self-pity: "Oh, I shouldn't have done it.  End of.  Oh no, it was fair do's, mate."

And now he was on his way home to see the daughter and son who'd been a few weeks and four years old respectively when he was put away and whom he had never seen since.  His wife had thought it too difficult to drag two young children on numerous trains and a ferry from Cardiff to London to Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight where he was incarcerated, then back again, and he didn't blame her. 

Their first impression of their longlost daddy would be that of a semi-coherent little man, unsteady on his feet and stinking of cider.  I wanted to ask why he couldn't stay sober at least until the evening when they were tucked up, and then let loose with his mates, but I thought better of it.

He guessed that I and my partner were a gay couple.  "I'm not being funny, like, but are you and your mate, erm, you know, that way?"  It sounded like the quaint enquiry of someone who'd been out of the loop for more like sixteen years than six.

I confirmed that we did indeed share the love that not only dares speak its name these days but positively shrieks it from the rooftops and insists you join in with a Mexican wave and a bottle of pink champagne.  This was positively received: "I shared for eighteen months once with one of your lot.  Best cellmate I ever had."

Whenever our conversation stalled, I returned to my cards and he went back to another of many phone calls, setting up meetings with drinking buddies, which always included the question: "Have you got any money?"  A couple ended acrimoniously: "Alright, then, if that's how you feel, go f**k yourself and don't bother ringing me back because I won't answer, simple as that!"  I believe prisoners aren't allowed mobiles so he'd acquired one pretty instantly upon release - or am I being spectacularly naive?

We parted company at Newport, where my other half and I left the train, with a warm handshake.  "I'm wearing all designer gear, you know," he suddenly volunteered.  "This shirt is Lacoste and the jeans are Armani, all genuine, not knock-off."  I guess he liked me and so wanted to go up in my estimation, and thought this would do the trick.

I found that terribly poignant, as I did the thought of his meeting his kids a couple more cans of strong cider down the line.  I've got a horrible feeling they'll be saying goodbye to him before too long but I really want to be wrong.


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