This month, Manchester fails to charm, silly season gets too silly, I have an old fart moan about students and the book comes slowly together.
Decamping to Manchester
So, Mr. Fanning and I decamped to Manchester. The reasons are too tedious to go into, but we’d planned to use the visit as a chance to consider the city as a future home.
The flight out was the first sign the visit wasn’t going to be an unqualified success. The plane cabin was blisteringly hot. All around, people wilted while fanning themselves with dog-eared in-flight safety cards. After twenty minutes, the captain came on to say he knew we were expiring from heat exhaustion, but he couldn’t do anything about it. I have to say, I detected a hint of smugness and imagined him shirtless in the cockpit being fanned by dusky maidens. He promised that when he switched on (is that the right term?) the engines, the airco would kick in. Grim mutterings spread through the passenger ranks, but as the majority of us were British, nothing was said.
Next to me, clearly enjoying the sub-tropical hell, sat someone distinctly Mexican. By this I mean his hair colouring and skin tone suggested more than a passing familiarity with Tacos not made somewhere in the EU by old El Paso. He was smiling at the in-flight magazine and sniffing. Yes, you read that right. Sniffing. And what do we all know about anyone Mexican who sniffs? Swine flu.
Fashioning a makeshift mask from an eye mask and ignoring furious looks from Mr fanning, I settled back and waited for take-off. With a roar and barely a puff of cool air, we left Amsterdam and the sunshine and headed into grey, heavy cloud.
‘It always rains in Manchester, you’ll see,’ I joked with Mr F.
So now onto another beef. In-flight catering on very short flights. One question. Why bother? There’s barely time to throw something pre-packed at the passengers and offer a drink before the cabin crew have to wrestle it back and insist tray tables are put away for landing.
KLM and a general beef
KLM have developed an intriguing idea to pass the time. In the place of actual food, they’ve introduced a handy party game involving six cream crackers. The somewhat student-like challenge is to consume them with no drink. If you manage, you’ll earn a paper cup of clear hot water called ‘tea’ into which you can pour powdered creamer.
I’d rather have three or four euros knocked off the price to be honest.
As the plane approached Manchester, me laddo next to me put up his hand for a boarding card. I can’t help but notice his name is Jose and indeed he hails from Mexico.
That’s it, I think.
Swine flu is mine.
Our hotel was pleasant, if somewhat urban in design, but the staff were pleasant enough. What’s more it had the most fabulous bath – which when you live in a tiny Amsterdam flat with only a shower is a BIG THING.
I wasted little time leaping in.
And so, onto the city itself.
I lived there for four years, in the late 90s, and loved the place. It was vibrant, artsy and welcoming. But dire urban planning has ripped all of this away. The city centre felt dark with every street closed in by towering blocks hiding the grey sky. Chain pubs offered discounts and happy hours. Angry young men tumbled from their doors, ready to fight. You felt that looking anyone in the eyes might cause them to lash out. In short, I hated my time there. Hated it. It no longer felt safe and I wept at how its heart had been torn out. Perhaps I should have stayed away. Now I wish I had.
And it did rain. Every freaking day.
Stop this, it’s all too silly
This summer saw newspapers filled with mock outrage over the replacement of leather-faced embarrassing auntie at a birthday party Arlene Phillips with wall-of-teeth personality-free zone Alesha Dickson.
Strictly Come Dancing, they claim is being dumbed down (current fashionable media term) to appeal to ‘the kids’.
As if any self-respecting 18-26 year-old would spend Saturday night watching has-been zelebs (another fashionable media term, I’m all about being in touch with the buzz) hot foot it round a dance floor.
‘The kids’ will be glued to the mindless crud on the other side – namely the X Factor or Pop Idol or whatever they call it these days. The one that used to feature that annoying leather-faced embarrassing auntie at a birthday party Sharon Osborne before she was replaced by … Oh, wait. Now I see a pattern.
My point being, really, who truly cares about the shelving of Arlene? Sure a whole host of previous contestants (mostly out of work actors and past-their-sell-by presenters) queued up to rent quotes to the BBC-hating Daily Mail. But I suspect this was more to get their faces into the papers again and remind casting directors that were alive more than to express solidarity for a squawking harpy?
And while I’m on, what is the fascination with Jack Tweed? Why any newspaper or magazine can be bothered wasting words on someone famous for living off an ignorant racist is beyond me.
Then there’s Peter and Katie. They’ll be back together soon enough. Rumour has it, they’ve already recorded their Christmas single.
Mo is a moany old git
And now for students. I preface this rant by admitting I used to be one. I’m absolutely certain that when I was one, I was insufferable, boorish and an all-round twat. But I’m not one now – student that is. I may or may not be all of the other things.
In Amsterdam, they’re everywhere. The summer is almost over and as one group leaves, another arrives. Almost universally blonde, tall, thin, with knee-high boots over thick-knitted tights, short skirts and whacky t-shirts. Fatties, non-whites and the disabled need not apply.
It’s the soriety girls and they’re busy cramming their vacuous souls into ramshackle houses around town.
Then there are the boys: pale shirts with dark blazers, designer jeans and pointy brown shoes. They must all have collar-length mousy-colored hair and it absolutely must be greased back.
They all look alike, move as one and represent everything that’s wrong with Dutch society. The lack of accountability is something I’ve harped on about for many a year, but now it seems original thought and individuality have left the agenda. Gone the same way as tolerance.
All the things the rest of us thought the Dutch were good at.
I do wonder if my growing older causes my weary rolling-eyed reactions. Am I guilty of ‘in my day’ syndrome? I remember when a night out involved nursing two pints at the pub, then back to halls or someone’s house to share a bottle or two of Thunderbird or cheap cider. If you were flush, you might get a curry.
Amsterdam student houses have deliveries from breweries. Barrels of beer and professional bar taps are delivered and set up. Food comes in bulk from top stores. Some of these houses have staffed kitchens and cleaning staff. All the future Dutch high-flyers need to do is drag battered sofas and chairs onto the pavement, block everyone’s way and get drunk in comfort, while smoking spitty fags and treating the entire street to rubbish music.
Then there’s the hazing. Brown pacamacs and orange water wings don’t strike me as funny. And seeing groups of supposedly intelligent people making collective fools of themselves while travelling in packs and performing secret chants saps the very life out of me.
And these are the people who will secure the best jobs, understand the secret handshakes and fly through the layers of corporate Holland in years to come. White, middle class, over privileged under-achievers. It depresses me more than I have words to explain.
On the plus side, they’ll make wonderful characters for a novel and having spent hours observing the silver-spooned faces compete for attention, I think I’m ready to use them in something soon.
The Write Stuff
So to the writing. With a third draft finished and a few working titles rattling round my brain. I’m onto the next edit. This one is the vicious one. The first draft is the raw material. The second is to check logistics, timelines and make sure there’s no plot holes or people changing names, hair colour or personality. This draft is the polish. Now I’m printing it out and attacking it with a red pen.
This weekend Mr. Fanning and I drop out of the rat race for a week in Northern France. Miles from anyone, living in fields, surrounded by cows and horses. I can’t wait.
And a quick thank you to everyone who asked after the clumsy canine. He’s much better now. Three months on, he’s stopped limping and can manage stairs again. Now there’s just the hearing loss to worry over.