..The Pencil Thief…

I don’t have many useful skills in my personal armoury.   I can play football a bit, I can dispatch Guinness, Rioja, Malbec and Jack with contempt, I’m good at addressing a problem head on, I can start an argument in an empty room yet remain calm in a crisis and identify an idiot without them opening their mouth.

I do however excel in one particular area.

I am the master of embarrassing myself in spectacular, knuckle biting fashion where onlookers cover their eyes, turn their backs and mutter things like ‘please don’t’ or ‘Somebody stop him’ and ‘for the love of God’. It’s a skill that I have honed over many years and continue to fine tune this day much to the fear of my children.

To be fair I am the architect of my own disasters either through stupidity, arrogance, alcohol or a combination of the three. Let’s start at the beginning… the opening salvo…

Launch. Warm. Puppy…

The loss of control

In 1976 I briefly joined the Navy. That’s not actually true. In reality I was dressed as a sailor to perform the Hornpipe in a school play with a troupe of similarly trained 7 year olds. This was a low level affair with low level ability in the form of one of the seas most famous dance routines…in fact it’s possibly the only sea dance routine. No ship here was required merely a dusty, dry school hall and selected apparatus used to give the impression of a ships deck.

The day before the main event we were all taken to the hall for the dress rehearsal at the hands of Mrs Butcher. Butcher was an animal. Twisted with multiple Sclerosis and held up by two crutches, she wobbled in at a frighteningly slow speed she seemed to take great pleasure in blaming her situation on us, the assembled innocents. I fuckin’ hated her as she was a bully….a bully of small children. During the rehearsal I found myself in dire need of a piss. At that stage in my life I was not in possession of the half gallon bladder I have now and so when I needed to go I needed to go immediately.

I looked at the clock. I recognised the time as time to go home and we still hadn’t had a practice of the routine. We were simply locked in a room with a broken old lady who wanted to berate us. I still remember the agony of holding it in but stood firm in the joyful knowledge that the bell would imminently ring and I could leave.

When the bell went Butcher decided to initiate the final practice. Animal. Up we stood. I raised my hand to ask if I could go to toilet and was screamed at twice and told to shut up. She pounded the keys with her gnarly fingers and we were off.

Even the most rudimentary Hornpipe involves a lot of movement. It’s a bouncy dance almost like you are actually performing it on a boat. I was in no state for bounce. I was in no state for anything.

I started to move and it was evident fairly sharpish that I was getting warmer in the crotch region. I looked down and noticed the seepage. Out of fear of the quadruped I thought the best course of action would be to speed up and get the job done quicker. In hindsight this was a bad idea but a truly magnificent sight as I had turned myself into a human urine sprinkler.

The more ferociously I hornpiped the frothier my dirty protest became.   No one was dancing but me and all the while Butcher continued to play. I stared at her and she stared at me… a double incontinent stand-off. No one giving an inch. She banged away at the keys, eyebrows raised, head bobbing, staring at me and me alone while I increased in speed. She must have thought that I was sweating profusely from my cobblers and nowhere else.

At the end I stood still in my own mess. Everyone else was outside my urine arc….The circle of piss was not breached and a small area of dusty school floor had been irrigated by me.

Silence prevailed. Where my shorts were once warm they were now cold, so, so cold. Around me the floor was wet. I just ran out ashamed and embarrassed by a child bully on sticks.

I imagine she has long since passed on. I just hope her last words weren’t ‘Shut up’ or ‘Rosebud’…I hope they were ‘Piss Boy’….

The blind stupidity

At 12, I sat in a classroom of fresh faced herbertry waiting for the results of a maths exam. The teacher, another bitter and twisted old spinster but with added religious zealotry took great pleasure in reading the results out from highest to lowest by the name of the pupil.

She finished the roll call without my name and then announced that she had ‘something special’ for the class. I knew it was my result but unlike now then I was an optimist and so thought ‘Fuck me….I’ve smashed it’.

I hadn’t smashed it…. I had achieved 11%.

She loved it. She revelled in it. She was smiling. Once she’d finished she chucked me out the room in humiliation to stand in the corridor as I ‘wasn’t worth teaching’. Lovely. Classic Catholicism.

I stood in the corridor and was approached by a jolly deputy head who asked me what had happened. I told him and he looked angry. He wasn’t angry with me, he was angry with the teaching method. He went in the class and after a short period of intense conversation I was reinstated to my desk much to the collective joy of my classmates as they were all more now clearly more mathematically minded than me. She never spoke to me again and never took any further interest in my mathematical ability or lack of.

It’s funny that I now deal in numbers and she is merely as dry as the dust that could be found in her undergarments all those years ago. Teachers eh? Spreading the love on their terms in the 1980’s…..

11% though….Jesus… you probably get 8% for managing to spell your name without adding a number… Hmm… maybe my Dad was right all along.

The massive error of Judgment…

At a party one night in my late teens I decided that I would try to pull the girl everyone appeared to want to get hold of.

When I look back now I find the general fascination with her at the time ludicrous. She was a dull individual and not a patch on the girls I ended up having a great time with. She was vain, boring and arrogant but she looked the part at that moment. She went out with an utter prick from the year above. Easily smashable, a potential weeper with a city boy name.

During a brief hiatus between my teen fumblings I found myself without female companionship. At this party I realised she was without her hugely punchable ponce so I thought I’d give it a go. I’d talk to her, lay it on the line, open up, all that shit. What did I have to lose?

….Hmmm… ‘A lot’ was the answer to that conundrum as I made it clear that I was going to do it before I did so a small crowd had gathered to watch my imminent death…

I moved in. I looked into her eyes, held her hand and, as planned, laid it on the line.

Now in my life I’ve made a lot of women laugh and on some occasions it was deliberate. This wasn’t deliberate and I wasn’t even naked.

She pissed herself with such ferocity that I thought she was going to require an ambulance. I’d never seen a woman laugh like that at the time or since. I stood up, looked about at the assembled pointers and laughers and retired to trap one in the toilet where I sat with my head in my hands for an extended period wondering why the fuck I thought that would work.

I saw her in adulthood in Waitrose. We never spoke. She was dealing with a child I assume was hers and I was looking at a packet of Weetabix….Kids… The great leveller. She looked the same…Blond, arrogant and pompous. I’m over it, I believe she maybe also.

The arrogant lack of preparation

The best man’s speech.   Christ. I can barely type it. Sometimes I sit on the train and something reminds me of that speech and it chills my blood.

I am a trappy tosser. I know this, most people know this but a few years back I was an even trappier tosser. I was a monumental prick but I’ve mellowed. I’ve mellowed because you can’t maintain that level of bollocks forever. Now I’m just a bloke who thinks he’s mostly correct with a foul mouth….it’s a family thing..

It was during the monumental prick phase that our man in Hong Kong asked me to be his best man. I was honoured, and I swore to myself that I wouldn’t fuck it up or let him down.

The stag weekend went well. York for the races. I was in control. I got everyone there, I got us in the Hotel, such as it was, I got us to the racecourse, I held the whip for 72 hours, I dealt with the City Boy who wanted to buy some booze thief with a massive rack a bottle of Champagne from the our whip by simply repeating to him that it ‘isn’t going to happen’ and I pointed out the women pinching one off in a gutter in daylight whilst wearing a fascinator to the group. It was my job to do all this stuff and I stood up and did it….no problem…

In the run up to the wedding Jen started to ask me about the speech. She rightly suggested that perhaps I should plan it in some way. I took no notice. I’m funny right? Easy… just speak, make people laugh, I’ve been doing it for years…What could go wrong?

A lot went wrong.

The panic kicked in during the pre-reception drinks when I realised that I was in a state of advanced refreshment. In itself this wasn’t a problem as when you are pissed you are generally indestructible however on this occasion I was twisted and panicked which is a fatal combination. I also had people coming up to me to tell how great the speech was going to be because I was ‘hilarious’ and they ‘couldn’t wait’ which was adding to the pressure. In order to bluff my way through it I maintained a cocky persona throughout the meal. I had nothing but thought, wrongly, that by being a flash bastard I would be able to wing it. My only real hope would have been for everyone to be as mangled as I was but that was a long way off.

When the time came I stood up, soaked up the expectation, saw the smiling face set to ‘laugh’ and died on my feet. I didn’t freeze I simply delivered the most humourless, incoherent speech in the history of weddings. I forgot all the best man etiquette and just rambled on to absolutely no laughter and disappointed faces. At one point I was prompted by a bridesmaid who I disliked intensely and almost snapped back an insult. I didn’t though as even in that moment of comedic death I managed to maintain my fuckin’ professionalism.

At the end I sat down to muted applause and went full Rioja. I looked at Jen. She grimaced….hmm… no help there… I looked about and no one would hold my gaze bar The Wand who clapped long and hard in sympathy. Fair enough, I had no complaints, I had asked for the humiliation and I got it. Flashness took control of my brain and I fucked it up.   It haunts me to this day as Bun and the Welsh Princess deserved better than that. I’ll fix it one day.

These are just some examples. They still sit with me as moments of extreme embarrassment but nothing compares to the last one. This was my masterpiece, my Mona Lisa, the pinnacle…

The Pencil Thief

In 2001 I went on holiday to the Greek island of Rhodes. It was very, very hot but at that point we had no kids to worry about and could simply drink and relax and stuff. We had a lovely apartment and as it was in the days before IPod’s I had to take CD’s and a player with me which allowed me to sit on the terrace every night listening to low grade metal and the odd classic album while enjoying a cold beer.

In the apartment below was a young couple from Essex. They need names so let’s call them Joey and Belinda for the purposes of this retelling. Joey was all Oi! Oi! with a slightly lazy eye and Belinda was classic Essex blond with a ponytail and an eye drawing chest.

For some reason never heard of in Essex she appeared to be a fan of Seattle grungers Soundgarden. I’d been playing a lot of them on the terrace and so we got chatting. They seemed decent enough in a ‘holiday people’ kind of way so we arranged to meet in the bar for a beer.

Over the next week we got on famously and saw them almost every night for dinner or cocktails and even though they were eight or so years younger we genuinely had a laugh and I only embarrassed myself on one occasions when I was drunk and fell straight into a paddling pool fully clothed… we got over it together, we laughed, we were drunk. During the holiday they got engaged and bought us a Surf and Turf dinner in celebration…. Happy days….

And then we reached that moment of dread that we all have on holiday. The moment that nobody wants with the ‘holiday friends’. The ‘let’s catch up when we get back’ moment.

Now I’ve been here before. In Marbella years previously during another relationship I had a similar scenario where we got friendly with a couple of odd bods who happened to support the Arsenal. My other half at the time arranged that we would meet up for a game when we got back. We did, it was weird, they were dull and we never did it again.

Belinda asked me for a phone number as they were going to have an engagement party upon returning to some hovel in Essex and wanted us there as we were the first to know about the engagement. I was thrown by her genuine enthusiasm and so made a fatal mistake.

The key is this scenario is to pretend you want to be ‘Best Friends Forever’ and then hand over an incorrect phone number. There were no mobiles of note then so you could get away with this as they couldn’t check your number right there on the spot. Piece of piss. It’s also harder now due to social networking and general honesty but this was 2001 and we were scum, selfish scum with no kids. We were kid-free and had loads of kid-free mates so didn’t need these extra kid-free fuckers.

Even with all these things in my favour I inexplicably handed over my correct home number. They left happy and I imagined that they were merely a couple of plums who I’d never see or hear from again.

A month later, at home, the phone started to ring. It was a regular ring, so regular in fact that I started to let the answer phone deal with it.

One night the phone rang and I made the mistake of picking it up. It was Belinda. The party was arranged and we were to be the special guests, the ‘holiday mates’, the couple set for a ritual burning in a poorly assembled, Essex located Wicker Man. I went with it, I faked joy knowing that when she told me the date, whatever the date, I would be doing something, anything else and it would be impossible.

I delivered the bad news that we were completely unavailable for the weekend picked and that weekend alone, any other weekend but that one and you couldn’t stop me from coming if you tried. The phone went silent. I then I heard the crying.

For a minute I thought I may have been the fiancée and I’d called the wedding off. She cried a lot. She was distraught. I’m not great with crying ladies unless they have really got on my tits and made me punch the wall of a pub before I leave without looking over back ever again (that’s another story). She carried on crying and so I relented. We were going to a party in Essex and Jen and I had been given free accommodation so we could party all night with our holiday chums.

A week later Jen and I are driving to the venue in silence. The party was in a guest house owned by a relative. We park outside and Jen and I look at each other. We are helpless. No words are exchanged.

Belinda rushes out and we are now trapped….any potential broken down car scenario is now not viable. There is no escape as accommodation is assured. This is my social Alamo.

We enter the building where I meet the family and a completely uninterested Joey. He couldn’t give a toss. I had made plans for this in the form of 24 cans of Fosters which I intended to make a massive dent in at my earliest convenience.   If I had to attend a party where the only two people I knew were the focus and one of them wasn’t bothered that I was there then I needed to be pretty smashed.

After the initial introductions in the first hour Jen and I were pretty much on our own. Belinda occasionally came to speak to us but Joey wasn’t interested and who could blame him?

Jen and I were now booze hostages, too drunk to leave, too sober to realise our situation was hopeless. In order to deal with the situation I decided to up the ante by increasing my intake dramatically. No one to talk to, no reason not to fill my mouth with refreshing alcohol. Jen was alright. The kindred spirit of women, fussing and flocking together coupled with the fact that she can function in any environment saw her through it so she didn’t need me, I was a lone lager warrior striding through the rolling tundra that was a B&B engagement party on the flightpath near a roundabout in Essex.

Hour Three: I started slurring.

When you are drinking and know you are drunk you are in trouble. Crossed eyes, stumbling and waves of nausea should be a cue to stop but due to a mutual reluctance to get involved I cracked on while sitting on a chair next to a sub-standard, Spinal Tap inspired buffet.

Hour Four: Des Lynam is pissed…I know this as his face is blurred…

I find myself waking up in my room surrounded by empty cans with ‘Match of the Day’ on maximum volume. For some reason I have been placed in my room in order not to do anything even remotely embarrassing. I’m insulted. I now have a hangover during a piss up which is never good but I’m at a party and so initiate the famous ‘second wind’, in essence, I’m going back in…

I stumble through the door to Party Central to find that most people have left. Jen brings me to a table where I’m introduced to a series of the happy couple’s late arriving relatives. I slur a greeting and head for another can.

In the group I notice an obnoxiously pissed bloke that isn’t me. It’s Uncle Brian and he’s a postman. I’ve never liked postmen, a strange breed, year round shorts and militancy is a tinderbox of stupidity. I was also, at that time, a Post Office investigator but was dealing with other employees and not postmen. I stride towards him looking for the confrontation and luckily he’s up for it as only a Postman can be.

We get chatting in a low level aggressive way and the simmering tension is being noticed around the table and particularly by Jen. Finally we get around to our employer, we are kindred spirits working for the Queen of this realm and we need to talk about this a lot.

Straight off the bat he makes it clear that he cannot stand Post officer investigators. Not a problem… I fuckin hate postmen. We’re off and running and it gets heated fairly quickly. Jen starts to sweat. I see her looking at me even though she is in a conversation elsewhere on the table. She looks stressed. I give her the thumbs up to calm her nerves but all she does is furrow her brow, tighten her lips and shake her head furiously. I’m pissed but I’m still just about on the button and so in an attempt to reassure her I smile at her and nod slowly. I then slowly turn, like Regan’s head in ‘The Exorcist’, to Uncle Brian and while pointing an accusatory finger I spit out the following:

“You!!… Brian the Postman (I emphasise the ‘P’)… Have you ever stolen a post office pencil for your own use?..”

All chatter in the room abruptly stops….

“You what?” says the Pencil Thief.

“A pencil” says I. “Do you have a Post Office issue pencil anywhere in your house?”

“Probably” he concedes…..

“Aha!!… Thief!!!!….” and then I cautioned him. Right there at the table.

“Brian the Postman….you do not have to say anything but it may harm your no doubt insufficient defence If you do not mention when questioned by me (points at self) something which you (point at him) later rely on in court (points to heavens)…. Anything you do say may be used in e-v-i-d-e-n-c-e (I spell it out)….Do you understand? Brian? Understand?”

(..as a quick side story, I once interviewed a bloke at two in the morning in a Central London police station with a very drunk policeman. After directing the bad man and his equally bad solicitor to the interview room by saying “Let’s get it on!!” in an accent more akin to a cowboy, He started the interview like this:

“You do not have to say anything…(silence for a good 15 seconds as he forget the rest of the caution he’s been using for 29 years)…..Ever….”

Fear not Dear Reader… I got him back on track)

Anyway…. back to the story…

I am surrounded by open mouths, horror etched on their faces as they are witnesses to a social car crash. The only person not static is Jen who is hurtling around the table to extract me like a Special Forces operative grabbing someone chained to a radiator in a dark room….

I’m dragged off to our cell…. All the while I’m shouting “Thief!!…He’s a Thief Jen!!!” while pointing at Brian who screams back:

“I only borrowed it… so it can’t be theft you twat”

Victory was mine. He felt the need to explain himself….Ha!!! Another villain exposed… he has cracked.

Jen forcibly bundles me into the room. She mostly shuts the door and turns to our horrified hosts to attempt an apology however I take advantage of the crack in the door to thrust through an arm, point my finger in Uncle Brian’s general direction to shout ‘Thief!!’ once more.

I don’t recall the tirade Jen gave me in that room as I had now been taken by the Booze Monkey. I was in a bad, bad way and her words and insults were nothing compared to my trauma at that moment. Eventually I pass out completely oblivious to my actions and dream a dreamy dream.

The following morning I awoke in the toilet. It was clear that I had been expelling the poison all night and also clear that I was still expelling the poison. I drag myself to my feet and attempt to get myself together. I look bad and feel worse.

I pull on some clothes and head to where I hear noise. In the dining area I find Jen and her new Essex family eating breakfast. Only Jen speaks to me and even that is begrudgingly. I attempt a friendly ‘hello’ but no one gives a fuck, they just continue to consume, Egg, Bacon, mushrooms, sausages and…Ahhh… upon seeing this outstanding platter I get the 9 second warning that partially digested Lager expulsion is imminent and so I immediately turn and run for my toilet and the solace of yacking at a volume sure to put everyone off their pig based meat feast.

Two hours later than we had planned and I am finally in a state capable to leave. I have managed to make it out of the room to the front door on the strict condition from Jen that I simply smile and speak to no one.

We reach the sanctuary of the car and Jen fires up the engine.

Normally when you leave someone’s house after an overnight stay they remain on the doorstep, all smiles and waves. Of course they could be mumbling ‘fuck off tossers’ through shit eating grins but you don’t hear that as you’re in a car, all you see is happiness and joy.

We spin the car round and turn our fake smiling faces to the door. Nothing. Not one wave, not one smile, not one person. All we see is a closed door, a door that had been closed for a while. The symbolism is overpowering.

We head off in silence for 25 minutes. In minute 26 Jen bursts out laughing. She knows that deep down even though it was excruciatingly embarrassing it was funny. Deep down we have successfully avoided a ‘knees up Mother Brown’ Essex wedding and will never see these plums again. Deep down Jen knows I will be in the best man’s speech at a wedding we will never be allowed in set foot in and deep, deep down Uncle Brian nicked that fucking pencil making me the best investigator she knows and If I’d been given more time I could have had in ‘C’ wing before the end of the night.

We receive no more teary phone calls and we receive no heavy parchment envelope filled with miniature horse shoes and bells inviting us to a wedding with a Pencil Thief… I unselfishly threw myself under the embarrassment train for Jen to save us from a second death.

Remember: It’s not about me…it’s about them…The Others….

More crud when I return from all the tears and dark stuff…



4 thoughts on “..The Pencil Thief…

  1. Wotalaff. Funny happenings well told.


  2. johnJsills says:

    Utter genius.


  3. Frank says:

    What hits home Jonk is firstly in 1976 when you were having fun on stage I was starting work. And I had a great wedding despite my current circumstances but I thought the room is full of friends and family I will be able to get up and just wing the speech. This was a great mistake. Luckily I drank so much during the day the the crap speech paled into insignificance


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