Snow

Snow by Chris Green

It’s getting very cold. I wonder if it’s going to snow,’ the text message reads.

It’s an odd message and I do not recognise the number. But to get into the spirit of things I reply, ‘It’s only August.’

This appears to strike a chord because immediately I get a reply which reads, ‘Meet me in Providence Park by the lake in twenty minutes, the third seat in.’

I am now curious as to what this is about. Perhaps it is someone I know playing a prank. Perhaps not. But whatever it is, there is a sense of intrigue about it. As I am close by and not due to pick Hannah up from the hairdressers for an hour, I make my way along to the park. I approach the lake, trying to make the best use of the trees for cover. I don’t want to walk into some kind of trap. The third bench is the only one that is occupied. Beneath the fedora and dark glasses, the woman sitting there looks as though she might be quite attractive. Surely, there is no need for the overcoat at this time of year though. Curiosity gets the better of me. Throwing caution to the wind, I go across and say hello. She gestures for me to sit alongside her.

I think it is going to snow very soon,’ she says, deadpan, as she slides me a large brown envelope. With this, she gets up and leaves. I call after her, but it seems the lady is not for turning.

This appears to be textbook spy-spoof behaviour. Cloak and dagger stuff. With all the electronic media available, this cannot really be how espionage is carried out in this day and age. And what could it possibly have to do with me? Where would I fit into the clandestine world of the secret service? I’m a heating engineer.

The envelope contains a 12 by 8 black and white photo. A name, Grigoriy Zakharov. An address, 19 Len Deighton Drive. An instruction, use the Glock.

I am perplexed as I have never heard of Grigoriy Zakharov, have no idea where Len Deighton Drive is or even what town it is in, and as far as I can remember I don’t own a Glock, which as I understand it is some kind of handgun. There is not much need for small arms in central heating installation or boiler maintenance. Admittedly, since the downturn in the economy, money is tight and people are struggling to make ends meet. But we have not yet had to resort to such drastic measures to collect our fees.

If it’s not someone having a lark, it must be a case of mistaken identity. It’s easy to get a digit wrong when you are keying in a mobile phone number. I found myself talking to Ed Sheeran once. It turned out Ed didn’t need his Baxi combi-boiler serviced. I expect the woman who contacted me has by now realised she has slipped up. I don’t imagine I will hear any more about the matter. It would be too embarrassing for her to admit her mistake and contact me again. I feel it is sensible not to tell Hannah about the incident though. In case something is awry. I know if I mention it, she will worry. Hannah hates strange.

While I am sitting in the car outside Cutting Edge waiting for Hannah, I decide to change the CD in the car player. The Coldplay one has been in the player for several days. Perhaps we could have Snow Patrol instead. I am one of those old-fashioned people who has not yet embraced the digital revolution of in-car entertainment. For one thing, I have hundreds of CDs at home that I have paid good money for. What would I then do with them?

To my astonishment, in the front of the glove compartment instead of a selection of CDs, I find a gun. I don’t know much about guns. I’m more used to handling pumps and valves, but this matt black Glock pistol looks and feels like the real deal. The odd thing is, it somehow doesn’t seem out of place. It’s a scary idea, but it is almost as if I expected to find it in the glove compartment. My head is reeling with conflicting thoughts. Who, why and how? But speculation is difficult once logic goes out the window. I don’t have time to dwell on these matters. I need to conceal the gun before Hannah gets into the car.

Perhaps it is the sign of a skilled hairdresser, but Hannah’s hair looks exactly the same as when she went in. It never seems to look any different after her appointments. I tell her it looks lovely. I have learned it is always a good idea to compliment a woman emerging from the hairdressers on her coiffure.

Three text messages ping in quick succession on my phone as we are driving along Tambourine Way.

Shall I see who that is?’ Hannah says.

No,’ I say, trying hard not to show signs of panic. ‘I’ll pull in at the supermarket car park. We need a few bits and pieces, don’t we?’

I did the shopping first thing this morning. Don’t you remember?’ she says, giving me a quizzical look.

I come up a few things that weren’t on the list. Things that I know Hannah won’t have thought of. Garibaldi biscuits, Baby Bio, shaving soap, drawing pins, WD40, and Special Brew. The quizzical look morphs into a contemptuous look. I can tell she does not want to be doing this after an arduous hour or so at the hairdressers. If it comes to that, neither do I want to be doing it. There are better ways of spending a Saturday afternoon. But this is a situation that needs careful handling.

While I am getting a shopping bag out of the boot, I check the text messages. To my relief, they are all spam. But while I am looking for a more suitable place to hide the gun, I get an incoming call.

It is nearly September. Is it going to snow?’ the caller says. She does seem to want it to snow.

To pacify her, I tell her that it might still snow.

I do hope so,’ she says. ‘A lot of things depend on it. You won’t be able to ski if it doesn’t snow.’

Before I have the chance to respond, she ends the call.

Hannah says she will pop into the art supplies shop next door while I tackle the supermarket. This gives me breathing space to contemplate my course of action. Should I inform the police? Not such a good idea. While I still have the gun, this could easily backfire. Should I let Hannah in on what is going on? Probably not, if I can avoid it? Especially as I don’t have a clue what it is. At the supermarket checkout, I buy a new Sim card and put this into my phone. If my mobile phone is the perpetrator’s only means of contact, then this should be sufficient. If it is not, then who knows?

Hannah seems cheered by her visit to the art shop. She has several packages.

Let’s go to Mangia e Beve for lunch, Nick,’ she says. ‘Emma in the hairdressers says they do an excellent involtini di melanzane ripieni di uva passa, capperi e noci.’

Sounds complicated,’ I say. ‘What is it?’

Rolled aubergines stuffed with raisins, capers and walnuts,’ she says. ‘But I’m sure they will have some tasty meat dishes too.’

While I am still looking through the menu, the woman from the park comes in and sits down at a nearby table. She seems to have ditched the overcoat but is still wearing her hat and sunglasses. She looks across at me. It is not a happy, smiley look. I feel a chill run down my spine. She keys something into her phone and I receive a text message about the snow clouds forming. I’m not sure how this can be happening. How can she have found out the new number? It should be impossible. I suppose, in my confusion, I may have accidentally put the old Sim back into the phone and disposed of the new one. This is the kind of thing anyone might do when they are under stress. The message is followed by another, saying that unless it snows soon, there will be no tobogganing.

Hannah is busy texting one of her friends so I take the opportunity to google Grigoriy Zakharov. The only two matches it comes up with are a Soviet architect and a commodities trader from Minsk. Perhaps the world of international espionage has changed, but it would be stretching the imagination a little to think that spooks would be interested in this pair. Especially as according to Google, Grigoriy Zakharov the architect died in 1982. I can find no-one with that name closer to home. But, perhaps I ought not to expect there would be. The whole point of secret services is that they are secret. They operate undercover. If he were an agent, whoever Grigoriy Zakharov is would use a code name.

Having delivered her message, without further ceremony, my handler gets up to leave. But there is no reason to suspect that this means she is letting me off the hook. I get the impression she will keep appearing until the deed is done.

That was Rosie Parker from number 42,’ Hannah says. ‘She says there’s been a lot of strange activity outside our house. Men in dark suits and dark glasses getting in and out of black BMWs with tinted windows. She is worried one of them might have a gun. She wonders if we have any idea what might be going on.’

I decide that I have no choice but to come clean. I explain about the text messages concerning snow, the woman in the overcoat and dark glasses, the mysterious Grigoriy Zakharov, and the Glock pistol in the glove compartment.

You fool,’ she says. ‘What have you landed us in? If you had ignored the original message, none of this would be happening.’

We don’t know that,’ I say in my defence. ‘She does seem pretty persistent.’

So, how do you account for it, Nick?’ she says.

I don’t know,’ I say. ‘But it looks like we are in trouble.’

There is a protracted silence while Hannah seethes. I stare at the menu in the vain hope that by avoiding her gaze, the problem might somehow disappear.

I think I may have an idea about what has happened,’ Hannah says, finally.

You do?’ I say, looking up. Is she going to offer me a lifeline?’

Do you remember when we went to see that Tim Burton film at the multiplex?’ she says.

That was months ago,’ I say.

I know, but as we were leaving, you picked up a flyer about the new cold war thriller that the production company were planning to make. Don’t you remember?’

Vaguely,’ I say. ‘It was going to be based on an Ian McEwan novel.’

There was a competition in the flyer, wasn’t there?’ she says. ‘As I remember it, you had to answer questions about spy films, and this gave you the opportunity to become an extra in the film and have dinner out with the stars. It mentioned some of the ones they hoped to cast. Benedict Cumberbatch. Liam Neeson. Emily Blunt. Scarlett Johansson. ……. You didn’t happen to fill it in by any chance, did you?’

I may have,’ I say. ‘Now you come to mention it, I believe I did.’

Well, that explains it,’ she says. ‘You are slow on the uptake, you know, Nick. Don’t you see the connection? Snow. Cold. Cold War thriller. It all adds up. She couldn’t have given you more obvious clues. She’s telling you that you’ve won the competition. I expect they are ready to start shooting the film. This is probably your audition for the part. Perhaps it’s even part of the film.’

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

SOMEONE LEFT THE CAKE OUT IN THE RAIN – Making Sense of Sixties Songs

someoneleftthecakeoutintherain

SOMEONE LEFT THE CAKE OUT IN THE RAIN – Making Sense of Sixties Songs by Chris Green

BUS STOP

The number 22 bus is late. As I stand there waiting, I find the song, Bus Stop by The Hollies running through my head. Call me anal but I now want to try to understand the song’s bizarre lyrics. It is one of those songs that is so catchy I can still remember them all.

It is a wet day and the fellow singing, Allan Clarke, I believe, is waiting at the bus stop. A pretty girl comes along, well let’s assume for the point of argument that she is pretty. Allan doesn’t want her to get wet and spoil her new hairdo so he offers to share his umbrella. It is presumably a standard black umbrella as the song came out in the mid sixties before golf umbrellas and the like were commonplace. He leads us to believe that his gesture is chivalrous. But, he soon forces himself upon her and makes her miss the bus. Perhaps he has her pinned up against the wall. If so, how is he managing to do this and still keep the umbrella aloft? Perhaps she is struggling to get free so she can catch the bus but he is preventing her. What if she now gets the sack for being late for work? He doesn’t seem to care.

Every morning he finds her waiting at the stop, we discover from the chorus, so I suppose that her employer must have overlooked her lateness and is giving her another chance. Also, she must have forgiven Allan’s predatory advances from that first rainy day. Perhaps deep down she feels flattered by the attention. He tells us that some mornings she has already been to the shops and she shows him what she has bought. This cannot be a new outfit as clothes shops, or boutiques as they were called back then, would not be open so early. So, what is it she is showing him? Her bits and pieces from the corner shop? Perhaps she has bought a Reveille magazine and some Basildon Bond stationery from the newsagents.

The sun comes out we are told and the ice is melting and they no longer have to shelter. Hang on! Where did the ice come from? In the song, we are led to believe that all through the summer they employ the umbrella and by August she is his. This unseasonal cold snap is a bolt out of the blue, a big leap in the narrative. I think that this deserves more of an explanation, Allan. Perhaps you could ask Graham who wrote the song. Graham Gouldman, later of 10cc.

But, to move on, the other people in the queue are now staring at the pair as if they are, to quote the singer, quite insane. We cannot be sure why this is. It is left entirely to our imagination. I imagine Allan is probably getting the girl to do a silly dance or something or perhaps he is showing her how to turn the umbrella inside out. But, he goes on to say that everything turns out well because his umbrella leads him to a vow. Maybe he promises to stop whatever embarrassing shenanigans it is that has been causing the others to stare at them. Perhaps he has been having a battle with the bottle and has vowed to give up drinking and start going to meetings. We just don’t know.

He goes on to tell us that someday his name and the girl’s are going to be the same. This, to me, is the most puzzling line in the song. Is she perhaps going to change her name to Allan or is the singer going to start calling himself Helen or whatever the girl’s name is? This is not made clear. It could even be that they are planning to join a cult that requires you take on a communal name.

The number 22 bus finally comes along and my thoughts turn to counting the number of empty seats there are and guessing how many stops it will take to fill them.

MATTHEW AND SON

The Earth tilts on its axis by 23.5 degrees. I wish this were a smaller number. It is this ridiculous wobble that causes it to still be dark at eight in the morning towards the end of October. The blackness in the morning makes it harder to get up. As a result, I miss the eight twenty three commuter train which is going to make me late for work.

While I’m waiting for the next train, the eight fifty seven and hoping that no-one at work has noticed that I’m not in, Cat Stevens’ Matthew and Son, starts going round and round in my head. Cat’s sad protagonist has to be up eight. He can’t be late because Matthew and Son, won’t wait. Because Cat refers to Matthew and Son in the singular, I am left to speculate whether it is Matthew or the son who won’t wait. Perhaps Matthew is semi-retired and the son takes care of the day to day running of the business. Or perhaps the son is a lazy loafer who spends all his time on the golf course. Or it could be that Matthew and his son are both retired or even dead and that the old established firm is now run by a tyrannical manager.

I can’t help wondering if it might be a good idea for Cat’s fellow to be up a little earlier than eight as he, along with the other workers, has to run down to platform one to catch the eight thirty train. Half an hour does not give him much time for his shower and ablutions and he almost certainly will have had to leave the house without having his cornflakes. And then he still has to get to the station. Who knows, this might be half a mile? Perhaps he should set the alarm for seven thirty or even seven. Then he would not have to run for the train. He would be able to saunter down to the station listening to a pirate radio station on his little Japanese transistor radio.

The work’s never done, there’s always something new, Cat tells us. Well, surely this is the nature of most jobs, Cat. If there weren’t something new to do then there would be no need for so many staff. Matthew would be able to lay workers off and then where would they be. There are perhaps not many openings for clerical workers locally. For some reason, that is not adequately explained, the workers have to take the files to bed. Back then, these would not have been Word or Excel documents that they could peruse on their laptops but great big lever arch files that they would have had to lug home on the train.

Now we come to the killer line of the song. The workers are only allowed a five minute break. Just five minutes to drink a cup of cold coffee and eat a piece of cake. Why is the coffee cold we are left wondering and what kind of cake is it? Fruitcake? Victoria sponge? Battenburg perhaps. And who supplies the cake? Is this an overlooked aspect of Matthew and Son’s generosity that Cat with his socialist principles does not want to mention? After all, things can’t be that bad because Cat says that M and S have people who’ve been working there for fifty years and this without a pay rise. If things really are bad then perhaps it is because the workers do not appear to have a union to represent them and are all too timid to challenge the poor pay that they get. While one wants to think the best, it is difficult to have sympathy with workers that are that so lily-livered, especially as Cat tells us that all of them have huge rent arrears. I can’t help thinking that his protagonist should try and find another line of work before it’s too late.

My eight fifty seven train arrives, a mere thirteen minutes late and I am able to concentrate instead on the music the ruffian on the adjacent seat is playing on his phone. Slipknot, I believe it is.

WALKING THE DOG

Everyone on the Esplanade seems to be out walking their dogs today. There are people from all walks of life in all shapes and sizes walking their German Shepherds, Poodles, Labradors, Labradoodles, Collies, Retrievers, Spaniels and Jack Russells. I seem to be the only one without a dog but since Kimble ran away last November, I haven’t been able to face the idea of getting another one.

As I’m making my way past the clock-tower feeling a little left out, the lyrics of Rufus Thomas’s Walking the Dog start to creep into my head. Baby’s back, dressed in black, silver buttons all down her back. What on earth is Rufus on about? Is Baby the name of his dog? Is she perhaps black with silver markings on her back? High, low, tippy toe, she broke a needle and she can’t sew. What’s this got to do with dogs or dog walking? What does he mean, she can’t sew? Of course she can’t sew, she’s a dog. Rufus seems to have completely lost the plot. In the chorus he tells us, he’ll show us how to walk the dog but if the truth be told, his mind seems elsewhere. He should be concentrating making Baby familiar with a few simple commands as he’s taking her through the streets of downtown Memphis, not coming out with a lot of mumbo-jumbo. The dog will need some dog leash training. I found Tom Golfer’s Dog Training for Idiots to be very helpful when I was starting out with Kimble. Kimble was quite a large dog and Tom’s excellent primer instructed me in just about everything from the system of rewards that I should apply to the effective use of a choke chain on a busy thoroughfare.

The song continues with more jive talking. Rufus’s pooch isn’t going to respond favourably to any of that nonsense. Utter gibberish to a dog. Baby, if that really is the dog’s name, will be looking to Rufus, as her pack leader, to give cool clear direction as to how he wants her to behave. He needs to reinforce the basics like sit and heel. All this stuff about jumping so high and touching the sky and not getting back till the fourth of July. It will only confuse the poor animal. Yet again Rufus choruses that if we don’t know how to do it, he’ll show us how to walk the dog. I’m thinking he must be out of his head on drugs. How else can you explain his nonsensical dog walking ideas?

I’m coming up to the entrance to Kimble’s favourite park. I have to walk through the park to get to the shops. Another old sixties song is trying to come through now. The one about the park melting in the dark and the sweet green icing flowing down because someone left the cake out in the rain.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved