Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The First Thing I Heard This Morning

One schoolboy saying to another, is a really triumphant, boastful tone:
"Well my dad committed suicide by throwing himself under a train".

About the third thing I heard this morning:
"Mommy, where are we going"
"Mommy's going to the tattoo shop. She's going to have a Tigger put on her shoulder".

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

That's Why I Killed All Those People

This is a longer version of a story that was in that fine organ The High Horse

My grandparents had an old-fashioned sort of toilet. It sat in a room all alone, no sink, no tub, no drapery, not even elemental nods towards distraction. Your purpose there was clear. For some reason the room was always was achingly cold, even in the summertime. There was nothing interesting in there. Nothing at all. Just the bare walls and the toilet equipment and a small window containing the kind of glass you couldn’t see out of. The windowsill empty, except an air-freshener. Not an aerosol, but the block variety, a block held inside a plastic honeycomb. But the room’s smell didn’t reflect the air-freshener. It held another scent which I can’t readily describe but I think of even now. There was a moisture mixed with dust that left evidence on your fingertips and which you took away as you left.
So you would sit there in the cold, with no distractions except the air-freshener which you could piece apart and possibly marvel at the jelly-like block housed inside bearing a constitution with no equivalent. And you would wait.
The worst thing about the room was the chain. It was an old-fashioned toilet, as stated, with a cistern held high in the air by a long pipe. And rather than a handle there was a chain. A long chain about the length of a snake, with meshed together jigs of metal. The edges of the jigs were poorly rendered and felt razor sharp. There should have been a base to it, something substantial you could hang onto when pulling, something to take the chain out of the equation. But there was no base. And no story about the lack of a base. Just the chain. The coldness of the room conducted to the metal, which made the chain more dangerous, so no matter how well or how poorly your visit to the toilet had gone (and, like most things, there was always a certain amount of disappointment connected to the venture), the final daunting prospect was that icy, painful chain. Dragging across your fingers like a blunt saw and hurting them. A chilly sort of pain, the worst sort of pain. A numbness coated with a sharp kick. No blood drawn, nothing to elicit sympathy or foster an amusing anecdote. Just a welt.
So, that’s why I killed my grandparents.

And then there was Planter. He was one of those guys that would walk outside and be absolutely AMAZED to find himself there. I would drink with him sometimes and at the end of the evening we would walk out of the bar together. As soon as he was the other side of the door, his head would spin around him, he’d start to point at random objects on the street and his mouth would gape open, displaying a threatening set of yellow teeth and an expression seemed to suggest that this was the last place on earth he expected to be. Anywhere but there. Drop him in a hot-tub full of gangly, Mexican ladyboys, all got up like Edgar Allen Poe, he probably would have adopted a serene, impartial air. But the regular outside just made him giddy.
That’s why I killed Planter.

In the mid 1980’s, I became enamoured of two things greatly. The first was the popular drug meth-amphetamine, commonly known as crank, though in my town, for no reason I could ever fully discern, it was known as Herbie. My second passion in those days was the band Devo. I don’t believe that the two things were connected, though I have to admit there’s a certain degree of haziness associated with that decade.
I lived in a house with several Heavy Metal guys (those I did not kill, don’t worry). Against type, they were pleasant housemates who liked to cook and always played their music at a reasonable volume. I could not interest them in the virtues of Devo however. In fact, I felt that they considered Devo as their enemy. It hurt but it was their choice.
I used to buy my Herbie from a guy named Charlie in a part of town known as the heights. I think it bestowed this nickname on itself to add a little colour to what was a shabby and quite low-lying neighbourhood. The general cabal that bought, sold or were affiliated with the drug scene referred to me as ‘the Devo guy’. But my familiarity with Charlie did away with such generalisations and I was known to him simply as ‘Devo’. For a drug dealer, he was always very cheerful,
“Hey, Devo,” he’d say, as he saw me approach in my yellow Devo suit, which, though industrial in design, was quite fragile after a certain amount of wear. I’d smile back and hand over the money and he’d give me the Herbie.
Then one day I went to the Heights and Charlie was gone. And none of the other guys, the ones that called me ‘the Devo guy’ knew where he was. So, I didn’t take Herbie anymore. Then the Heavy Metal guys moved away. I didn’t know they were in a band.
Shortly afterwards I killed Devo. This was something I would later regret.

I got thrown out of the hospital. I was sick. I couldn’t understand it. I think I had a perfect right to be upset. So, I went over to the other hospital. Same thing happened there. So, I killed both hospitals.

The train I used to take down there, to the hospital not to the Heights, I would walk to the Heights unless the weather was poor in which case I’d take the bus, the train I used to get to the hospital before I was ejected, was always seven minutes late. It should have been the 8.32, but every day it rolled up at 8.37. Calm as you like, with no obvious explanation. They even gave up making announcements about it, as if we were all expected to accept this state of affairs without question. No immediate symptoms for its delay. No singeing on the side of the train. No seats soaked in blood or ashen-faced passengers, their eyes mutually gripped by one particular spot, now vacant with a child’s toy abandoned under the seat. There was a smugness to it. I’d try to catch the eye of the driver as the train would pass, but his face was always moving too fast.
And the thing was, you could never alter your routine accordingly. The train would be tardy by that degree without question, but I knew if I set out just a little later, I would be greeted by the butt of the train dwindling in the distance as I stood on the platform, deflated. Early for once or just on time and happy. Either way I wouldn’t run, I won’t run for anything, it’s one of the standards I set.
So, yeah.

Colin Murray, from my school, small kid, always had the same stuff to eat, every day. Every day I’d see him on the same spot on the wall, in all weathers, eating exactly the same thing, of the exact same size and texture.
I killed him with cancer.

There was a lady on the bus, (not the bus to the Heights, there’s more than one bus) reading the Bible, but with her bag on the seat next to her. All spread out, a protective hand dropped across it as if to say, ‘Yeah, don’t touch my bag but don’t try to sit here either’. A seat for her bag, a damn seat for her bag. So to try and sit there would provoke either pointless conversation with half your ass hanging off the seat, or no seat at all. And she was reading the Bible. Hypocrisy!
And so another one fell.

Guess my biggest one was Booboo. She took exception to many of the things I did and chose to comment on them, but I held my tongue and soldiered on. It wasn’t the personal stuff, that I’m ok with, I realise I’m not that easy to live with.
“I can’t understand why you roll your socks up when you put them in the laundry corner? I’m forever finding myself unraveling your socks.”
That was fine. I was guilty.
“Just straighten out the cushions before you get on the couch. They’re getting all bent at the edges. Just skooch them back before you sit.”
Like water off a duck’s back, no problem.
“There seems to be a pool of something forming by your side of the bed. I’m scared to go over there.”
I didn’t bat any eyelid. But the clock was ticking for Booboo. It was like one of those bombs you set and then forget about (I appreciate you don’t live the life I do – bear with me), or if you get up early by mistake, then the alarm goes off, sounding like the loudest thing you’ve ever heard. That was the tension amongst us. You see, I had a hutch. And in the hutch I held all the words that Booboo got wrong. And she was always getting words wrong. And while there was room in the hutch everything was fine. But the hutch was slowly filling and I knew one day it would burst and the inevitable would happen. (The hutch was in my mind). I’m not a snob. There’s plenty I don’t know or understand, but its laziness I can’t abide.
There was indigestion (in-gee-gestion, she would say). And also certificate (pronounced sus-tificate). She also said ‘jet-leg’ instead of jet-lag and ‘alky-hol’ in the style of a grizzled prospector. ‘Premination’ was another favourite (I still do not know what this is) and she could never remember which were the odd numbers and which were the even. She wasn’t dumb, she had a Masters in Civil Engineering and tutored ghetto kids in French. She was just very lax when it came to vocabulary (I won’t even mention her grammar, she once left me a note on the kitchen table which would have made a pedant weep). And I could feel the hutch swelling, filling with these inaccuracies, many, many more than the one’s listed here, I’m not a monster. And the dam burst. The one that did it? ‘Satisfact’ I’ll use it in a sentence. ‘He’d like me to return all those light bulbs, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfact.”
And the hutch was full. To continue would have required building a new hutch. I was tired and so Booboo was gone.

I’m in this cell now. Been here a while. Seen some changes, to me and the others and the general environment. The light changing outside the window as new buildings are built and the kids shouting louder on the street. I don’t have any regrets. More the slow, crushing palm of inevitability which peppers my whole life and has dragged me to this point and left me here. Maybe it was the wonder of the world that drove me to all these killings, I don’t know, I never question my motives. Things ain’t so bad though. I just got cable.

Friday, 30 May 2008

John Barnes

I've really busy with various stupid things so in the meantime, here's a sketch I wrote which every major broadcaster has decided is unfilmable:

John Barnes


COLIN is standing at a water cooler in an average looking office. His friend GRAHAM approaches.

GRAHAM: All right Colin?

COLIN: Hello mate.

GRAHAM: How are things?

COLIN: Couldn’t be better. I’m off on holiday tomorrow.

GRAHAM: Lucky sod. Where you off to?

COLIN: Japan.

GRAHAM: Blimey, really? Bit exotic for you isn’t it?

COLIN: Suppose so.

GRAHAM: Why Japan?

COLIN: Dunno. Just always fancied going there.

GRAHAM: Not after a mail-order bride then?

COLIN: That’s Thailand.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah. Well, have a great time anyway. Let me know how it goes.

COLIN: Cheers.

Fade Out.


In the Tokyo airport arrivals lounge, passengers emerge from a door. A bleary eyed Colin appears. As he walks across the airport, several Japanese people stare at him open mouthed. A few smile, point and speak conspiratorially behind their hands. Colin checks his appearance to make sure there’s nothing untoward happening with his clothing.


Colin is waiting for his luggage to arrive. Again a few Japanese people grin at him, nod and try to catch his eye. Colin politely smiles back, and looks confused.


Colin jumps into a waiting cab in front of the airport. The CABBIE looks uninterested then breaks out into a broad smile when he has a good look at Colin.

COLIN: [Speaking clearly] Hotel Ok-ura please.

CABBIE: Yes, yes. Of course Mr Barnes.

Again Colin looks confused.

COLIN: I’m not Barnes. Not Barnes. We’re you supposed to be picking up someone else?

The Cabbie smiles at him.

CABBIE: No problem Mr Barnes. I understand.

Colin grows more perplexed as the cab pulls away.


Colin approaches the desk of his hotel. There is a RECEPIONIST behind the desk.

COLIN: Hello, I have a reservation.

The Receptionist looks up, sees him, and smiles broadly.

RECEPTIONIST: Oh yes, of course.

She looks at her register.

RECEPTIONIST: I don’t see your name here.

COLIN: I haven’t given you my name.

RECEPTIONIST: Mr. Barnes isn’t it? John Barnes?

COLIN: No, my name’s Planter. Colin Planter.

The Receptionist looks confused and then gives him a knowing look.

RECEPTIONIST: I think I understand Mr Barnes. Let me check. Yes your room is ready, [with emphasis] Mr Planter. I’ll make sure you are not disturbed and no one knows you are here.

COLIN: [Baffled] Thank you.

She hands him a key. A PORTER approaches. He spots Colin and begins to talk excitedly to the Receptionist in Japanese, nodding towards Colin. The Receptionist talks to him sharply and he looks cowed. He takes Colin’s luggage and leaves.

RECEPTIONIST: Don’t worry Mr Barnes, no one else will bother you.

A confused Colin follows the porter.


Colin is sightseeing, taking photos of street scenes and local life in Japan. Suddenly two young GIRLS approach him coyly.

GIRL: [Shyly] Mr Barnes?

COLIN: No, no.

GIRL: Please?

One hands Colin a piece of paper, wanting him to sign it.

COLIN: I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.

The other girl approaches and hands him a magazine featuring a full page picture of the footballer John Barnes in his playing days. She hands him a pen, wishing him to sign. Colin looks at the magazine, mystified.

COLIN: You think I’m him? This John Barnes? Look…

He holds up the magazine to his face.

COLIN: Do you think I look like that?

The girls ignore this and just encourage him to sign. Colin sighs and reluctantly signs the picture then quickly walks away. The girls both giggle excitedly.


A beleaguered Colin enters the hotel. A REPORTER with a notepad approaches him.

REPORTER: Mr Barnes. Mr Barnes. Can I quickly ask you something?

COLIN: I’m not John Barnes. I’m Colin. Colin Planter.

REPORTER: Is it true that you are here in Japan in connection with the vacant national team job?

COLIN: I’m not John Barnes. I don’t know where this is coming from?

REPORTER: If you could just confirm or deny it?

COLIN: No. Yes. Please. Leave me alone.

He hurries off towards the lifts.


Colin is sitting on the bed in his hotel trying to work out how to use the telephone. After extensive dialling he seems to have success.

COLIN: Hello…? Hello, mom. It’s Colin…Yes. Colin. [Pause] What? No, I am on holiday…I’m in Japan. [Pause] No, everything’s fine… [Pause] No, it’s fine, really… [Pause] No I’m just calling to see how you are… No there’s nothing wrong. Stop shouting, there’s nothing wrong… [Pause] It’s not…yes, yes. It’s lovely. Lovely country, nice people. [Pause] No, that’s Thailand. [Pause] I haven’t been out that much really… No, I’m not ill. Just haven’t been out of the hotel for a few days. No, its not my tummy… No, its not the water. They think I’m John Barnes… [Pause] John Barnes. John Barnes. John Barnes, the footballer. I don’t know. [Pause] Yes I know he is. No, everybody, all the Japanese think I’m him. [Pause] I can’t go anywhere. [Pause] I’ve told them that, they won’t listen. What? What are you saying? Maybe I’m John Barnes when I’m in Japan? How does that work? [Pause] Have you taken your pills…? [Pause] Have you taken too many pills?

There’s a knock on the door.

COLIN: [Shouting] Piss off, I’m not John Barnes. [Into phone] No, not you. How many have you had? [Pause] What colour were they? You can’t have had 40 you’d be dead. Call Dr Marsh…

Fade out.


A harassed looking Colin is dragging his suitcase through the airport as once more people stare and point at him. As he passes the bar a group of LADS spot him and start clapping and singing.

LADS: [Singing] We love you John Barnes, we do. We love you John Barnes we do.

Colin grins grimly and trudges on. Another fan runs up to him and wraps a Liverpool scarf around his neck and kisses his cheek. Someone else approaches and puts his arms around him as his friend takes his picture on a mobile phone. Photographers appears and start taking pictures, as the whole terminal turns to look at him and clap and cheer. Colin look thoroughly miserable.

Fade Out.


Colin is standing at the same water cooler. Graham approaches him again.

GRAHAM: Hey you’re back. You look well. So how was it, would you recommend it?

COLIN: [Angrily] No, its shit.

Colin storms off.


Saturday, 3 May 2008


Some things in life you can just take for granted. More often than not in this crazy, topsy-turvy world you'll wake to find the squirrels have picked the locks and been at your nuts, there's a rabid badger clawing its way up the chimney and Mouldy Old Dough has rocketed back to the top of the hit parade - nothing surprises me any more. But there are staples on which you can rely. If it's raining there won't be a bus, if I buy or I am given a watch - it will break or be lost within 24 hours and I never look good in a hat. These are the undeniable around which the rest of my life is constructed.

One of these unchanging, basic experiences is the pub. They couldn't be simpler and I applaud them for it. Though they have attempted to derail themselves in recent times by the introduction of jazz and exotic pies, in essence they remain the same.

So a surprise awaited when I entered a pub I've visited many times - not a pub which is high in my estimation, not a classic, but a decent fallback. It was relatively local, it showed the football and there was little chance of getting stabbed. I was in the area, I had time to kill and, as ever, I needed a drink. So in I went. I knew something was wrong immediately. A large section of the establishment had been taped off a sign told me 'This area for wine tasting people only'. Not one of the better signs to read.

But I wasn't staying long, so I headed to be bar. The few people sitting around and the staff behind the bar all looked on at me as if I'd begun goose-stepping to the Macarena. At the bar, the woman I expected to serve me looked scared. Then I felt a shadowy figure by my side. He wore an apron and had a pad.

'Can I help you?' He asked.
'I don't know?' I answered honestly, confused.
'It's table service only here'
'Would you like something?'
'A large gin and tonic' I said, still confused.
'By large do you mean a double?' He asked me.
'No I mean I'd like it in an oversized novelty vase. Yes a double.'
'A double gin and tonic' the man said to the woman behind the bar, who had heard the whole conversation and was actually closer to me than him.
'Right' I said. 'What happens now?'
'Where are you sitting?' He asked.
'I'm not. I'm standing here.'
'Where will you be sitting?'
I hadn't considered this. I hadn't really planned on sitting, I was going at stand at the bar. But this seemed verboten.
'There?' I half told, half asked him, pointing to a lonely table by the door.
'I'll bring it right over'

The drink was being made. It would have been completed in about 20 seconds. I’d have been happy to take the drink and transport it myself. But this would have obviously declared this man's life as pointless. So, with his silent encouragement, I moved to my table. My drink was now ready at the bar, I was at a table, drinkless, about 6 feet away, while the man employed to bring my drink to me, began swanning about the pub, taking orders, collecting empties and making genial conversation with the idiots who accepted this situation.

I looked at my drink longingly as it became increasingly warm, and to the bar-lady who looked slightly guilty and ashamed. The man seemed to be deliberately avoiding my beverage, taking extravagant routes around the building, anyway possibly to miss passing my order. Eventually the man brought me my gin and tonic. I reached into my pocket to pay.

'No, no, no' he chided. 'Pay when you leave. Just summon me and I'll bring your bill over'
'Oh right' I stammered, hanging onto my G&T as if it was the only thing preventing me from entering another dimension. I looked around and noticed that the bill, when summoned, was presented on a small silver platter. In a pub!

I'd finished my drink. I now had to leave, I had an appointment. Usually in a pub, when its time to go, you just tend to go, with a possible trip to the bogs as your only distraction. But now I was expected to begin a whole series of manoeuvres. I had to summon the apron man, who would waddle off and get my bill present it on a silver platter, waddle off again, I'd put money on the platter, he'd waddle by again, take my platter, then return with the change, probably expecting a tip. I'll remind you at this stage I WAS IN A PUB. A PUB. Not the fucking Ritz. A shitty pub, by a main road, expected to wait for a silver platter.

I couldn't face this, so when the man's back was turned I darted to the bar.
'Can I pay?' I asked the startled lady.
She didn't say anything, she didn't know if I could pay. Then I was rumbled.
'Is there a problem?'
The apron man had spotted me.
'Just paying' I said, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world and not a disgusting, disgraceful perversion of nature.
'I'll bring the bill over' he told me.
'No' I said, grasping the bar, white-knuckled. 'I'm in a bit of a rush'

He looked down at me with disgust.
'Table six' he told the lady with venom. She went to the till, produced a receipt, handed the receipt to him, who handed it to me, I looked at it, produced the money, looked at the lady, who gave me a terrified glance and indicated her colleague, I turned to him and gave him the money who gave it to the woman, who went to the till, got the change gave it to him and gave it to me.

'Have a nice day' he said to me, with irony.

It was if the very firmament had shifted somehow. Entering a pub and being made to jump through hoops to the advantage of no one, especially stone cold sober, is the kind of thing to make a rational man quite insane. Now I have to second-guess every boozer I enter for fear of the silver platter. My life is over.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Now, most people are pedestrians most of the time. Despite the attractiveness of it, driving directly into your home and then around it, is simply impractical, as is cycling into work and up to your desk or helicoptering into Londis for some Bisto Best. Despite the utter shame of it, we all have to walk on a pavement at some point in the day. The only dispensation is to those lucky types with Shopability type scooter things who cause wondrous mayhem by travelling very slowly along the inside lane of the North Circular in some form of befuddled rebellion.

However, some of us are professional pedestrians. I count myself as one of these. My attempts to drive have been hilarious and highly dangerous. One driving instructor always commented ‘have you been on the voddies?’ which I didn’t appreciate, while another insisted on telling me at length about the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of his brother-in-law. I wasn’t really a pupil, more of a counsellor. Both these experiences have kept me firmly glued to the pavement.

So the horrendous rage suffered by all who make the mistake of crossing the threshold and stepping outside is transposed from being in a car to being outside of one. Anger is generated by poor foot trafficking skills, appalling pushchair manoeuvres, the complete breakdown of cycling proficiency and cars in general, especially the attitude towards zebra crossings.

Bad pavement walking is the worst and has increased a thousand-fold since the growth in popularity of the cellular phone. Where in the past people strode manfully along a street with purpose and military precision, now idiots stand in your way and either twirl pointlessly while engrossed in conversation or veer violently as they come to terms with the vagaries of predictive text. And they are completely immune. If you give them a firm tut at their repellent behaviour, they stare at you with a look of, ‘can’t you see I am talking on a phone’ as their defence.

Pushchairs are fine, I can understand their practical application. It’s when they are used as a weapon that I become upset. In the same way that zig-zagging along a street is completely justified if the zig-zagger is using a phone, so ramming a pushchair into your shins in the produce section of a supermarket is fine as there is a child involved. While they certainly help in the transportation of children, they also double as an effective cow-catcher, ploughing a lane through any congested street at the expense of your ankles.

Cyclists have lost the plot completely. When did the entente cordiale between the walker and the biker end? There used to be an understanding. It was us against them. The cyclist and the pedestrian united against the tyranny of cars. And then one morning I was happily and legally crossing a road when someone on a pushbike nearly ran me down and then screamed abuse at me for getting in their way. And I knew the world had changed. No more allegiances, the cyclists had left us behind and decided to take on the battle single-handedly and jettison us in the process. Recently I saw a bike messenger run over someone’s feet. It was quite extraordinary. They were standing, waiting to cross, in the road but behind a parked car so they were safe, and a cyclist went out of their way to run over their shoes. The poor man was dumbstruck as he stared at the tyre marks on his loafers and a passing Mad Max style messenger swore at him. It will end in tears, I warn you.

My hatred of drivers and their knowledge of zebra crossings is something that is strengthened every day. I don’t quite understand, because as a failed driving pupil, it was beaten into me every lesson to slow down when approaching a crossing and if you see someone even possibly, vaguely thinking about approaching the zebra or even looking at the crossing in a suggestive way, then you had to stop. So why, every morning, does some tit in a BMW accelerate when they see me ON the zebra crossing. I have now been reduced to screaming at them. I’m not known as a public screamer, but in this case I’ve been driven to it. ‘Prick’ is my screaming epithet of choice, as its short, concise and hopefully bears enough harsh constantan sounds to penetrate the back window of a standard saloon. I also find myself having extended sarcastic conversations with the drivers along the lines of, ‘Oh yes, just keep going, don’t check to see if there’s anyone crossing, I could have been a small child or a confused young mum trying to juggle my childcare arrangements with a part-time job at a local dentists office. There’s a school there you know and a library, so you have young people and the infirm using this crossing on a regular basis. And what’s so important that you have to drive so quickly and ignore the basic principles of the Highway Code…’ etc etc. Sometimes I’m back home and in the kitchen before the dialogue finishes.

So my advice? Never leave the house. Or if you do, try and pick up one of those Shopability scooters. They are the ultimate weapon in the covert war against all.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The Shop

My loyalties are torn between the three local shops that sit on my doorstep. Each has its own charms, detriments and complications. This wasn't a problem at my old flat. There we had only one shop. My relationship with them was occasionally fraught, sometimes pleasant - but always safe in the knowledge that I had no choice. It was the only shop and to boycott them over some trivial discretion would be destructive to my own life with barely a blemish on theirs. This entire reliance offered me a certain amount of satisfaction.

Now I have three shops. All pretty much selling the same things and all very close to each other. In one case inches apart. My preference usually falls on the one that is furthest away. I don't know why. The utter disdain offered to me by the usual shopkeeper provides me with comfort. I know I will never be drawn into a conversation about the poor quality of local teens or the relative merits of a local footballing team. 'Would you like a bag?' is his only query. I never do want a bag, due to environmental guilt. But I also never remember to bring a bag, so always try to cradle my groceries in my arms in an unlikely tribute to popular children's variety show Crackerjack (Crackerjack!). My character is further lessened in the shopkeepers’ eyes at this display.

The problem with this shop is two-fold. Firstly its hours. It seems to open at 4 in the morning and close by early afternoon. I'm not sure why. There aren't any local mines or dairies that need to be sold comestibles at that early hour. But those are its terms and we have to abide. Also, it doesn't sell booze. There is an off-licence next door, but this is also in my bad books as I once found the door locked and the clerk standing outside smoking a fag. 'I'll just be a few minutes' she told me, preferring to smoke than serve.

Then there are the two shops that are next to each other. There must be a history between the two, each seems to ignore the other, there is never a mention, but animosity reigns. There is a large one and a small one. I am not a fan of the large one. This is because I was shortchanged there on New Years Day when, in the throes of a massive hangover, I bought a Lucozade and a chocolate bar of some description. Noticing my poor condition, they decided, correctly, that this idiot would never check his change, which of course I didn't. Once the aberration was discovered, I was too damaged to do anything about it.

So I boycotted it. But sometimes I have to go in there as it has items not stocked by the small shop. I also have my problems with the small shop. The shop is run by a couple. The lady is perfectly fine. It’s her husband. He's a nervous sort and freakishly nice. Nice to the point of sarcasm. I really can't decide is his over-reaching obsequiousness is sincere or part of a long-running, inter-marital joke with myself as the stooge. Sometimes I dart back in there immediately after my purchase, to see if I can catch them laughing. But this just makes me appear slightly deranged.

It really is over the top. He once thanked me when I handed him some bananas to be weighed. Why thank me? What did I do? Not hurl them at his face? Not do a comedy dance with them before thrusting them up each of his nostrils? There followed a volley of 'thank yous'. He thanked me after each stage of the purchase, handing him the item, the bag request, taking the money, returning the change, leaving. Each step of the journey punctuated by a thank you. He always seems to be on the point of nervous collapse.

This display puts me on edge. So I avoid it if I can. But then I feel guilty. If I visit one of the other shops, I feel guilty about deserting the small one. I even feel guilty when walking by, on some purely innocent venture, just in case they spot me and think I'm shopping elsewhere. And if I do shop elsewhere, I have to somehow attempt to disguise or secrete the purchases about my person, while in their view.

If it all gets too much, I go to the garage. This is quite a trek away, but offers little emotional strain. And I like the smell of petrol.

Saturday, 29 March 2008


Back to the world of the office. Back to strange fake bonhomie, unnecessary cakes and the strange stress related to tea-rounds (Do I have to offer to make him one? He's, like, two cubicles away from me, but he offered earlier, even if I didn't take it, ok I won't ask him, oh no he's giving me a funny look). Being a freelancer, as I am, is so much different though. There's that added element of really having no obligation. I'm just a body in a chair, so nothing can be expected of me. It's a good way to work. I advise all to give it a go.

It's always odd to observe the little foibles of every office. Like a fool, I made my first visit to the kitchen with a certain amount of self-confidence, having spent the last five years visiting various office kitchens. But I was upended when I arrived. No cups. No cups at all. There was a sign about cups - 'these disposable cups are for guests only'. I'm a guest, I want a disposable cup. But there were no cups of any persuasion.

So I looked for a cup, but all cupboards were locked - which was strange. Then I ventured further into the kitchen to look for a cup.

'What are you doing?' Asked one of two ladies in an aspect of appalled.
'Looking for a cup' I said like the unknowing fool I was.
'This area is for hospitality only. Hospitality' She said with anger, while her companion stared at me open-mouthed, as if I were standing there punching a dolphin. Apparently they were hospitality.

I looked around me. There was no area of demarcation. There was a kitchen, with kitcheny stuff and then more kitchen beyond. There seemed to be no obvious change in utility. But it appeared I'd strayed into an out of bounds region.

'Do you have a cup?' I asked the people in hospitality, who, in fairness, do deal with cups quite frequently, so I didn't feel it was a wildly inappropriate. Their joint expressions of disgust deepened.
'Go to the other kitchen' They ordered.
'Where's that?'
'On the other side of the building' I was told with a sigh.

I left chastised, victim of unseen, unwitting office vagaries. These things can't be taught. When you're first shown around and the bogs and the kettle are pointed out, no one says, 'And don't cross that invisible boundary in the tea-making area or the people from hospitality will be less than hospitable' That's the downside of freelancing - yes you have freedom, more money and no obligation. But you do fall foul of unpredictable cultures.

When I got back to my temporary desk, I noticed everyone had a personal cup in close contact to his or her person. As time passed I noticed they were fiercely protective of their personal cups, which were brought from home in a vague nod to environmentalism. Eventually I tracked down a disposable cup, provided for guests, which I reused frequently like a tramp. But then, that’s what we freelancers are. Tramps of the office – business hobos. Without the shivs.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The library

Libraries are a strange thing. A throwback to a bygone age - like big moustaches, horse-drawn carriages and basic common decency. Nothing brings home the utter bleakness of unemployment like a mid-morning, mid-week visit to the local library, witnessing the undead reading magazines very slowly or harassed mothers trying to get little Timmy interested in some Enid Blyton while he'd rather unscrew some radiator parts.

I think it’s the smell which establishes this feeling. I don't really know what the particular library odour actually consists of, sort of ink mixed with tears. The only thing bleaker than a mid-morning, mid-week trip to the local library is a mid-morning, mid-week trip to a local church hall to collect a lamp which was purchased at a recent bric-a-brac sale and was now being kept under the protection of man called Ossie who was very camp and wearing a sit-com related jumper from the mid 1970s. This I also did.

To compound my misery, I visited the library, saw a local organised walk I was interested in taking part in, called the number on the flyer and found I was put through to another library. So I was standing outside one library and calling another. This was the conversation.

'I'm calling about the walk'
[Angrily] 'I'll have to go and get someone. You do realise I may be away from the phone for some time and you will just have to wait there'
[I hear her walking away and then shouting. A slow shuffle approaches the receiver and an old lady gets on the line]
'You're interested in the walk?'
[I tried to tell her that I knew about the walk as I was staring at the flyer and just wanted to book a place but she steadfastly ignored me'
'The walk. It starts at...wait I'll have to get my glasses'
'No, I just want to...'
[She shuffles away and returns momentarily]
''Ok I can see now. It starts at 11'
'I know'
'And it lasts about an hour'
'I know'
'You know?'
'Then why are you calling for information’?
'I'm trying to book a place'
'Oh you want to book a place'
'Well it starts at 11 and lasts about an hour'
'I'm aware of that'
'I'll have to get a pen'
[She was off again]
[I told her. She comically read back to me a series of letters that had nothing to do with the spelling of my name]
'No, it’s...'
[I spelled my name again. A lady with a pushchair gave me an evil glance. I think she was offended by me using a mobile phone outside a library. But I was outside a library and talking to another library. Surely that’s ok?]
'Ok, I've got your name'
[I had no idea where she had written my name or, in fact, who the hell she was]
'Do you need to know what time it starts’?
'Or how long it is'
'All right then, you're all signed up. It starts at 11'
'Where does it start?'
'Oh, at the library'

This has to be some kind of cruel joke.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


Ah Wolverhampton!

No, not the most unsuccessful musical ever produced - but the phrase I utter every time I walk from the station into the town of my birth and marvel at the complete bizarreness of the place. It strikes me that everyone in Wolverhampton is either engaged in an argument, or is telling someone aggressively about an argument they were recently having. It really is a place of wonderment and I encourage all to take a gander.

Though I felt I'd found a suitable cardigan (see previous posts) - I felt I had to have a quick trawl around the charity shops - just in case. They were surprisingly void of upsetting cardies. Very odd, as it says on the sign you pass as you're driving in: "Wolverhampton - Home of the Upsetting Cardigan"

I saw some at the market which were exactly what I was looking for - but they were £12. £12! And the lady tried to sell me other things with a certain amount of aggression.

'We also have these jumpers' She said, holding up a completely unsuitable jumper - something a lower league Estate Agent would wear on a causal Sunday. I ran.

The market had one of those meat vans, where the man sells his butchery out the back and had a microphone and PA system to drum up business. Even though there was absolutely no one anywhere near him, bar one old lady buying chops, he still chose to speak into the microphone while conducting his business.

'Yeah, that’s a lovely cut that. Take a look at it' He bellowed across a large distance.
The woman's reply couldn't be heard.
'Do you need any sausages, because I've got some lovely ones over here' He screamed, his voice travelling at least a quarter of a mile even though his customer was ONE FOOT AWAY.

I wondered if it was some showbiz bug that had gripped him and now he couldn't function without shouting into a microphone. Personally, I would never dream of conducting a transaction with an individual using an amplification device. That is just an individual preference.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Mission vaguely accomplished

I found a cardie. Its not perfect but its nearly there. Might be able to doll it up - or rather doll it down as its currently far too nice looking. Needs to be dyed and possibly some felt-tip added.

But I did hear this sensational titbit in a local charity shop. An older lady was trying to tell something to a new employee who didn't possess English as their first language. It was a fabulous example of someone trying to explain something perfectly simple, getting flustered and using completely inappropriate words. I couldn't work out if she was trying to show her how to deal with an over-ring or how to steal from the till.

'Now if you put the money in'
'But you don't have the money'
'If the money doesn't exist or is elsewhere'
'You've put the numbers in. Here. On the till'
'But there is no money'
'Then put the numbers in'
'Or not put the numbers in but just pretend'
'Yes pretend. You know? You know pretend? Like made up'
'Made up?'
'Made up. Make believe. Like fairy tales'
'Fairy tales'
'Not like fairy tales. Though they are pretend. But you pretend to put the money in. Or the numbers. Open it up and pretend'
'When do you want your lunch?'

Monday, 10 March 2008

Searching for the Perfect Cardigan

An absolute rotter of a day – a complete shitbag from soup to nuts. A day where freezing, torrential rain vied with painful comical mishaps and impending poverty in a battle royale to unhinge me completely.

One thing which always makes me giggle is when I inadvertently scream out well-known comedy catchphrases in blatant frustration. So it was today, when trying to retrieve a box of Ready Brek from a high shelf that I jostled a box of Alpen which plummeted towards me, spewing its malty contents in every direction, which caused me to exclaim ‘what are the chances of that happening?’

The day failed to improve when I left the house. Once I was well away from any sort of shelter the heavens would open in extreme anger, and once shelter would be reached, it would go all sunny. At the exposed bus stop, I’d wait long enough that frustration would take hold, so I’d dash to the next stop, only for a bus to emerge from nowhere and hurtle passed me.

Then, when I was an annoying distance from the house, the recruiter I was planning to see today called to say. ‘You have got your passport haven’t you?’ No, why? Are we going away somewhere? ‘You will need your passport. It’s a requirement’ So I had to return home and repeat the process, rain, missed bus, walk, rain, missed bus.

Prior to this proposed recruiter interview, I planned to continue my pointless cardigan quest. What I am looking for is a horrible cardigan. I want to resurrect my comedy character, Les Hope, but to do this I need to find his cardigan. I can picture it in my mind, grey, polyester, slightly greasy, perhaps with a chevron pattern, vile. But I cannot find it. I have visited every charity shop in North London, but they are too tasteful. It’s all Armani and designer gear, no foul clothing a tramp would turn his nose up at.

I took a break from pointless cardigan hunting for lunch. There was an amazing scene in the grim Camden pub that I chose due to the monsoon which chose to shed its filthy, watery load on me at that moment. Two groups of old people, at separate tables, were trading insults at the top of their lungs. One in the party was called Donut. They really seemed to despise each other:

‘You didn’t buy him a drink did you. He’s always cadging off people’
‘Why don’t you mind your own fucking business’
‘You’re such a bullshitter, why don’t you fuck off?’
‘Whose talking to you? Why don’t you fuck off?’

There was talk of prising someone’s coffin open and stealing the contents. They then started to talk about Germany, and the possibility of taking one of them to Belgium and leaving them there. I say talk, it was more gummy screeching. It was quite entertaining.

So to the recruiters. They really are an odd breed. She made the mistake of asking me why I left my last post. After several minutes of bile spewing, she said:

‘One thing companies hate to hear from prospective employees is…well…bitterness is too strong a word’

She went on to tell me how much she loved her job.

‘I love it. I’m addicted. I can’t stop. My boyfriend does it to, we both do it together. We can’t get enough. Of course he was in the hospital at the weekend. He was just overworked and dehydrated. But then he’s only got one kidney anyway’

I’m not entirely sure she’s the perfect person to find me an appointment.

So I returned home in more endless pissing rain. There is no milk. I cannot face going outside again. All is misery.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Basic Toilet Etiquette

Surely the vary basic tenets of toilet etiquette have been driven into every grown man by now and yet I see basic failings and unconventional behaviour at every turn.

Urinals tend to come in threes or fives. I don't know why - I don't make the rules. Those are the basic urinal denominations. It’s probably an EU directive or health and safety of something, but anyway that tends to be the number of piss receptacles. Ok, so it’s very simple. If you enter the toilet and if no one is in there, use a urinal at one of the extremes, either far left or far right. So if someone else enters, they can use the opposite extreme urinal, providing the basic comforts of space and security we all relish. If there's someone already at the urinals, and they're playing by the rules, then as specified, stand at the urinal furthest from them. If there are two people at the urinals, at either end, then you use the cubicle. Only if both urinals are busy AND the cubicle is taken, do you squeeze between your fellow pissers and use the middle urinal.

The middle urinal is not really an active urinal. It is merely for emergencies and possibly decoration. To use that urinal voluntarily is in visible breach of basic etiquette and makes a bold and unsavoury comment about you and your personality. You’re obviously one of those types that rollerblades to work, or juggles at parties or has hair that doesn’t make sense. You are all hated.

Cubicles are easier to tackle. Choose your favourite. If your favourite is occupied, go to the other one. If both are busy, leave and find alternative arrangements. You don't stand there. Who stands in a toilet, waiting? It's unnatural. It's like gardening at night. Certainly it could be done, but for God's sake don't do it.

I raise this because at a recent visit to the office bogs, there was a man alone in the facilities, not only occupying the middle urinal but apparently waving his arms around in the process. I don't really know if he was exercising, or trying to adjust some errant part of his dress, or having a little game, but it was unnerving and a flagrant discrediting of the beliefs we all hold dear. In these turbulent times, there are some things we need to support and rely on. Standing like a dick at the middle urinal and gesticulating wildly is unhelpful at best. At worst, treason.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


The thin atmospheric fabric of firmly controlled, almost robotic, servitude that exists at my local Pret-a-Manger has been rent asunder by the arrival of a new employee who refuses work by the usual constricting, contrived rules. In my defence, I rarely visit the place. The enforced chumminess and ethnic soups don't really float my boat. But I was weak and recently ended up there.

I was being seen to by a regular, generic employee, but I noticed a new face. He was greatly camp. There was no disguising it; he was a very camp man. A lady approached him and ordered a double latte or some such. He was expected to repeat this order to the barista who was standing 4 inches away from him and heard what the lady had said perfectly. But he refused. He mouthed the order silently in the general direction of his colleague, in a grotesque mime.

'I don't like to repeat things' He explained. 'I refuse to repeat things'

At that moment a lady behind us was attempting to clear away her meal, but was making quite a hash of it. She managed to scatter a coffee coup and soup container in two separate directions, casting them to the ground and across the table where she was sitting, crumbs flying liberally. She had a sly look around to check if anyone had seen her being so clumsy.

'We saw you!' My camp friend screamed across the shop in delight to the stunned amazement of his fellow pret dwellers. 'Everybody saw you'

It was marvellous to see the vacuum sealed atmosphere of this formulaic food dispensary destroyed, even for a second. I shall be following this gentleman's progress with interest.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Cold

My freezer is in the hall. This fact causes great amusement to at least one of my friends and he mentions it often. My freezer is in the hall because my landlord is very old. Prior to moving into this flat, the horrible, wretched, useless letting agent asked us if I wanted him to do anything before we moved in. I couldn't really think of anything.

'Really? Because he has to if you want him to. It’s the law. You can make him change things. Fix things. Are you sure there's nothing you want to make him do?' She pressured.

Now I felt obliged. I had noticed that the fridge, like many of the things in the flat, appeared to be from the 1950s. And it didn't have a freezer. Just one of those strange ice shelves you get in older fridges that can fit an ultra-slim packet of fish fingers or a pitta, but little more. So I asked for a freezer.

'Just a little freezer. Nothing fancy'

So my landlord provided a freezer. In the hall. Not just sitting in the hall, but fully plumbed into the hall, with complicated wiring and sophisticated, involved plug systems. A freezer doesn't really fit in a hall. If you think of Terry and June or any other domestic sit-com, you never see a freezer in their hall, perhaps a hat-stand or umbrella rack, but never a freezer.

Like I say, I put this down to my landlord's age. The agent had warned me he was old, but the extent of his decrepitude took me by surprise. As well as installing freezers in odd places, he's also fairly deaf. So you ask him things and he gazes off into space or starts whistling some war-time hit. I quite like him.

But lately the hall freezer has begun to trouble me. For some reason known only to itself, it has started to go quiet. Very quiet. It was never a noisy beast, but would gurgle away happily as freezers do. I'd hear it at night sometimes, slowly chilling the emergency sprouts to a frigid pulp. Now it does nothing. It sits there in total blankness, never a trill or a hum passes its lips. I yank a drawer open, everything is still frozen, but it has now decided to do this silently. This worries me, so I open the door, hoping to raise the temperature enough to kick it into action. Or else flick it off and on at the plug, trying to goad it into life. But it isn’t interested, it’s taken to a wordless protest or some ultra-efficient new regime.

Meanwhile the fridge had taken to making far too much noise. That never stops, buzzing and creaking, bits of it dropping off. Perhaps it’s out of sympathy to his brother in a far off land. From the kitchen, it’s noticed his exiled compatriot has fallen silent and had decided to compensate. A suitable balance needs to be reached, but balance is something that seems to evade my life and my appliances.

Saturday, 1 March 2008


In Archway earlier, I heard an older, Irish lady answer her mobile phone by screeching the word 'why?' into the handset. No 'hello', no 'yes' just a fairly blunt 'why?' Which is precisely what I want to shout every time the phone rings. I shall be adopting this in future.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Fake bowling

More toilet trouble for you. Not really trouble, but a ludicrous situation.

I despise all personal interaction at work. I realised the most annoying thing to hear between colleagues when you arrive at work is the phrase 'How late did you stay?' This conjures up a high-ranking circle of hell to me, I see these fuckers all day long, I'm then expected to spend my evening and weekends with them? Chatting about the new org chart and the chilli we had on Thursday? I'd rather rub excrement into my hair.

Leaving cards, birthday cards - all bollocks. I was about to apply for a job recently, when I began to read about the company. It stated, 'Every time its your birthday someone will bake you a cake and then we all stand around your desk and sing happy birthday to you and then you'll have to make a speech' And they want people to work there? How dickless is that?

This lack of interaction tends to spill over into the 'me' time in the office. Notably the toilet. So this morning, I entered the smallest room to see a particularly chatty colleague standing there. I decided I couldn't face standing next to the urinal with him, so made a vague noise of greeting and then headed to the cubicle. But then I thought he would obviously be able to tell if I was just pissing in there, so I attempted to aim my piss stream away from the water, to avoid splashing. Then I'd release a short burst of urine directly into the bowl, in an approximation of a turd hitting the water. In this way, my colleague would be cleverly fooled into thinking I was using the cubicle for the purpose it was designed for. I was even tempted to engage him when I left - 'You see, I really was shitting in there. Not just pissing and avoiding you'

But he was long gone when I emerged. My victory was unnoticed. I really, really need a holiday.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Get the Look

Two things happen to me with alarming regularity. Their appearance in my life is too frequent to be considered coincidence.

The first is seeing people on the street openly weeping. I am forever witnessing various types of either gender, differing age and non-specific economic bracket, bawling their eyes out in front of me. Not just a single tear or a dewy misting - but full on cloth-renting upsetness. And they always give me an odd look, as if I'm somehow responsible for their misery. They break-off from they snotty gulping and gasping, cheek-stained blubbering to glare at me in accusatory fashion.

And while we're on the subject of odd looks, this is the other thing that happens to me. People stare at me with open jawed, decorumless ferocity. They stand stock still, ceasing whatever task they were involved with and look at me with an unnerving clarity. Of course I check my dress, ensure nothing is adhered to me or if I've suddenly developed a hump. But no, I can't detect anything untoward. Eventually I will stare back and they'll realise they are staring and swiftly look away.

I wonder if they're connected? I wonder if the people crying are people who were staring earlier on in the day and my appearance induced this hysteria. That would explain why they give me such accusing glances. But doesn't explain why I cause this reaction in people. If you see me and feel compelled to stare and then to cry, please let me know. I'm not overly concerned, just curious.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The toilet

Toilets may play a prominent role on these pages. Many of my adventures revolve around toilets, just as the toilet revolves around me during my more troublesome moments.

The toilet at work is broken. We were informed of this by a poorly rendered sign stating 'out of order'. The sign failed to impress me. It was scrawled in blue biro - hardly a suitable choice for penning a warning announcement. I would have gone for felt tip. Possibly blood red with underlining and some skulls. It made the toilet appear not really that broken at all - just a bit done in, some chipping and mild stains but nothing life threatening.

I poked my head around the door. All seemed quiet and safe. No water on the floor, no excrement smeared walls, no broken porcelain or spurting pipes. It appeared as it was. An empty toilet.

Now I faced a predicament. Did I use the broken toilet for the purpose it was created for and fly in the face of the sign or did I take the walk of shame, through the office to the non-broken toilet on the other side of the building? My nerve failed me. I did the latter.

So I was surprised to see, around an hour later, men in the garb best served for chemical warfare or extreme alien vivisection appear beside the toilet. Face-masks, jump-suits, vulcanised gloves. The whole shebang. I'm positive I heard, though the muffled through a mask, the word 'asbestos'.

It seemed a little too late to suddenly send in forces dressed in protective gear when I have been happily piddling unprotected for the best part of a year. I think I must have misheard. Maybe he said. 'Asbo Tetris' which seems an unlikely thing for a man to say, but the tail-end of conversations can always throw up some surprises. Or talking about someone called 'Shaz Lescott'. Garbled through some mouth-wear - its a possibility.

Whatever their purpose, it failed. The sign was still on the door once their visit was over. Its shabbiness now possessed a far more sinister quality.

Monday, 25 February 2008


One event which constantly blights my life is the unnatural discipline of utter strangers to hurl themselves into my path as I innocently walk from place to place. I am always ALWAYS having people get in my way - even on deserted country lanes, abandoned fell routes and empty Stately Homes at midnight. It must be me. It has to be me. It occurs too frequently to be a coincidence. Every time I foolishly leave my house, I'm tripped, blockaded and hindered by fellow pedestrians who are inevitably drawn into whatever route I have chosen to take.

This morning, a Monday even, I'd just left my garden gate when I saw a woman approaching, bearing the haphazard gait of someone born to get in my way. She wasn't on crack or attempting to perform a complicated series of tasks while approaching me, but I could tell by her random manoeuvres she would be definitely hurling herself into my path before I could say 'Dr Dre'.

But it was a ruse. I quickly crossed the road to avoid this woman and her randomness only to be assaulted by another man, previously unseen, who was taken aback by the speed with which I hopped onto the pavement and immediately became confused. He not only got in my way, but proceeded to commence the 'I’ll go this way, oh dear you've gone the same way, so I’ll go the other way, oh dear you're doing that too' shuffle, while carrying a briefcase and the air of a man about to stab me. The worst of all possible conclusions. This was within the first 30 seconds of my week. The first 30 seconds. I'd been obstructed viciously on two separate occasions before I'd reached the end of the street. We danced our little dance, he harrumphed and I left the scene knowing this would be the worst day of my life.

I think it has to do with height. Being a short man, I'm seen as an easy, possibly even invisible, obstacle between my aggressor and their destination. Add me to a queue, and I am always the 'passing point' through the queue. Those before and behind me remain untouched, while I am shunted aside by those attempting to get through the line of people.

I don't really know what to do about this. I either need to start wearing something extremely spiky or cake myself in excrement. So it’s a goth or a nutter then. Those are my two options to avoid confrontation and stay sane. You see my predicament.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Failure to Post

I have limitless sympathy for those trapped in thankless, miserable jobs. Especially postal workers and bus drivers. I read somewhere that bus driver is the second most stressful job in existence. First was bomb disposal expert. As one who has done time in retail, I can qualify that the epithet 'The customer is always right' is utterly incorrect. In fact the reverse is true. The customer is almost always wrong. I once had a row with a customer who asked me if we kept their credit card receipt 'in the vault'
'In the where?'
'The vault. Surely its kept securely in the vault'
'We don't have a vault'
'No vault? There where is it kept?'
'In the till'
'Incredible. I would have thought you'd have a vault for such things'

Which has nothing to little to do with this next tale, which occurred last week. I had a letter to post, but the post office is fairly distant and usually packed. So, its avoidance had nothing to do with the quality of the staff, with whom I am in total solidarity. But there is a post box near by, so I intended to make that my destination.

However as I approached, I witnessed the unmistakable signs of kafuffle. The post-box appeared to be taped off. Nothing else was off limits. Just the post-box. There was a length of tape stretching from the wall, across the pavement, around the post-box and back to the wall. Pedestrians stepped out into the road to avoid this unexplained inconvenience.

I followed the line of tape, and tried to place my item of mail into the box. Someone in a uniform, previously unseen, made a sound of officialdom.
I stopped in mid-post.
'This box isn't in use. Don't you see the tape?' He said.
'But I can reach the slot' I tried.
'Sorry. It’s off limits'
'Why?' I asked. I looked up and around. I saw no unexplained packages or prospective leapers from the over-hanging ledge.
'I can't tell you' I was told.

It was then I noticed this uniformed figure wasn't a policeman. You'll find this hard to believe, but I swear he was a St Johns Ambulanceman. I tried to allow my expression to confirm this and register my unease. I think the gentleman knew further difficult questions were about to surface and moved away. I looked around, trying to find some like-minded types as confused and disgusted as I amongst my pedestrian brethren. But they were happy to take a small diversion around the post-box, possibly even enjoying this distraction. I really couldn't fathom it. If there was a suspect device or wounded mammal trapped in the box, surely the exclusion zone should have been larger or unnecessary, depending on the situation. And why was a stretcher-bearer in charge?

I attempted to give the St Johns Ambulanceman a withering glance as I retreated and was forced to traipse to the post office after all. Post offices workers are fine, as I have expressed. Over zealous first aid officials bearing tape are a pain in the arse.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

The Mounting

There is no delicate way to put this. Yesterday, during my regular personality-bleaching commute, a woman attempted to mount me. In fact it wasn't even an attempt, it was an actual, pure, methodical mounting. I'd seen a similar thing on a nature programme earlier in the week, when one horny Horned Toad, took another by surprise from the rear. I was that baffled amphibian.

I like to look at the woodpecker. On my way to work, I walk a considerable distance to pass through some woods, where I often see a woodpecker. The sighting, or failure to sight the woodpecker, is a barometer for my day. A decent view of the bird tells me that my morning won't end in bloodshed, whereas if the animal is illusive, things are sure to go awry. This detour on my route ensures I will be late and have to jump on the tube to make up time. This is always grim. But I have never been mounted before.

Things seemed optimistic - I had seen the woodpecker and the tube carriage was relatively person-free. The crowds increased as we passed from station to station, until it was obviously full. I was crammed against the door, those around me were similarly pressed and the tube etiquette was in place. There was no space and thus no one attempted to rock the boat by attempting to board. Except this particular lady at Kentish Town.

My guard was down, certainly. The train was complete, no other passengers would be alighting, all was safe in the world. It was then I realised that something was moulding itself against my back body. Not simply pressing themselves against me in traditional commuter fashion, but attempting to clamber upon me, as animals have been prone to since developing the urge.

I let out a surprised 'Ooh'. The man next to me laughed at my startled expression. My assailant was unseen but was now squirming and gyrating against me, attempting to generate some space for herself in an area where none existed. Then the tutting began. First from those nearby, then from the mounter herself, until a tidal wave of tutting passed through the carriage. I didn't tut. I was speechless. Violated.

It's hard to know how to react to such a situation. We'd reached another station, people left the train, the mounter disengaged and moved directly in front of me and then attacked me from this position, now leaning back onto me. But this I could cope with, keeping her at bay with a rolled up newspaper. Then I was released at my own destination and the attack was over.

It was quite an odd experience, but I was left with a thought I've often had during a particularly gruelling commute. Why bother? Is it that important? Unless your transporting organs for immediate transplant, is it worth mounting an unknown man to get to your role at Charbroilled Marketing, where you will spend the first 45 minutes of your morning seeing if that young buck in Research has replied to the slightly flirty comment you made during an illicit game of Scrabulous?

I did not enjoy my mounting. I will be travelling by bus on Monday. The woodpecker will remain unspotted.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Hunt

I rather recklessly quit my job - reckless in the fact that I have no other job to go to and starvation is a very real possibility. While the looming threat of enforced idleness fills me with utter joy, I have to face facts and at least pretend to look for alternative employment, no matter how soul-wrenching this may be.

With this in mind I recently visited a recruiter. She was the queen of the vague email - making definite plans for a meeting, then sending me a confusing, 'let's meet up sometime'. What? We are meeting up, you sent me a thing saying we were meeting here, at this time. 'Oh right, yes. Let's do that then'.

I trundle to her offices. There's no information in a decidedly bland reception. It looks the sort of place I've seen on Watchdog, where fly-by-night companies set up shop, swindle the vulnerable, then high-tail it to the Costa Brava. They always seem to be having baskets of flowers delivered. Indeed, in front of me was a distressed looking courier carrying a large bouquet. Then it was my turn.

'I'm here to see Penny Windermere'
Without looking at me the lady at the desk states.
'Fifth floor, take the lift on the right'

I was surprised by the lack of pointlessly rigorous security controls, but did what I was told. On the fifth floor there was a locked door with a sign stating, 'Bang on door for attention'. So I banged. A flustered man approached.

'Yes' he said with venom, obviously angered that someone had banged on the door even though it says 'bang on the door'. I sort of nodded towards the sign in my defence and then said 'Penny Windermere'. The word 'blank' doesn't really do justice to his expression. 'What?' he asked, as if I'd requested carnal knowledge of a beloved childhood pet.

'Penny Windermere' I repeated with increasing uncertainty.
'You better come in'

He led me to a small office, where he immediately returned to an argument he was having on the phone. I was left in front of another lady behind a desk.
'Penny Windermere'
I got another blank one, right between the eyes.
'Penny Windermere. I'm here to see her about my career'
'Who does she work for?'

Of course I had no idea who she worked for. It was one of those companies with instantly forgettable, pointlessly complicated names, such as 'Aquasquint' or 'Contrapledge'.

'I don't know' I said like a fool.
'You don't know?'
'I think it begins with an A'
She regarded me like the prick I was.
'There's no one of that name here, you'll have to go back downstairs.

I took the lift back down. The lady at reception acted as if she hadn't just sent me on a grim, painful journey to the fifth floor.

'Yes?' She asked.
'Penny Windermere' I said for the four hundredth time that morning.
'You'll have to fill out one of these' she said, shoving a temporary pass before me.
'I didn't have to fill one out before'
'She's on the fourth floor. You need a pass for the fourth floor'
'She's not on the fifth floor then?' I asked with incredulous rage.
'Nah' she said with a joyous smirk. 'We have a lot of Pennys here'

Which was the closest I got to an apology. Another basket of flowers arrived.

My meeting was a failure. Penny Windermere grew very glassy eyed while I told her about my trip to the fifth floor and then left me alone in a room to fill in a form, while possibly alerting her colleagues to the security threat that had just arrived from downstairs.

'We'll be in touch' she lied.

I went back to the office and visited the website of a local zoo, to see if they are hiring.
They are not.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

An explanation

Let me shed a little more light on the title. I own a coffee maker. It is poorly designed and generally incompetent. It frequently releases hot coffee into any localised area other than the one it should be concentrating on, namely the coffee pot. To engage it, I remove the remnants of the previous batch, scrape away any grounds that refuse to leave, add new coffee and fill with water. However, the port into which one adds the water is small and awkwardly located near to a hinge and adjacent to a flap, making pouring difficult. So there I was, fixed into the ridiculous angle I have to adopt in order to successfully complete this task when I was surprised by an object hovering close to my face, just at the boundaries of my line of vision. I was startled, released a small yelp and split water liberally around the room. It was then I realised what it was that had snuck in so closely to my head.

It was my own arm.

My stance had left my pouring arm at quite an unusual angle and its unnatural position had startled me. My own arm. One of my limbs which, lets face it, I should be fully in control of and accountable for, had crept up and unnerved me.

Similar to being scared by your own shadow, you may reflect. No, I have to disagree, it is far more pathetic. Once the mopping had begun, I started to consider this debacle and decided it was the perfect example of the daily indignities I am forced to suffer. I know of no one else who attracts the kind of sweeping humiliations that fate deems it necessary to spew in my face.

I will now log these lapses in dignity for all to witness. Perhaps some kind of pattern will emerge.