The Tale of The Loose Canary

Every pub-dwelling male drinker worth his salt has a ‘go to’story.

It is the story that is pulled out when the alcohol consumption of the collective is at its most euphoric; the cornerstone anecdote to any lager-swilling raconteur’s portfolio. It has been retold so many times that each embellishment of the story-line blurs the distinction between fact and fiction further.  Every recount will indubitably have the audience captivated; enraptured by every word reciprocated for the umpteenth time. My ‘go to’ story has always been The Tale of The Loose Canary.

Don’t be fooled by the vanilla description of the title.There is a canary in the narrative but it only serves to masquerade the truehorror that unfolded that fateful evening; a sequence of events so improbablethat it makes the odds of human existence at 4 trillion to one look like a safebet.

It had all started so innocently. The grand re-opening ofMilton Keynes’ seminal nightspot had drawn a small spattering of desperate nightclubgoers to The Empire disco. The refurbish dance-floor appeared vacuous as ahandful of middle-aged women bobbed rhythmically to new romantic classics. Ihad been asked to attend this landmark social function by a friend and acollection of his football associates who were atypically loud, raucous anddistinctly unchivalrous to the opposite sex. This was going to be a long night– and prophetically I was proved right.

Adopting my standardised pose of leaning rigidly against a post on the periphery of the dance-floor, I was alerted by one my new found acquaintances that I may caught the attention of a woman across the other side of the room.

“Ere, that bird fancies you!” I was reliably informed. Imade my first mistake that evening by inquiring as to who he was referring to.

“That one in the red. The one that looks like a horse”Unfortunately he was right on both counts. “I’ll go get ‘er for you”.

My body automatically tensed defensively in preparation forthe awkward conversation that would inevitably follow. We were pushed togetherunceremoniously by our match-making intermediary in the expectation thatfireworks would soon follow. Shortly after exhausting my full repertoire ofsmall talk, another woman appeared out of the ether.

“Hi, can I have a quick word with you?” She pulled me to oneside. “Just to let you know that my friend is married with two kids. You don’twant to go with her”

Thank God!! I had been presented with a way out of thispredicament without the need to pretend to go to the toilet and never comeback. My saviour then changed the course of my night and thus my keystoneanecdote was born “You’ll want to come with me”

In an act of spontaneous hedonism never to be repeated Iagreed to the proposal. We discreetly left the club without arousing anysuspicion and jumped in a waiting Hackney cab. A short conversation followedand it was soon established that we were going to her house. She also informedme that she had no money for the taxi and desperately needed a packet ofmenthol cigarettes. Before I could respond chivalrously and offer to pick upany financial impediment incurred by our act of decadence,

 I was offered a veryparticular sexual favour for the purchase of the minty cancer sticks. I can’t rememberif I agreed to the terms of the transaction before or after I realised thisentire conversation was being picked up the microphone in the back of the cab.I could never use Skyline Taxis again.

Once back at her house and with a packet of green BerkleySuperkings firmly clasped in her hand, I was ushered quickly in to the livingroom and pushed back on to the sofa. This whole evening had a very unrealfeeling to it and I wasn’t going to start craving reality just yet. After a fewminutes of what can only be described as ‘pawing’, something caught my eyehanging pride of place centrally on the adjacent wall. From its outline I couldsee that it was either a plaque or a coat of arms and I fortuitously let myintrigue take over my base animal instincts on the sofa. As I cautiouslyapproached the wall, the form began to look distinctly familiar. Throughsquinted eyes I could just make out the motto embossed at its base. InstinctivelyI froze in horror and my defence mechanisms whirred in to action for the secondtime that evening.

Who Dares Win

“You’re married!?! You’re married to someone in the SAS?!” Isquealed.

“Try not to raise your voice too loud or you’ll wake up thekids” was her informative retort. They’ve got kids?! What had I got myself into?

I began surveying my immediate surroundings and stopped deadon the picture resting pride of place on the sideboard. The photo was of a verytall, strong and no doubt resourceful man clad in black uniform and nursingwhat appeared to be a very particular brand of assault rifle.

“It’s ok. He’s away a lot of the year and I have my needs”.

Before I could utter another word of disbelief there was avery loud knock at the door. Surely it couldn’t be my new military eliteadversary? He’d at least have a key or swing through the living room window ona rope in full fatigues.

“It’s my mate!! Quick, go and hide in the room at the top ofthe stairs!” I was ordered. I could make out the shape of my equine featuredfriend from earlier in the evening through the smoked glass in the front door.I stealthily made my way up the stairs and slowly opened a bedroom door.Suddenly a night light was turned on and two innocent little faces sleepilytried to work out who had woken them from their slumber. Before I could thinkof how to formally introduce myself to these weary cherubs, their Mum returnedwith some frightful news.

“She’s locked herself out so I have told her she can crashhere tonight. She’s going to sleep on the sofa” I was trapped in this surrealpantomime until at least the morning. Reluctantly and still wearing every lastpiece of clothing I had worn that night I got in to bed with Mrs Elite Forcesand her two bewildered children, adopting the foetal position and facing thewall.

After an extremely disjointed night’s sleep, I awoke at thebreak of daylight to some extremely loud snoring. There, asleep on the flooradjacent to the bed, was a Great Dane that had somehow proved very elusive thenight before despite being the size of a small horse. I sat up in bed to furtherassess the chaos that was unravelling in front of me. As a final act ofdisregard for order and normality, a yellow canary appeared flying skittishlyaround the bedroom freely before landing gracefully on the frame of the bed. Myinaugural act of hedonistic behaviour had led me to a suburban family bedroom,surrounding by a menagerie and had me asking far-reaching questions about mysanity. This nightmare took one final turn for the worse.

I could hear footsteps coming up the stairs; each onegetting louder as they neared the bedroom door. The sound of my heart poundingwas drowning out the snoring emitting from the comatose giant. I had to takeevasive action or Shergar would find out that I had left the nightclub with herbest friend. Considering every last inch of the bedroom was now consumed by amultitude of different species, the only option I could see was to hidecowardly behind the bedroom door.

As the door swung upon I took a deep breath to make myselfas slender as possible. I needed had bothered. The door was immediately closedto ensure that the feral canary was contained to just the one room and I wasreunited with the woman I had absconded from approximately ten hours ago.

“Oh, hi!” I inanely babbled.

“What the hell are you doing here??” was the instantaneousand sharp response.

My makeshift family went downstairs and I was left to facethe music alone. I manufactured some unbelievable story that was as unrealisticas the events that had just unfolded in front of me the night before. Regardless,my long faced friend decided to take full advantage of this opportunity aloneand tried to kiss me. This madness needed to stop and I had to escape thisirrationality. I went downstairs and proclaimed that I had to leave. For somereason unbeknown to me I made the excuse that I had arranged an impromptuSunday morning driving lesson, despite the fact that I was obviously at least threetimes over the limit.

Whilst I was waiting for my [non-Skyline] taxi to arrive Iwas formally introduced to the rest of the family.

“Kids, this is Uncle Marky and he will be taking us to theBeefeater soon. There’s an indoor play area there” The children exhaled anaudible sign of genuine excitement. “Yay!!”

My taxi took what felt like an eternity to arrive. As itpulled away from the house, I looked back through the rear window at the threebedroom terrace that had provided the backdrop to my adversity, in sheerdisbelief as to the events that had transpired that night. My perception ofreality was being severely interrogated.

What I did know for certain is was that there was nevergoing to be that visit to a mid-priced steak restaurant with adjoining softplay area and I was never going to see recompense for that packet of twentygreen Berkley Superkings. But what I did now possess was a timeless story thatwould forever be my ‘go to’ tale.

The Room-mate From Hull

The transition from Secondary school to University can be atraumatic experience. Especially when all your applications have been rejectedand you are scouring the ‘Clearing’ pages of Ceefax daily, frantically tryingto find somewhere/anywhere desperate to make up their numbers.

I did have an unconditional acceptance letter from theUniversity of Exeter, but it turned out to be a meticulously concocted April Fool’sjoke by a group of close ‘friends’. I eventually worked out it was fraudulentafter noticing that I had to meet in the “Adam Chapman Memorial Building” namedsuccinctly after the school bully who tormented me on a frequent basis – butnot before I had done a celebratory jig around the living room.

I eventually found a further educational establishment thatwanted [needed] me [my money]. The success criteria for acceptance were thatyou needed to have a pulse and have intermittent access to an HB pencil. I wasoff to the hedonistic heights of Hull.

Due to the late nature of my application, findingaccommodation proved extremely difficult. A local letting agent finally foundme a place in a block of flats – a six bedroom apartment that was built tohouse seven students. I was aged 18, heading to a city where the entire malepopulous sported a wispy moustache and now I was going to have to share a roomwith a complete stranger. That stranger’s name was ‘Johnjo’.

Johnjo is the walking embodiment that intelligence andcommon sense are inversely proportionate. My first impression of him couldn’thave been further from the truth. Prior to leaving for University, this politeand extremely well-spoken Yorkshire man had rung me at home and pleasantlyintroduced himself as my new room-mate. He had the presence of mind to inquireas to what I was taking with me so that between us we could equip our livingquarters for the next year with everything we would need without duplication. Ilater found out that his Mum had been whispering instructions verbatim in tohis ear throughout the entire duration of that call.

September arrived and the start of the academic year wasafoot. I arrived in Hull with all my worldly belongings dumped unceremoniouslyin to a large chequered laundry bag. Waiting eagerly for me at the top of thestairs at the entrance to the flat was Johnjo. Bounding on the spot like aspringer spaniel waiting for his master to throw a soggy tennis ball, heexcitedly thrust out his hand and uttered the immortal words “Hi, I’m John andI’m a little bit stupid.” Good God. That phoney offer from the University OfExeter suddenly seemed very appealing.

Now, I have to be extremely careful how far I tap in to theinfinite seam of Johnjo stories that ensued over the subsequent three years ofacademia for fear of starting an avalanche of idiocy.

Johnjo was an enigma. Due to his apparent detachment fromreality, his life skills at aged 18 were non-existent. For tea every night hewould cook a jacket potato in the microwave and then place it centrally in a seaof baked beans on a plate. It was a dish of such culinary aesthetic that it wasaffectionately referred to as ‘Potato Island’. He once accidentally knocked apot plant in to his bed and then subsequently slept in soil laden bed linen fora number of weeks. He rejected the romantic advances of a fellow studentclaiming that he had no clean pants for the morning and needed to do somelate-night hand-washing in the sink. The picture builds.

But one thing Johnjo had going for him in abundance was his passionfor the arts. Grade nine violin player and a keen amateur dramatist, he joinedthe orchestra and drama club on his immediate arrival at university. Johnjo wasvery keen to segregate his artistic pursuits from the rest of his student lifeand kept details of all his performances clandestinely to himself. That wasuntil I found a flyer in our shared room detailing the time and place of hisnext dramatic project. As a collective group of flat-mates, we were all on verygood terms so I thought it’d be nice if we attended this particular showtogether, as a surprise for Johnjo – and it certainly proved to be exactlythat.

The play was about a doomed warplane shot down during theWorld War Two and focused on the emotive dialogue between the pilot and thecontrol tower, both of whom knew that there was only going to one fatally sadending. I collected a programme from the foyer and flicked through briskly tosee which role Johnjo was playing. He was to play a General in the Air Forcepresent in the control tower. Strong, authoritative with a diligent sense ofprotocol and procedure, his character was written in to the play to convey asense of reason to balance the emotion unfolding over the airwaves. I usheredmy flat-mates eagerly in to the auditorium and we took our seats in the frontrow.

There before us were the entire cast, stood in theirunderwear and each with a potato sack over their heads. Neatly placed in frontof them were their costumes. All of the actors in turn removed the sack fromtheir heads, eyes firmly staring at the back of the room and thensystematically got dressed for the performance with military precision. All apartfrom one.

Johnjo took off his potato sack and instead of adhering tothe instruction to keep his eyes away from the audience he immediately caught aglimpse of a row of now familiar faces staring directly at him. The sense ofpanic was palpable. He picked up the pair of black, sharply pressed trousers infront of him and immediately put his left leg in to the hole for the right leg.After almost taking an immediate tumble, he steadied himself and managed tonavigate each leg in to the appropriate hole. It only got worse from there.

The army shirt laden with stripes and medals denoting rankwas buttoned up incorrectly where it was totally askew at the bottom and therewas a large hole exposing his belly button. A stage-hand had to be beckoned into the unfolding drama so that the cuff links could be administered after fourfailed attempts. From recollection, I believe Johnjo performed the entire playbarefoot as putting on the standard issue air force footwear would have broughtthe whole performance to its knees. The rest of the show passed mainly withoutfurther incident and we all gave him a celebratory [empathetic] slap on theback at the end.

From this point, Johnjo was a lot more careful aboutreleasing details of his extra-curricular activities. We found out a day toolate that he had played a gay Widow Twanky with Tourette’s in the drama clubChristmas pantomime. Despite this, Johnjo continued to provide a wealth ofcomic relief throughout our academic tenure in Hull, almost exclusively withouttrying – more than enough to keep this blog going for a little longer…

Panic! At the Disco

To say I have been unlucky with the fairer sex is a grossunderstatement.

My first proper girlfriend had me sussed right from the wordgo.

 “You remind me of theIrish actor off the telly.” Who could she mean after only knowing me for onedate? That immediately set my mind racing.

I started listing the cream of the quintessentially handsomeIrish A-Listers. “Colin Farrell? Liam Neeson? Pierce Brosnan?”

“No. You know the one I mean – Father Ted’s little vicarmate”

Not surprisingly, we didn’t last longer than a couple ofawkward and nervous months. In a time before mobile phones, I suffered theindignity of being dumped via Royal Mail as she didn’t have the heart to do itin to my doleful, puppy eyes. I had the further humiliation of having to walk around trip of four miles to the Post Office and the payment of a postage fine as she failed to put astamp on the letter. If you ever needed validation, the cost of a broken heartis £2.57.

Even if I managed to summon confidence around women,invariably through the use of medium strength European lager, I would often bebeset with the most unusual and tragic turn of events. Exemplifying thisperfectly would be the time I had a very pretty girl approach me randomly in acrowded pub. Within a few short minutes of small talk we shared a very quick,yet passionate kiss. The effects of the European lager took its toll and I hadto make a quick and inopportune pit-stop at the urinals. On my return, a quickscan of the pub had found my potential new love interest on the other side ofthe room to where I had left her. I immediately made a bee-line for her andprobably used some cheap line like “Now where were we..?” We began kissing.

Suddenly, I felt a very sharp finger prodding deep in to my clavicle.A vaguely familiar voice, with a suitably more aggressive tone was demanding toknow “What were we both playing at?” Completely confused and bewildered Islowly turned around and immediately felt the blood drain from my face.

I demand to know the odds of meeting two identically twingirls independently on a night out in The Castle pub in East Acton and themboth showing  an interest in me. Scoldingeach other as they left, I was quickly returned to that familiar state of beingalone. There has to be a pun here somewhere. Maybe “A bird in the hand is worthtwo in a pub near Shepherds’ Bush”?

At the turn of the millennium, I was still single and desperately trying to improve my odds of meeting someone by being in a place of social merriment every Friday and Saturday night – usually standing there waiting for something to happen. This next tale of misfortune was no exception. At the disco after an impromptu comedy night, a very mysterious woman suddenly appeared at my side and asked very meekly if I wanted to dance. The advent of the new millennia had brought with it a conveyor belt of ballads from boy-bands and one began to play as we moved succinctly towards the dance-floor.

It was very quickly obvious than neither of us were particularly rhythmic but that didn’t appear to matter. As we danced closely with our heads resting on each other’s shoulders my thoughts quickly turned to wanting to get to know more about this woman who had just dropped in to my life from seemingly nowhere. Brand new century; brand new luck!

We allowed ourselves the luxury of starting to dance to asecond manufactured pop song, no doubt smiling as we swayed. Then somethingsuddenly caught my eye. Across the room, I could see a very attractive girl subtlywaving her hand trying to catch someone’s attention. Surely it wasn’t me – shecould clearly see I was busy. She came closer and in to my immediate eye-line.It was me she was trying toattract! “Hi! I’m really sorry to bother you. Do you mind if I had a quickword?”

This was unbelievable! Torn between leaving this enigmaticwoman who I had shared seven minutes of intense, close quarter dancing with andgetting to know a clearly very beautiful woman, I made some awkward excuse tosuspend the dance and was led to the edge of the dance-floor. I could seeexactly how stunning she was now we had left the gloomy light and cigarettesmoke that had enveloped the dance-floor.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I saw you on the dance-floor andI just wanted to ask you if you knew what you were doing?” To be honest, Ididn’t. It was an extreme rarity for me to be in a position where I actuallyhad a choice! I was desperately trying to think of a retort that was bothintelligible and didn’t sound too desperate. Before I could utter a line ofinfinite suave, like “No, but I do now!” I was cut short with the chillingtruth.

“I just wanted to make sure you knew that was a man you weredancing with”

And just like that *[insert imaginary click of the fingers here]* I was back to familiar surroundings -awkwardly leaning against the bar, nursing a now warm pint of lager waiting forpotential love to fall in to my lap. Only this time a man in a Dorothy Perkinsblouse, pedal-pushers and polka dot wedges was waving desperately at me acrossthe dance-floor.

At least I knew I had a Plan B if my luck with the fairersex didn’t improve.