The Sexy Chicken Book

“This train is for York. Please have your tickets and passes ready.”

Mother’s day, an audition in London or a party in another city. These things sound nice don’t they?

Wrong. They fill me with dread. I don’t drive so this involves getting the train. The train filled with mental people. Mental people who want to tell me things.

For example. I get on the train from Manchester to York to visit my family. I’m mentally preparing myself for my Mum’s lasagna. I’ve got a bag of washing stuffed in my suitcase for her to do as soon as I get through the door, she loves it.

I see a tragic looking man approaching me. The key here is to avoid eye contact. This tip is crucial. He sits down next to me. He sighs loudly and then tells me about being made redundant. It’s a long winded story. Why me? There is no advice I can give him. I just say “Oh shit” and then “Maybe view this an opportunity to spend quality time with your family.” He answers back with “My mum’s dead, my wife hates me and my kids have disowned me.”

This man has an answer for everything.

He says I’d be more appealing if I wore tighter clothes. I’m beginning to see why his wife hates him.

I glance down at my watch, only an hour and 10 minutes until I will be in York.

He carries on talking about his shambles of a marriage.

I glance down again at my watch, 45 minutes to go.

My mind wanders to looking longingly into my Mum’s well stocked fridge. That isn’t a euphemism. I’m not an animal. The woman just loves a well stocked fridge. Shelves upon shelves of goodies just waiting to be turned into delicious dinners. She’s an amazing cook but is clueless when it comes to portion control. The words ‘average sized serving’ mean sod all to her. It’s more of a challenge. It’s as if she reads the portion advice and thinks “Bollocks to that.”

Her worst nightmare would be to know that someone was in her house and hungry. In all honesty no one has ever, ever left her house without being deep in a food coma. She is the original feeder. Not a feeder in the kinky sense like I’ve seen on so many documentaries. Always Channel 5.

Channel 5 has a lot to answer for in terms of shaping my once naive, innocent mind.

Back to the over sharer sat next to me. He opens up his leather satchel and pulls out a book. Phew, he’s now reading a book. This must mean he isn’t going to try conversing with me anymore. I look at the front cover and my blood runs cold. This man has gone from a depressed over sharer to a full blown nut job, a mentalist. I won’t go on because I’m not quite sure of the appropriate politically correct term. I’ll tell you what the book is and then you can decide on his title for yourself.

It’s a picture book of women in latex clothing strangling chickens.

The book has so many pages and his eyes widen each time he flicks onto a new one. He’s been gleefully looking at the poor chickens for several minutes when he turns to me and says “What do you think of this one?” I look down to be met with the image of an old lady holding a whip in one hand and an unhappy chicken’s neck in the other. I still, to this day have no idea what the right answer is. If anyone knows then please get in touch. I just say “Ooh, I really need a wee.” I shuffle out of my seat, trying to make the least amount of physical contact with what I can only describe as one of life’s unfortunates.

I go to the bathroom, lock the door and take a long hard look in the mirror. Why does this keep happening? This is not a one off, the week before a woman told me all about her divorce from the ‘Hairiest Arse in Leeds.’ The day before that a man in a woollen suit showed me building plans for a conservatory he was planning to build for his wife and asked me which one she’d like the best. I felt like saying “I don’t know your wife, I don’t care and your suit is shit.” I didn’t say that though, of course. I instead opted for “The second one looks nice. Beautiful suit.” He smiled contently and said “Thank you sweetheart, you’ve made my day.”

My main issue was the fact he was wearing that god awful suit in the height of summer.

Still, it takes very little effort to make someone smile. If everyone did that then the world would be a happier place.

Right, I’ve been in this toilet long enough. Everyone will think I’m having a shit. That’s much more believable than hiding from a man with a chicken strangling fetish. I pointlessly wash my hands and head back to my seat.

He’s gone.

There’s a note on my chair and a KitKat. I eat the KitKat first then turn my attention to the note.

Priorities.

The note reads ‘Thank you for listening to me. I’m going to leave my wife. Take care’.

Chilling.

My first thought is “Why did I eat the KitKat so quickly?” I love KitKats, very underrated. My second is “Where on earth did he get that book from?” Asking for a friend.

In conclusion, my top ways to make sure no one sits next to you on public transport are:

1. Act mental – Note, this will only warn off normal people. The more mental you are the more the crazies will think ‘Yes, she is one of us.’ Use your own judgement here.

2. Avoid eye contact by instantly becoming fascinated with a loose bit of thread on your clothing or the dirt on your shoe. Anything to stop you from locking eyes with the nut job approaching you.

3. Always carry around strong smelling snacks – I’d recommend a garlic, tuna and red onion sandwich with a side of boiled eggs for extra effect.

I hope these tips work better for you than they do for me. Or, just learn to drive.

Me And My Recorder

“Carry on like that and you better pray God’ll help you young lady!” shouted my Glaswegian mum as I tickled my younger sister until she was sick. Literally sick.

I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. I annoyed her so much with my constant and frankly, idiotic questions that in the end she got me a kids Bible. I read the whole thing in one sitting. I loved it. As soon I had read the last page I ran downstairs and said “What great stories mummy but do people honestly believe it? You can tell it’s all made up”.

Having said that, I still used to pray before I went to bed, mainly for a glittery pink pencil case. I prayed every night for a week and when I didn’t get one I immediately dismissed the whole idea of God. I gave him a chance and he blew it.

The following anecdote cemented my thoughts on the whole God thing.

I used to play the recorder, I use play very loosely. What I mean is I used to blow violently into a recorder and expect a round of applause. I was terrible at it. For want of a better phrase, I was totally shit at it.

Knocking out classic tunes such as Hot Cross Buns and Three Blind Mice all sodding day was never going to make me even an average recoderist. Everything I played sounded the same.  A constant blend of squeaks, an assault on the ears.

I was so bad that in primary school my favourite teacher looked straight in to my innocent, big brown eyes and said “Ilaria, you’re not very good at this, practise all weekend, play for me on Monday and we’ll see if you’ve improved enough for the nativity play”

Challenge accepted.

I practised like a mad woman for the next few days. So much that I needed to up my asthma inhalers. My mum was not a fan of my ‘music’.

The grown – up me would think “Well sod this” and throw the recorder away and have a gin. The little Ilaria was determined, blinded by the world and partially deaf to the feedback and hints to just stop. Stop Ilaria.

“Listen love, you’re more of a drawing person”

“No mummy, this is what I do now” I insisted.

“I’ll get you some lovely new colouring pencils this weekend” said my mum with desperation in her voice.

No! Im a musician now. I have been set a task. I must master the recorder. I will conquer the recorder and you will not stand in my way by tempting me with noiseless past times.

“But Ilaria, you’re awful at it, love.”

That’s the great thing about my mum. She’s always honest. A big fan of tough love. The woman does not hold back. She has pink hair and a sharp tongue.

In short, never ask her if you look fat in something.

I was momentarily distracted when my mum said we were having spaghetti for tea. But only for the amount of time it took to eat two bowls of spaghetti. That’s right I said two. The days of me inhaling multiple bowls of pasta are sadly/thankfully in the past. My love for the recorder is also dead and buried.

The second the plates were cleared I was back to my recorder playing a hideous, albeit, original  rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful. Being an asthmatic this was a terrible thing to persist with. The recorder has never sounded shittier than when played by an asthmatic kid with a point to prove. I’d like to blame it on my asthma but the harsh truth is that I’m just not musically gifted. I have skills in other things like falling over, eating all the crisps and letting down my parents. These are skills that sadly couldn’t be utilised in the nativity Christmas show. The show really lacked for those things I feel.

I went to bed on Sunday evening feeling out of breath and excited. Surely my favourite teacher would see how hard I’d tried and realise how much the school nativity needed me and my recorder? I knelt down by the side of my bed with my palms together and an earnest look on my face – I’d seen it in all the films. I’d perfected it. I prayed for everything to go my way. Please God,  please. I’ll be your best friend and invite you to all my parties. I really pulled out the big guns. My birthday parties were great. He wouldn’t be able to resist.

Monday morning arrived. I was extra chirpy. A final practise on the recorder, peanut butter on toast eaten and off to school I went. I saw my favourite teacher. Moment of truth. This was the biggest moment of my life to date.

I took a deep breath and played what I considered to be a beautiful rendition ofCome all ye faithful.

I waited.

My favourite teacher looked at me, her grey curls falling over her face.

She’s going to say yes…

“It’s a no Ilaria, you’re not good enough for the nativity play. Maybe next year.”

“Are you kidding?! I turned down colouring pencils for this!”

She shook her head “Sorry Ilaria. You can play the triangle instead” said my formerly favourite teacher.

“The triangle? The sodding triangle?!” I shouted.

That’s it, I thought. God, consider yourself uninvited to all of my birthday parties. Find alternative plans for every October 2nd until I die.

My once favourite, now most hated teacher looked horrified.

And that’s when I secured my ticket to Hell. A special kind of Hell that only little girls who exclude God from their birthday parties go to. It’s not as bad as regular hell, but its still pretty bad.

Fat Sarah

I haven’t always been the suave city slicker that I am today. I grew up in a tiny village filled with characters, a farm and a duck pond. The village seemed to exist in a time warp. A vibrant tapestry of the weird and wonderful.

Everyone in the village used to speak like the kids from the film ‘Bed Knobs and Broomsticks’, you know that film where the little boy’s knob makes the bed magic?

One end of the village was lovely, the other end was a whole different story. We lived somewhere in the middle. We ate Quinoa and liked art but were a bit skint. My mum did the big shop at ‘Kwik Save‘ and I thought we were dead posh because everything in our trolley matched.

Every front garden had a mattress in it for the kids to jump on. I still to this day have no idea what they all slept on.

Their school packed lunches made me green with envy. Four bags of crisps, a can of Coke and chocolate spread on white bread. I nagged my mum every day for the same pack lunch and an alfresco jump on a worn out mattress. I was usually met with a “Quit moaning you ungrateful sod”. The lemon and rosemary chicken salad she’d make me just wasn’t what 8 year old Ilaria longed for. I wanted cheese strings and lots of ‘em! Their breakfasts, on the other hand, were not something I desired. Most of them had chewing gum with a side of passive smoking whilst we all waited for the school bus.

One of these ‘chewing gum kids’ was also the smelliest kid in my class. She wore a t-shirt that said ‘My friend went to Disneyland and all I got was this stinking t-shirt’ I remember thinking how perfect that was for her. One day I said “I like your t-shirt”. I discovered sarcasm very early on, it just took me years to get good at it.

Side note – the percentage of crossed eyed people seemed very high in our village, this I feel was mainly due to inbreeding.

The nicknames still make me laugh. There was a lady simply named Fat Sarah. Straight to the point.

Accurate.

One sports day she turned up wearing a bikini and a grass skirt, sarong thingy that was shoved firmly up her arse. Not a great look if your name’s Sarah…certainly not a great look if you’re referred to as Fat Sarah. Every time she cheered her nipples almost fell out. I couldn’t take my eyes off her which resulted in me coming last in almost every race that sports day. My mum would say “Don’t worry love, look, you got a sticker saying you tried your hardest”.

In all honestly I hadn’t tried at all. The sticker should have read “Try harder next time Ilaria and Fat Sarah, wear a more supportive bra and stop jumping”

Fat Sarah took a shine to our family and wouldn’t leave us alone. She’d always bring her two kids. They somehow managed to survive on a diet of popping candy and adult television.

Her son didn’t know how old he was because Fat Sarah refused to buy him a birthday present, he never had school shoes but always had a new bike. I’m glad his priorities were in order.

I desperately wanted his life!

Popping candy and telly with swear words seemed so much more fun than vegetables and homework. Having said that, her kids did grow up to be racists so I assume my mum was right all along.

Fat Sarah was such a character, I’ve often thought of looking her up on social media but I can’t remember her surname. Or maybe her name really was Fat Sarah…her parents must have had incredible foresight. “I’ll name my child what she will become”. That idea could really take off. There would be too many slutty Stephanie’s though. School registers would suffer the most;

“Prick Tease Chloe”, “Grab ‘Em By The Pussy Donald” and “Gets Aggressive When He’s Had a Beer Robert”.

In a time before mobile phones, and common courtesy in this case, Fat Sarah would be very old fashioned and knock on the door all the bloody time. It was like being under siege in your own home. One Sunday afternoon my sister and I spotted her from our playroom window as she came up the garden path. We took unnecessary action. We ran to the front door with our hands on our hips and said “Our mummy said you’re not to come round here anymore” .“Yeah and that we don’t like you very much”.

Looking back on this as an adult I realise how mean it is, but I have this theory, you see. My theory is that you can get away with anything providing you are under the age of 10. Im 29 now so I have to behave myself.

She was gobsmacked. She turned on her calloused heels and headed back down the garden path towards the skanky end of the village.

Fat Sarah we’re sorry!

Fat Sarah, I take it all back. The grown up Ilaria would love a cup of tea with you…in a well ventilated room.

Dead Pets

“We are gathered here today to put to rest Rosie and Jim”

Our guinea pigs inevitably passed away so we did the standard thing of chucking them into a Kwik Save carrier bag, shoving them into a Roses chocolates tin and held a very earnest funeral in our back garden.

My little sister and I invited every kid on the street, including ‘Nathan on the end’ that no one liked.

“We are gathered here today to put to rest Rosie and Jim.” Nathan on the end sniggered. My little sister went mad. She was little but terrifying, all 2 foot of her went into kill mode. She suddenly became all pointed finger and dangerous eyes.  “If you don’t take this seriously you can f**k off.” She was 6 but had the mouth of a truck driver. We still don’t know where she heard such language. My guess, Channel 5.

Nathan on the end apologised and faked crying at the death of Rosie and Jim. “You’re lucky to be invited, no one likes you” she reminded him. The other kids attending the funeral half nodded in agreement.

Truth be told we didn’t really like Rosie and Jim.

My errant father phoned us one day and said in his Italian accent “I have two guinea pigs, you will take them. One boy and one girl.” My mum joked “Hopefully not in the same hutch.” He replied “Yes, same hutch but they are brother and sister.’

Nice idea but I’m pretty sure guinea pigs don’t hold the same moral compass as you and I. They see something, they will try to have sex with it. I have many friends who think and behave in the same way.

A year later we did something very normal, we dug them up. Curiosity got the better of us.

I should’ve known better being the older sister but I was weak willed and morbid.

“You open it.” “No, you.” “You, Ilaria.” “Fine!”

I pulled off the lid and opened the carrier bag to be met with green mist. Every time I’m ill or have a minor ailment I immediately blame it on a delayed reaction to the dead guinea pig mist. We threw the tin down and ran back into the house screaming.

“What the bloody hell were you both expecting to see?” My mum did not feel sorry for us. She’s Glaswegian and takes no shit.

The whole incident put us off guinea pigs so we moved onto having a cat. Chi Chi.

I remember one day she got brown parcel tape stuck to her which meant when I rescued her by ripping it off I had performed my first bikini wax, aged 9.

One morning we looked out of the window and saw her sunbathing in the middle of the road. Spoiler alert, she was not topping up her tan. She was dead.

My mum scooped her up and did the very sensitive thing of laying her down on the front lawn for her children to morbidly stare at all morning. In the afternoon she went out to deal with Chi Chi. She decided to empty out our Barbie box and use it as a non biodegradable coffin. Clever.

The cat was too big for the box so she did the only thing that made sense, she snapped it in half to ensure a snug, albeit, horrific fit. I chose the wrong moment to walk round the corner and ask for a biscuit, her foot was on Chi Chi’s stomach whilst she twatted her feline head against the concrete step.

“Hi love, will you pass me that box?”

I didn’t want a part in this but I’m such a people pleaser that I was suddenly an accomplice.

Moral of the story. Don’t have pets, they die.

Santa and emergency Imodium

I’ve hung up my elf outfit, put away my glitter and said goodbye to working in Santa’s grotto for another year.

I’ve lost track of the amount of crying, screaming children I’ve taken photos of, too scared to sit on Santa’s knee. I don’t blame them to be honest.

My favourite kid was a little boy who asked Santa to bring him a pizza for Christmas. When it was time for his photo I chirped “give me a Christmas smile”, his mum shouted “look less cross eyed!”. I’ve never seen a kid look so confused. He tried uncrossing his eyes which only made things worse and resulted in the worst photo ever.

We dealt with ambulances, vomit and a tangled web of internal Elf politics.

Despite the large amount of bodily fluids I secretly loved being an elf at the grotto, it was full of characters and bursting with anecdotes.

Here’s one I like to call ‘The time Santa shat his pants’…

It kind of writes itself really…

Whilst at the grotto we all ate like pigs. We somehow managed to survive on a diet of Greggs pasties, Quality Street chocolates and personal failures. After a few weeks of a sugar and pastry fuelled diet, the big man himself, Father Christmas, felt a stirring in his stomach…I heard a gurgle that sounded like a dodgy pipe in an old house. He looked terrified and immediately started taking off his costume. Layers upon layers of brightly coloured, pre worn tat.

I’ve never seen a man take off his clothes so quickly, even in my wilder days. His costume left a trail from the grotto to the public toilets.

This is not Christmas magic.

Is Santa meant to violently shit himself? Answers on a post card.

The grotto supervisor slapped a tenner in my hand and sent me to the nearest place that sold Imodium. I ran through a rammed shopping centre dressed as an elf looking for something that would stop Santa from crapping himself whilst a terrified 5 year old begs for Batman lego.

I saw a box that read ‘Instant relief’, I grabbed it and joined the long queue. A little old lady looked at my glittery cheeks, stripy tights and hands clutching the ‘make me stop shitting tablets’ and let me go in front.

When I finally made it to the very front I hurriedly blurted out “these aren’t for me, they’re for Santa”. The woman on the till smiled worryingly and considered me mentally ill.

I ran back to the grotto to be met with hoards of screaming kids. “Get out of my way!” I gave the Imodium to a very happy Father Christmas and on we go. “Get the next kids in!” I really am a hero.

And that’s how I saved Christmas.

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