Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Judge Dredge

The canal near to our house, long disused*, has been the subject of much debate in recent years, with applications for grants and subsidies being made in order to get it up and running again.

Finally, after a lot of campaigning, organising, lobbying and discussion, money was finally scraped together and made available from various sources to begin work on making it a usable resource once again.

And it was all worth it to see an excavator on a barge!

An excavator on a barge!

Awesome with a capital AWE.

Obviously, if you have a child, particularly one of the type with a penis, they will nearly wet themselves with enthusiasm at the possibility of merely being near an excavator. 

Combine that with a canal barge and the almost mystical qualities of black, smelly mud dredged from the bottom of a half-choked canal and, well, you get a state of pleased excitement matched only by a man on a day-time talk show discovering he's NOT the father of  little Chantelle-Mia or Diamante-Sequoia.

My son was obviously not immune to the magic of an excavator on a barge, and day after day I would hear entreaties to go and see it, all pleading eyes and hopeful expression like a puppy at a barbecue.

Of course I agreed because, well, it's an excavator on a barge and a shitload of mud. Who wouldn't want to see that? So I would pretend to grudgingly acquiesce, whilst secretly hoping they might let me have a go.

Which they didn't. Miserable buggers.

In reality, the operators both of the excavator (on the barge) and the little sludge pushing boat that was dumping the goo on a field nearby wore the constant attention very well, returning friendly waves and thumbs up signs to the kids, although they must have felt like exhibits for the week or two they were in the area

I suppose you're bound to be naturally ebullient if you're the driver of an excavator on a barge. I would definitely be happy if I got to operate an excavator, and particularly so if said excavator was, as has been mentioned, on a barge.

In conclusion, let us look, from a different angle, at an excavator:

On a barge.

*Long disused by humans, at any rate. Coots, moorhens, swans and ducks use it regularly.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

May the pest man win

In a previous life, before I went over to the dark side and became a paramedic, I was a decent, hard-working pest controller.

No, really.

Before now, it hasn't occurred to me to document any reminiscences about this period in my life, even though I did it for the best part of a decade, starting off with a van and a wage of nine and a half grand a year, and ending up as a trouble shooting technical manager for a national company.

This seems remiss of me, because in the top ten list of occupations recognised as being able to generate anecdotes, surely being a professional killer is up there with priest and window cleaner. And hippo polisher.

I dealt with a wide assortment of pesty species, from the small and crunchy to the big and furry, from the spiky crawly ones to the feathery squawking types. Whilst prevention was the main aim of our industry, we also used poisons, traps, guns and, occasionally, biological control in the form of a Jack Russel called Bonzo.

Bonzo had a pathological hatred of anything ratty, the killing ability of a great white shark with no boundaries, and the problem solving abilities of a cryptography team. Luckily, he also had the IQ of . . . well, a dog, which was possibly the only thing preventing him taking over the world in a fit of pique.

After a particularly recalcitrant infestation of rats in a posh Manchester hotel, where the managers had consistently failed to realise that dumping your food waste in a side alley was akin to sending out flyers to every rodent in a two-mile radius with "COME AND GET IT!" written in peanut butter flavoured ink, I contacted Bonzo's owner interpreter to ask if he was available.

He passed the message on to Bonzo, who turned up that evening in a blacked out A-Team style van. Possibly. My memory of this is a little hazy. I'm not sure but he may have been wearing shades as well. And a bandanna.

I explained our problem via his interpreter, that we needed a quick reduction in the numbers of beasties infesting this area, so we could then implement a more permanent solution.

Bonzo sighed, nodded (I seem to recall), took off his shades and got out of the van. He cricked his neck a couple of times, took a deep breath and then . . .

What followed was like a dance. A macabre dance. A macabre dance of Death. A macabre dance of Death to the tune of the grim reaper, played on the bagpipes of doom, with a beat made from the wails of the departed and the surprised terminal gasps of Bonzo's victims. It was terrible and it was beautiful, and it was waggly.

Anyway, it was effective, and such a shock that the managers agreed to a new hygiene and waste disposal regime lest we revisit the wrath of Bonzo once more upon them.

Some of the most vivid memories I have are not of the infestations, or the premises, or the methods, but of the people I met.

I was contracted to clear a block of council flats of their German cockroach infestation in North London, a difficult task at the best of times. We had got most of the offending areas clear, much to the joy of the residents and the council, although one tricky area was proving resilient to our poisonous magic. I was convinced that a single flat to which we had not been allowed access to by the resident was a potential source of re-infestation, and contacted the council to ask for admittance. They agreed to see what they could arrange.

I turned up the following week and was met by a tall, very well dressed, perfectly coiffured and bejewelled West Indian lady called Joyce, who explained that she was a social worker. She told me that the flat I was interested in was owned by a "vulnerable and rather difficult chap" in his fifties, who might respond to the gentle persuasions of a trained social worker rather than the brutal shoutings of a pest controller.

Fair point, I thought.

She had arranged to meet him at the bottom of the block, from where we would all go up to his flat.

Whilst we waited, we had a chat, and Joyce told me she couldn't do my job, dealing with all those creepy-crawlies and what not. In fact, she had a pathological fear of bugs, and cockroaches in particular, which had even meant she had not been to see close relatives in Jamaica for fear of the roaches there, which she had been reliably informed were as big as kittens.

I began to wonder at the wisdom of her visiting this apartment.

A smell turned up, followed a few minutes later by it's owner, who was the man we were waiting for. He was dishevelled, unkempt, odorous and very, very pissed. Joyce went to shake his hand, thought better of it and turned it into a gesture indicating the direction of the lift, into which we all got.

After a moment, your nose cuts out bad smells, even the acrid stench of a chap who had put on a tracksuit top in 1983, and found it so much to his liking that he hadn't taken it off since. Still, our eyes watered and I noted that the immaculate Joyce had pressed herself almost up to the back wall in abhorrence at the state of the chap in front of us, facing the doors.

I smiled a little unkindly at her discomfort, wondering what his flat was going to be like, before I noticed something moving at the nape of his neck.

It was a young German cockroach.

My mouth gaped and I straightened up, a stupid grin of quite delighted disbelief on my face. Another one scuttled out of the  his hair and ran down into the shiny haven of his tracksuit.

He had a cockroach infestation. Actually on him!

In the excitement of such a discovery and wishing to share it with the world, I forgot about Joyce's prior declaration of hatred for such things and turned to catch her eye, before pointing at the oblivious chap's hitch hiker and making a comically surprised  face to her.

The result was . . . interesting.

She turned a fascinating grey colour, and appeared to be trying to see if it was possible to pass through the solid wall of the lift by pressing herself backwards into it. Her expression was one you might see on a person who, having eaten a delicious salad, suddenly discovers a boiled cat's head at the bottom of the carton. Sweat beaded on her forehead, and a strange noise not unlike someone repeatedly pressing an asthma inhaler over and over again emanated from her mouth.

I started to worry that, should her eyes get any wider, they might actually fall out.

I reconsidered the wisdom of bringing this to her attention, and mouthed an apology at her, which she didn't see as she was now staring resolutely at the light panels in the ceiling and stubbornly refusing to breathe.

Happily, before she expired from hypoxia, the lift stopped and the walking ecosystem that accompanied us staggered out, fumbling for his keys.

I followed, then turned back to Joyce.

"Did you want to hang around out here?" I asked, "Because of the chemicals maybe?" I held up the completely non-toxic to humans cockroach killing baits I was going to use.

She nodded gratefully, and finally took a breath. 

I left and, taking a deep breath myself, entered the flat, which was exactly as you would imagine it to be.

There's nothing does variety like the human race.

Like Mother Earth, the Goddess Gaia supports an intricate network of life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

CD underside

Whilst meandering through the aspirational section of Gloucester's ToysWeSell (note the inverted 'W'), I was struck by the number of dressing up opportunities for the modern child. Apart from aliens and, to me, scary monsters (Frankenstein's zombie is even more terrifying when only 3 feet tall), it was the vocational outfits that seemed more interesting to my boy.

He pawed through various guises of doctor, police officer, nurse, builder, plumber,sailor, firefighter and farmer, all designed to give him a taste of what could be in his future. 

Even the pirate costume made for an interesting career possibility, although it was a traditional swashbuckler with jaunty cap and neckerchief, rather than a more realistic Somalian with an RPG.

"Look," I said, holding up a Spiderperson ensemble and some sort of man/bat hybrid. 

"Oh yes." replied my son, half-heartedly humouring me, before returning to study the intricacies of a chef's outfit.

I suppose this is because, at their tender age, a job is as far out a possibility as being a werewolf or a witch, so the costumes based on reality are just as exotic as those based on make-believe.

(Eventually, after profound and deep thoughts on the possibilities of shaping ones future through association, my son demonstrated his considerable grip on reality by deciding to be 'a ladybird'.)

There were even workplaces you could buy, such as plastic kitchens for the future chef, workshops for the potential engineer, laboratories for the wannabe scientist, engines for tomorrows mechanic and . . .

Oh dear.

"What did you learn today, son?"
"Burger flipping and a lazy way to spell 'through'. "

There is a tiny chance that this comes across as a bit snobby, and I would like to point out that, having been a burger flipper myself (and actually rather enjoyed the piss-poor life experience that it was), I feel I'm well within my rights to get all hoity-toity about this.

So there.

To be honest, a lot of the extravagant gifts you can get for your child seem a bit pointless to me, especially the ones that are basically toy buildings. Seeing as how all-consuming and complete their imaginations are at that age, you might as well throw a tarp over an old tent frame and that'll suffice as just about any structure their current universe requires.

Every time I come out of one of those toy emporiums having not bought something, I have the very odd feeling that my child has benefited somehow.

Not sure what their sales force would make of that oddly warped mindset.

We did consider buying some colourful plastic tat for my daughter, who is now a whole year old and has discovered the joys of lobbing things around.

Happily for her, we realised we didn't need to buy anything new for her to throw, because our naively positioned CD collection makes for excellent ammunition:

In my defence, the Terence Trent Derby CD is the missusses.

*Wanders off, humming "sign your name across mah heart . . ."*