Picture this. A small, scratched round table and three men variously stooped over it, the right height for it, or looking up to its surface covered in pints of mild and bags of smoky bacon crisps. Big Wardell, Boner and Jimmy-San. Three epicureans. Three knights of the, er, round table. Three plonkers in a pub.
Thursday night, or Sharing Thursday as Boner kept insisting they call it, was the night they gave over to the art of conversation – as opposed to all the other nights when they sat in exactly the same place in companionable silence without feeling any need at all to speak. Big Wardell and Jimmy-San generally liked those nights better – the silent ones – but Boner was a pushy fucker and he did keep insisting that talking was good for you. His latest therapist, in a long line of therapists, had told him so.
Big Wardell (as giant and sweet as a honey-filled bear, with just as few words) and Jimmy-San (goldfish aficionado and devotee of all things Japanese) knew how this went. Boner shared a story, Jimmy-San shared a story and - well, so far, Big Wardell had shared bugger all. Nada, nothing, diddly squat. Sharing wasn’t Big Wardell’s thing. Expansive silence was.
“Go on then”, said Jimmy-San. “Get it over with, Boner.” Jimmy-San shuffled on his stool, his little legs swinging just above the cross bar. In his head, he was already rehearsing tonight’s story. He’d thought this might finally be the time to share the years he’d spent as a football mascot – his fighting days he liked to think of them – but to share this, he would also have to reveal the costume he’d had to wear. And to be perfectly honest, he wasn’t ready for that.
He shook his head to clear the images of grown men doing battle in animal costumes (size extra small in his case), synthetic fur flying on manicured pitches. The good-natured jeering of the crowd, the hauling off down the tunnel (comedy animal feet dragging in the dirt), the fines for the club – back paid from his wages. He did like a fight, did Jimmy-San; but in retrospect, it probably hadn’t been all that worth it.
Boner coughed, rounded shoulders sloping even further downwards. A man wearing failure comfortably, if failure was a thin man with sloping shoulders, the occasional, inadvertent erection and an uncanny ability to state the obvious. “So we’re in the pub.” Yes we are, Boner, yes we are.
“I’m about to start the story I’m sharing tonight.” Boner continued and Jimmy-San and Big Wardell sighed. “You’ll like this one. It’s all about how I got my name.”
When I was a young lad, I was known for my prowess at running. I aced every race I ran - all the way through primary school and in the early years of secondary school. But as the years went by and the other boys got more muscular, I lost more races. Maybe my physique changed less – I was skinny and I am skinny. Anyway, I stopped being able to beat the power that muscle brings and it made me feel really, really bad.
In the autumn term of my year 10, the school was putting on a sponsored run – as many laps as you could do of the school field in as fast as time as you could make it. Everyone would be watching and it was for a good cause (the school gym equipment and likely the PE teachers’ Christmas pub crawl, if the rumours were to be believed!) and I couldn’t bear to lose again.
A few days before, they’d set out the field with posts at various points to act as markers. I figured that if I ran on the inside of these posts, as opposed to round their outside, I could cut valuable seconds off the timing of my laps. I reckoned too that wearing the most streamlined clothes would let me cut through the air as cleanly as a newly sharpened knife. I borrowed my big brother, Clint’s, football kit and though I had to keep hitching the shorts up and the seam by my crotch looked in danger of splitting, I felt I had a good chance of beating everyone.
And you know, I did win! Magnificently and categorically. Tearing from post to post, cutting corners on the posts’ insides, far enough away for anyone to notice what I was doing. And to be frank, can having a smart idea to better your time actually be classed as cheating?
It was wonderful – everyone cheering me, laughing with happiness at the grace of my running style. And they noticed my wonderful, skinny physique, resplendent in my brother’s big shorts. They didn’t use my actual name, but the name I’ve been known by from that day on – “Boner”, they shouted, “Boner.” A simple nickname that stuck, celebrating my beautiful, noticeable bones.
A funny thing, though, and I wouldn’t let everyone into this detail, but when I went to the gents after the run, I noticed my penis was dangling (waving, if you will) out of the split seam of Clint’s shorts. Phew, I remember thinking – thank goodness they were so busy looking at my bones that they never noticed my trouser snake.
In the pub, a look of understanding passed between Jimmy-San and Big Wardell – a look they hoped Boner didn’t notice. Poor, poor, deluded Boner.
“Oh well, onwards and upwards”, said Jimmy-San, “let me take you to the Land of the Rising Sun.”
Street fighting man
Now, as anyone who knows me knows – I do like a fight. And I live by a simple code – if I am disrespected, I in turn, disrespect the aforementioned disrespecter. I do have other strands to my code – which in the interests of sharing (for is that not what we’re doing here tonight?), I will make you privy to – never fuck with a chinchilla; my cat is so satanic, I don’t call him, I invoke him; and know above all, I hate any music that includes the playing of a flute.
One of my best fights happened in Japan, Tokyo to be precise where I’d gone for a two week holiday. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m covered in tattoos – a collection I’ve been developing for the last thirty years at least.
I know you think I’m a connoisseur of all things Japanese, but what I didn’t factor in was how much offence the yakuza might take to my tattoos. In the world of the yakuza, tattoos are earned and traded for services rendered. Dragons, flowers and tigers created by sticks of bamboo, and needles attached by silk thread. The needles are pushed into the skin manually, two strokes a second. Hand-poking, it’s known as.
Anyway, yakuza tattoos are very secret and even though they can cover most of the body, they’re rarely revealed. Well, I wasn’t to know this as I sat, stark bollock naked in a bath house – legs, arms and everything else akimbo.
It was clear from the get go that the two men who approached me weren’t happy. I met their unhappiness in my usual way – fists up, legs bent in a toad-like squat. Fighting stance activated.
Their English was better than my Japanese and before I let them have it, the peace negotiations (never say I’m not a reasonable man) went something like this.
“No, fuck you.”
“No, fuck you.”
Then, we threw down. It wasn’t pretty – particularly the part when we took it outside and I bit off one of the men’s fingers. And swallowed it. Well, what else could I have done? It was too chewy to spit out with any panache, so I necked it.
What I didn’t know at the time was I’d done the guy a favour. The cutting off a finger shows respect and remorse to a yakuza boss, and the guy with four digits on his left hand would be able to dine out on that story for months.
Unfortunately, sitting on the toilet at the airport waiting to be both deported and to pass the finger, dining out on anything for a while was the furthest thing from my mind.
Boner (herbivore man, grass-eater man) looked bilious. Big Wardell looked… silent.
But, all of a sudden, oh miracle of miracles, Big Wardell began to speak! And once he started, there really was no stopping him.
I have something to say.
“Come on, Big Wardell, get on with it. We haven’t got all the time in the world.”
Safe Word reboot
I have something to say… It’s not a pretty story, or a long story; but it’s mine so don’t judge me. I’m a member of a small, select club of suburban swingers. We meet the last Tuesday in every month to experiment and explore the sexual beings we are. When Reenie was with me, I suppose you could call me a legitimate swinger – really involved in the lifestyle - but since she passed (I still regret deeply that harness I bought her!), I’ve been more on the edge of things. A feathery wisp of pampas grass rather than the full plant, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, what I like more than anything else is donning a gimp suit (no messing, the full leather monty) and being forced into the most confined places I can find– clothing banks, car boots, bins. The cherry on the cake is when a woman with a whip stands guard over me until I can barely breathe and I cry mercy; or at least, I shout my safe word. Now, if you’re not sure what that is, it’s the word you share with your partner in sexual adventure to signal, stop, I’ve had enough.
With Reenie, it was easy. Porkpie was the word – a tribute to a mutual love that brought us together in the first place, but that’s a story for another day. Just know for now that Porkpie yelled through the mask’s zipped mouth made sure the job was always a good ‘un. Suit off, quick hose down and in front of the TV in time for Bake Off.
When Reenie went (oh the sound of her fading voice, crying Porkpie that last time still haunts me!), it became more complicated. What to choose as a safe word without insulting the bittersweet memory of Reenie’s Porkpies?
I decided in the end on ideas pulled out of a hat (out of a gimp mask to be fair), with all the suburban swingers contributing their suggestions. I was both troubled and intrigued by what I picked and actually, someone had played fast and loose with the rules by including a phrase, as opposed to a single, safe word.
Suffice to say, squashed into a shoe bank, head poking through the slot, surrounded by hundreds of pairs of malodorous footwear – sweating, gagging and oh so claustrophobic – I still couldn’t bring myself to shout my safe phrase to Hench Brenda – I love you.
Big Wardell stopped speaking and silence once again joined them at the table. What was there to be said? Jimmy-San glanced at Big Wardell’s gentle face, then at his crotch area and back to his face. Boner looked at himself reflected to infinity in the two, facing mirrors (an infinity of Boners?), but no-one spoke a word. It was far better that way.