Having the house to myself and thinking to effect an overdue reconciliation with combative hack bombshell Pippa Tregaskis after that unpleasantness last June, I tentatively invited her to come over for an afternoon tipple and some audio entertainment on my newly rigged-up hand-operated copper-plated original Blötzmann Mk III turntable, which I’d won at auction. To my surprise, she accepted.
Pippa arrived giftless which was the first blow, I’d been foolishly counting on her to supply some non-Aldi wine. But it was not to be so I poured the Toro Loco Tempranillo (£3.79, “astonishingly good considering tax and other costs leave only a few pence for the wine itself” – The Guardian) and bade her sit on the good armchair while I attended to the Blötzmann. Nervous of her penetrating gaze (she had not yet uttered a word, and her Samurai stilettoes were particularly edgy today) I bodged it and instead of inserting the immaculately on-trend LP Stafford Prance Plays Bach I accidentally started up Pedigree Mongrel, a new album in which Jonathan Meades reads excerpts of his books over an experimental soundscape created by Mordant Music.
I’d no sooner realised my mistake than Pippa was up and across the room. With no time for me to raise a protective hand the arcing spume of expertly-flung Tempranillo sloshed directly into my face and was still dribbling warmly into my shirt when the door crashed behind her, the torrent of expletive-riddled abuse fading out just ahead of the furious clacking of her shoes down Two Mile Hill.
Stunned, I barely took in most of the first side of Pedigree Mongrel other than an osmotic consciousness of hurtful guitar feedback, burpy bleeps and JM’s familiar lecture voice, but at around the 22 minute mark it got quite groovy, with a bass thump coming in under an archetypal Meadesian incantation of broken things (‘abandoned chemical drums…. abandoned cooking oil drums…. abandoned washing-machine drums…. squashed feathers, tidal mud’) and I started to feel a bit better.
I put on Side B (‘The Side You Dressed On’) which turned out to consist largely of extracts from JM’s filthy-minded novel Pompey and I felt better still, even laughing aloud when after a quiet lull Meades suddenly announces, a propos of nothing, ‘His big toe is like a penis’. And then a bit later, ‘Mick Jagger’s face is a map of WH Auden’s balls.’
So I put on Side A again, to listen properly, and this time (not helped by the Toro Loco, I suppose) I succumbed to the third of the three states invariably induced by exposure to Meades. I had been through (1) Bewilderment, then (2) Hilarity, and now finally came (3) Solipsistic Gloom. For what is Jonathan Meades? He is an artist who makes the familiar world alien through the power and unexpectedness of his words. He is an observer wholly and irrevocably drained of illusion, like the most awful bits of Larkin or the eyes of actor Bill Murray. He is an opiner whose judgements are so formidable that they sidestep logic and flatten contradiction by brute force. He is an Original. And what am I? A masher-upper, a keen-to-pleaser, a born Catholic with a High Anglican sensibility who outsources his vocabulary to online thesauri and can’t even make up his mind about most things. As for Original, even fictive hack Pippa Tregaskis was stolen, and from Meades too.
Thankfully, though, it soon passed, and I went out to make a cup of tea.
Pedigree Mongrel is perfectly real and it will be released on 9 April 2015. There are 500 vinyl copies at £14.99 and 15 special edition copies at £50. Each copy comes with a digital download code. See the Test Centre website for more information and pre-orders.
One of the many things I can’t make up my mind about is whether the Richard III reburial was Britain at its best or at its silliest. Probably both. However, I changed channels when Benedict Cumberbatch appeared and started reading from a lectern. That was going TOO FAR.
The name ‘Andrew’ is languishing down at number 96 in the 2014 list of most popular boys’ baby names, but in gatherings of males of my generation you can’t move for Andys. This was literally the case the other week when I went to a whisky-tasting evening at the home of Andy, one of the dads from my eldest daughter’s class. When I entered Andy’s kitchen there stood drinking bottled beer his Moldovan business partner Vlad and four other guests, all of whom were called Andy. When Andy then introduced me as ‘Andy’ Vlad slapped his forehead and said ‘Oh you are keedding me, man.’ ‘At least it makes remembering easy,’ we joked, and repeated it many more times as further men entered, more or often than not also called Andy. The name will presumably soon mark us as being of a decidedly uncool age, like Keith or Barry does now.
We lined up in a row against the kitchen worktop, an undulating Andys mountain range. It was vaguely humiliating, then eventually funny. We drank beer, ate viciously salty homemade KFC and bullshitted freely about the whiskies, then all trooped out into the field at the back of Andy’s house where we built a huge, face-meltingly hot bonfire and grunted ‘Andy, Andy’ at the flames until our taxis came.
More Andys, though diluted this time with Daves, Ians, Debbies, Amandas etc, at a 40th birthday disco party. It was fancy dress. My girls were so utterly terrified of my Teen Wolf costume that when I announced that the time had come to don it they shut themselves in their room and cowered in a quivering embrace by the wardrobe, occasionally venturing to the doorway to call out things like: ‘Which room is Daddy in now?’ and ‘Has Daddy gone yet?’ An answer in the negative sent them shrieking back to their corner.
Indeed, earlier a single glimpse of one of the Teen Wolf’s hands – a scary, hairy glove – had been enough to send C into a blue funk. ‘It’s not real!’ I called after her rapidly disappearing form. Then said to myself: ‘It’s just a plastic hand, after all.’ Though it was, admittedly, a pretty damn frightening plastic hand, with long yellow nails and a horrid clump of brown hair. I could see their point.
Late at night, after the party, I staggered into the house and dumped my costume on the floor of the family room. Luckily I woke early and was able to hide it away before the girls came across it. But as I put the wig and beard and baseball jacket into their bag, I realised that one of the gloves was missing.
It’s still out there somewhere. God knows where. So if you see something pink and yellow and hairy and frightening lurking in some godforsaken corner of Bristol, be not afeard, t’will do ye no harm. Nor muckle ye no muckles, for hark, ‘tis only the Hand of the Teen Wolf.