The Bainbridge Way

Gary Bainbridge is an online pal who has been writing a weekly column for the Liverpool Echo for many years. Last Friday, he published his last column.

I, for one, will miss them greatly and I know of many others, for many, who will miss them too. 

His columns, or at least the best of, are collected in his books which you can peruse and buy here if you’d like to see what I’m going on about.

You can also visit with him on his website or on his Twitter, which is particularly good.

Bloody hell, this is starting to sound like a feckin’ infomercial or something. Get to the point, Ken.

The point is that I thought I would do a little tribute to Gary by writing this week's post in the manner in which he evidently did so many of his. Gary impressed me hugely by being able to deliver, week on week, an account of some event from his previous week which met all the criteria of a Bainbridge Column. It would be mildly self-deprecating, it would be funny, it would be true and, most impressively, it would have that elusive tinge of real humanity that is so hard to capture. I feel I manage this myself about once a year here on my own pages. Gary did it every week.

So I challenged myself. I would stop and think about my week and I would try to identify a ‘column worthy’ moment which had occurred. Then I would tell it without sparing myself and I would hope that, somewhere along the way, a little humanity would leak in too. I didn’t want to try to mimic Gary’s style or anything like that. I just wanted to find a thing that wasn’t a thing before I went looking for it and make something out of it.

So I literally lay on the bed and thought about my week. What had I done? What had happened? Where was my column? Eventually something rose to the surface. I wrote it down. Reading it, you might think that I just took this week's blog post and stuck a 'Gary Bit' here on the front of it. That's not what happened though. This little event was gone from my mind until I resurrected it and related it in the service of a column. That's the whole point. 

It's not very funny, like Gary's stuff is, that's the only thing.

Anyway, with very best wishes to Gary on the next stage of his career, here goes.

*                                   *                       *                       *

There’s a local shop I go to sometimes. It’s down the road and through the estate and you can cut into it through a sort of walkway between two houses. It’s a bit too far to walk when you’re in a hurry so I drive and park in the housing estate and walk through.

Are you with me so far?

The thing is, there’s a bunch of men who sometimes hang around the entrance to this walkway after dark. They are tall and roughly dressed and are clearly Eastern European. They sip cans of cut price beer and mutter among themselves. To get to the shop, you have to go through them.

The other night, I got my milk in the shop and came back to the car, ‘good-nighting' my way through the tall silent cohort of drinkers as I passed. When I reached the car, I found that I had accidentally left the hazard warning lights on. The battery in the car hasn’t been that good of late, not nearly good enough for stray hazard warning lights to be left on. I turned the key and the engine replied with the faintest of ‘thur-hur-hurrs’. The battery was as flat as a pancake.

At the sound of my fatigued engine, the drinking cohort all turned as-one and stared at me. They were about twenty feet away, gathered tight together, gazing united in through my windscreen. If I had working headlights, I reckon they would have illuminated their faces in a rather scary way.

If I have one good quality, I think it is that I trust people. These men, glaring at me in my car, did not worry me. If there was trouble to be found it would not be lessened by my worrying about it. Some would call it naivety. I won’t start calling it that until it goes wrong for me. That hasn’t happened yet.

I hopped out of the car.

“Hey, guys!”

The guys didn’t turn. They were already turned.

“You have… problem?”

“The battery is flat. I left the lights on.”

“We saw.”

“Any chance… of a push?”

The men all put down their cans in synchronicity and walked over to my little Opal.

“Get in. Two gear, yes? Two gear?”

I climbed in and popped the stick into second gear, I knew the drill.

The men pushed. I eased the clutch. The engine rattled but didn’t go. We tried again. Push, pop, rattle. No go.

One of the men came up to the driver’s door.

“I try?” he said.

I hopped out and he hopped in. This time I helped with the pushing. The men made room at the back for me. We were running out of street but the man in the car eased the clutch and the engine fired into life. He was better at it than me.

The car pulled away from us and the man drove away in my car. Off up around the corner and gone. You have to do that, to warm it up. The engine might stop again otherwise.

To pass the time while he was gone, I shook hands with all the men and thanked them profusely and, by the time I was finished, the driver man was back with my car. I thanked him too.

The men seemed warmed by having been asked for help. Or maybe it was just all that pushing.

As I drove away, waving back to them, I thought about driving round to the main entrance to the shop and slipping in and getting them a six-ring of their favourite beer. I would have gladly done that. Gladly. But I didn’t. Instead, I went home.

I felt that the purity of my asking for help and receiving it was a far better thing than me looking to pay them off for their natural warmth and kindness. I felt the men would feel the same.

Maybe to some readers that may seem a bit silly, even a bit cheap on my part. That’s okay. Deep down, I know it’s not silly or cheap at all. An assumption of mutual understanding is always for the best. 

That's what I reckon anyway.


Marc Paterson said...

You have style of your own, in spades, Ken. I'll miss those columns too (I do have both his books fortunately, which eases the sting). I'm not on the ol' Twitter anymore, for good or bad, but when I was I would always share Gary's column, adding my own pun infused title with him as the star (invariably a mutilated film title). My favourite of which was for this column: I titled it, Gary Bainbridge in, 'Plaster Pussycat, Fill! Fill!'

Jim Murdoch said...

When I saw this I thought: What the hell’s Ken doing writing about Beryl Bainbridge? I mean it’s not as if she’s got a new book coming out after all this time. Of course I know only marginally more about Beryl than I do about Gary (which would be next to nothing as opposed to absolutely nothing) but I’ve always had a soft spot for her because she usually looks sad in photos and a bit sleep deprived, even as a young woman. She also wrote columns for newspapers and magazines in her later years. I don’t suppose they’re related.

The only book of newspaper columns I own is a tatty copy of Mondays, Thursdays by Keith Waterhouse. His career began at the Yorkshire Evening Post although he moved on to bigger and better and was eventually voted Britain's most admired contemporary columnist by the British Journalism Review. The only column I ever set out to follow was William McIlvaney’s when The Independent first arrived on our newsstands. The problem there was it meant buying an actual newspaper and I’ve never been able to form that habit. Christ, it took me a week to read the Sunday paper so I gave that up rather sharpish.

I think of your blog as something akin to a newspaper column. I never have a clue what you’re going to tackle and it really doesn’t matter. There are people in this world—the Alan Bennetts and the Peter Ustinovs (and, pray, let us not forget the inimitable Kenneth Williams)—who can wax lyrical on any given subject no matter how trite or banal. And here’s the kicker: they invariably manage to imbue the story with meaning. It’s a rare and enviable talent. You should apply for Gary’s job.

Now as regards your encounter with the helpful Eastern Europeans the only thing I have to offer is an encounter in a car park down the beach probably in the early nineties. I was approached by a man who asked if I had a towrope which I did. His car wouldn’t start and he wanted to give it a tow to start it. His friend was there, ready and waiting and so I, always eager to help and not remotely suspicious, handed over the rope which they attached to their cars and drove away with never to return. I mean I’m not thick. I knew that was a possibility but I couldn’t get my head around the sheer effrontery, the gall it would take to rob me in broad daylight like that. Okay, maybe I am thick.

Remember last week I was talking about those chords that were bugging me? Well, here’s what happened. I did post a link on Facebook but I imagine it decided you didn’t need to see it. I mean, why would you?