Thursday, 1 November 2018

The 1066 World Cup Final

“Right lads. Remember, this is your big opportunity. You can become legends, write your own history.” Harold Godwinson drew himself up to his full height, paused for effect and said, “You can win the World Cup on home soil!”
A cheer went up from the group gathered in a huddle and then, when a hush finally settled, a voice cut in.
“Yeah but gaffer, why –”
“I’ve told you before, Norbert of Styles,” interrupted Harold, “it’s Sire. For am I not King of England?”
“Oh yeah, sorry gaff... err, Sire.”
“And your question, Norbert?”
“Uh, yeah. Home soil you say, gaff... err, Sire. More like home stones. How come we’re playing at Hastings?”
Harold stroked his chin. “Well, it’s closer for the French team, isn’t it. Bit closer to Normandy... English hospitality and all that. Why, where would you suggest we play?”
Norbert smiled, his gap toothed grin making him a favourite with the ladies. “We don’t wanna be making it easy for the French do we? I’d have said Wemblee would’ve been better.”
“Wemblee?” said one of the team members in a yellow jersey. His name was Banks of Gordon, but he was known affectionately as Banksy because he didn’t give much away and was suspected as being the mysterious artist who had sketched an unfinished work called the ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ all over a public wall in the town. “Where’s that then?”
Well, it’s a bit north of here. Big open field. Plenty of space. You can move round a bit. Better for Big Jack here,” Norbert said glancing behind at a tall guy standing to the rear. “I mean, he won’t find it easy moving on these pebbles, being the lanky fella he his, and that’s gonna make us vulnerable down the middle.”
“Vulnerable? Vulnerable, Norbert? We’re English. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island were defeated today in this Final, then our teams shall go beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the FA, and will carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the next generation, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and we shall win the World Cup.”
Several of the gathering stared at each other for a moment, unsure of how to respond. And then a young man stepped forward. He was known to many as an astute and level headed member of the community and a part-time soothsayer.
“Sire, if may make so bolde. My name is Peter Martins and I am of the parish of Weste Hame and I bege your leave to speake.”
Harold nodded. “Yes, I have heard of you. Some say that you are ahead of your time but why do you keep adding an ‘e’ to the end of many of your words?”
“Sire, it is my accent. I was raised in the shires of Essexe and we speake in our own dialecte. I hope I do not offende your majesty?”
“Not at all. We are all Englishmen. Roger the Huntsman is from the land where they say the fabled Liver Bird roams; George the ‘Priest’ is from the region of Londinium; Norbert from the Manc tribe; Alan, the Earl of Ball, from the Black Pool. A fine mix of men here about to make history and win the 1066 World Cup. Now say your piece, Peter Martins.”
“I thanke thee Sire. I wanted to saye that Norbert of Styles may have a point about Wemblee. One day I can see a greate amphitheatre there that holds thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of our fellowe Englishmen, 52% of them willing us to win, 48% wanting the opposition to win with 4% just pitching up for the hospitality. This is what we neede... support. I see no supporters on this wilde and windy beach, Sire. I fear that if we do not get support, it may be 900 years before we have the chance to win the Worlde Cup again.”
“Thank you Peter Martins. I hear your wise words and your fears but we have men of valour amongst us. Robert Carlton, a champion of many battles, a man of shooting accuracy few, if any, can match. He will take the fight to the French, supported by the rest of you brave warriors.”
“Sire, if I may,” a tall, proud looking man with a shock of blonde hair said.
“What is it, Mooro? What is it my general has to say to his troops?”
“Well Sire, as you know, I too am from the Parish of Weste Hame, and I understand Peter Martins concerns. But last night I was in the pub and I ran into my friend, Alfred of Romsey and we got talking. He has an analytical approach to battle and he pointed out a few things. He said that playing on the pebbles of Hastings beach might even things up a tad. He said we have the best personnel but beware that the beach might be a problem. He suggested that they are weak at the back. Take their key central people – Barnier, Tusk, Merkel and Macron. They are a one trick pony, only one set of tactics. Put pressure on them and they’ll cave. Get ‘Bally’ to sling high ones into their box for the big guns and Sir Robert to fire off his cannonballs and they won’t like it. Get through them and then you’ve only got Junckers to worry about and the word is, he’s distracted working on some new invention called an ‘air o plain’ or something, that he hopes to sell to the Germans. But Alfred said, you’d be better off at Wemblee. Oh, and he also said the boys should fire at Will.”
“Fire at Will?” Harold said, looking puzzled.
“Yeah, he suggested that Ray of Wislon and George pepper their leader, Will… the fellah with the big nose, since he seems to pull the strings in the middle of the field.”
“Ah, yes, William the Conk. Good thinking, I’ll grant you. Control him and you take charge.” Harold tugged at his beard and looked thoughtful. “But this Wemblee thing, all a bit late now, Mooro and anyway, that Alfred of Romsey spends all his time up at Ipswich these days so he’s out of touch. I say we press on, get ourselves organised. Time is of the essence.”
There was a low murmur amongst the assembly and then one of the number, an athletic type wearing a green hat, stepped forward.
“Sire, I beg to ask, will you require my services this day?”
“Harold looked him up and down and said, “And who might you be, young fella?”
“Sire, I am Geoffrey of Hurstville.”
“Hurstville? I have roamed my Kingdom from coast to coast, from forest to forest and from hill to dale and yet I have never come across such a place. Pray, where is Hurstville?”
“It is but a tiny hamlet in the shires of Essexe, not far from the Parish of West Hame, Sire.”
“Ah… another of the Weste Hame clan. It seems you are many. Wait, I think I have seen you before. Were you not here with your fellow Hammers just two days ago? Yes… you were the fellow with the blue hat. I remember now. What is going on with your hats, Geoffrey? Are you trying to disguise yourself, fool your King? What is this trick?”
“Sire, I have but three hats, one green that I wear today, one blue and one red. I change them regularly so that I keep them washed and fresh. It is no foolery. I only wish to serve my King and my Kingdom on this day against the French in this final. I want to be remembered for that for evermore, not remembered for some hat trickery.”
King Harold smiled. “My son, spoken like a loyal Englishman. This very day, Geoffrey, you shall take your place here in Hastings, by my side. You shall battle with your King and his loyal subjects. We shall win this final and give our opponents one in the eye so that never will they venture upon these shores again…
A rousing cheer drowned out the rest of King Harold’s words and then, when silence returned Harold raised himself up to his full height, drew his sword and held it aloft. “Once more unto the beach dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead…”
At the back of the crowd Ray of Wislon whispered to Banksy. “Here we go. One of his bleedin’ soliloquies. I hope he’s right about Hastings and wrong about closing walls up with English dead otherwise we might as well all go into the undertaking business.”

Tuesday, 7 August 2018


In a recent news item that escaped mainstream public attention, probably due to the focus given to the posturing of world leaders, it was reported that an important discovery had been made in the ancient Sterkfontein cave site, in the Province of Gauteng, South Africa.
A team of anthropologists specialising in linguistics, happened upon a vast array of wall inscriptions in a previously unexplored cave whilst searching for evidence of a primitive tribe that had relocated from the Kalahari Desert region some 700 kilometres west of Sterkfontein. The inscriptions were so well preserved, having been sheltered from light and weathering for well over 100,000 years, that the team were able to get clear details almost as if they had been written yesterday. They spent months on deciphering the individual sections and were surprised to find that there was a natural progression to the inscriptions and, rather than random blocks of ‘writing’, there was a sequence that formed a narrative. What was even more revelatory was the discovery that the inscriptions were by a hominid tribe that crossed the divide between Homo Heidelbergensis and Homo Erectus and the content indicated a much higher level of development and intelligence than anyone had expected. Linguists were able to discover that the tribe consisted of almost three hundred settlers who had lived in an area of the Kalahari Desert that in the modern era is known as Tshabong. Now thanks to newly developed linguistic software, the full transcript of the cave writings has been made available in a select number of scientific publications. The full collection of inscriptions is lengthy, the equivalent of a novelette, so for the purposes of this post, only a small sample has been included which, it is hoped, illustrates how important this discovery has been.

“Awright Dagga? How you doin’?”
“Good Teekay. You?”
“Cool. What’s that?”
Dagga glanced downwards and then raised his right hand. “That, my friend, is a thing for cutting stuff.”
“A what?”
“A thing for cutting stuff.”
“What... that?
“Yeah... and, it’s gonna change the way we live.”
“Err... yeah... okay, if you say so. But it looks like a thin bit of stone to me.”
Dagga held the object up and said, “Well, yeah, it’s made out of stone but look close. I shaped it using other stones. See, this end is sharp and this end is blunt. You hold it by the blunt end and use the sharp end to cut stuff.”
Teekay scratched his chin and said, “Right... but what’s it called? I mean, you can’t just call it a stone ’cos everybody will just think it’s... uh, another stone.”
“Dunno yet. I’m meeting up with the rest of the clan at the Henge and thought I’d ask Lexic to come up with a name. He’s good with words.”
“Yeah, I heard him and Dik is making something called a book with all them words wot he’s invented in it so we can talk better to each other. I’ll come with you.”

Dagga and Tekay headed off to the Henge where they found a throng of people standing around enjoying the last of the evening sunshine, for it was a record temperature not seen since the ice age, the last recorded record temperature.
“You a bit late this evening,” an older guy with a long beard said.
“Yeah, running late, Lexic. Been inventing something.”
“Inventing? What’s that? I don’t have that word in my notes. What’s it mean? I might use it.”
“I just made it up.” Dagga held up the long bit of stone and said, “I was clearing out the air vent in my cave… you know how they get clogged up with moss and that in this heat... them meteee ologists don’t like us gettin too hot. Anyway, this bit of stone wot was in vent came loose. Looked a bit different so I played around with it and made this.”
“Yeah, but he ain’t got a name for it yet,” Tekay said.
“What’s it do?” one of the men standing around asked.
“Well… it cuts things and, I dunno, can kill things. Gonna save us chasing round after them bleedin speedy things with the pointed horns and throwing stones at them.”
“Yeah… that don’t work,” said an exceptionally tall guy who was leaning on a rock. “Too bleedin fast to be caught for food.”
“Don’t despair,” Larjmac, “with this, one day you’ll catch them horny fast food and things will be different. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
“Since what? What’s that?” Larjmac said, his brow furrowed in puzzlement.
“What’s what?” Dagga asked.
“Hang on,” said Lexic, “you can’t say that. You can’t have two words the same next to each other... that’s a new rule. Ask Mattmat here. Ain’t that right Matmatt?”
“Uh... s’pose it is,” answered a short chap who was fiddling with some beads strung around his neck. "Not too good with words, me. More better with sums."
"Sums? Sums what?" asked a young guy with a ready smile.
"Don't worry about it Dik," said Mattmat. "I'm working on it."
Larjmac raised a hand to interrupt and smiled at Dagga. “Anyway, I was only asking what sliced bread is. I mean, I never even heard of bread so dunno
what ‘sliced’ is.”
Dagga stared at Lexic for a moment. “Yeah, well it’s just a... a...”
Lexic shrugged. “Let’s call it a ‘turn of froze’. And don’t ask... I’ll sort it. “ He scratched his head and then said, “so, Dagga, this new invention of yours, we gotta give it a name... and by the way, ‘gotta’ is a type of chat wot me and Dik is... err, to use your new word... inventing, and we calling it ‘slang’ innit, so some people don’t av to communicate proper wot doanwanna, yeah. Anyway, I got a great name for your bit of stone. I’m working on words that rhyme and -"
“Rhyme?” Dagga said.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it now but I got this new word for a woman that you own and then it sort of just comes outta that.”
“What’s that word then?” asked Dik. “All these new words wot you keeps comin up with can be fusing.”
“You know... what I said this morning, Dik... member? I got a new word for a woman wot us men own? Named it after my own woman, Wyva, in her honour.... like I said, member, yeah? ‘Wife’... innit. And then I got ‘life’ and then ‘strife’ and then ‘rife’... which is rhyming innit, like singing wot will be words wiv, you know, people screamin an wailing an that. Not sure wot it’s I’m gonna use them lot for yet but how about... nife?”
“Uh... okay,” said Dagga. “I like it. An, if you got it spare...”
“Hold on a bit,” a young woman with short dark hair said. “My man Dik here has made words too. Wot bout his words wot he’s come up wiv?”
Lexic stroked his beard and said, “Don’t worry Chenerry, Dik and you will be recognizzed. I will make sure you get credit for Dik’s work. Maybe do more books, yeah.”
“Well, anyway, I like nive too,” said Teekay. “It’s different and I’m starting a thing called a shop so I could sell it for you.”
“Good idea,” said Larjmac. “What about we sell it for getting them fast horny things for food? We could do it together... call it... LarjmacsTeekay. What d’you think?”
“Hang on,“ said a young man who’d been sitting on a rock listening intently. “I’m the one that catches most of them horny things and brings them to yer caves. And I make clothes for you outta them skins. I gotta be in on any deal going on here.”
A woman named Lope stepped forward. “Cool it Max. Let’s use our brains here. Why don’t you and Teekay sort something? He’s starting a shop, you supply him with the stuff.”
Max looked slightly embarrassed. A woman speaking up for a man wasn’t going to do his image any good in front of the crowd, especially not a member of his family.
“I’m on it auntie Lope. I ready thought of that. I get it. I hunt the horny things and bring ‘em to Teekay. If Dagga’s new... uh, what you say it called Lexic?”
“Nive... I’m calling it ‘nive’,” Lexic said and shot a glance at Dik. “You still good with that mate?”
Dik nodded.
“Great,” Max said. “We in business.” He winked at Teekay who smiled.
Auntie Lope stepped forward. “Don’t forget me,” she said. “My idea... .”
Max, Dagga and Teekay nodded to one another and then Dagga said, “cool, yeah. No worries. “He glanced at Lexic. “We’ll get your name in there somewhere Auntie Lope. But we gotta sort them horny fast things first.”

Monday, 9 April 2018

The Elders

So, anyway, a rumour flew around the village that a dragon was on the loose. The elders got together and the senior elder asked, “What shall we do? What shall we do?”
One of the younger elders (for there were such things back in days of yore) asked, “Why do you say everything twice?”
The senior elder replied, “I don’t. I don’t. I was just -"
“There you go again, see!”
The senior elder looked non-plussed. One of the other elders, who was not as elderly as the senior elder but older than the younger elder said, “Look, we’re wasting time here. There’s a dragon running amok on the outskirts of the village and -"
“Running where?” asked one of the other elders who was not as elderly as quite a few of the older elders but a bit older than most of the younger elders and considered a middle aged elder.
“Amok. You know... uh, kind of wayward, out of control, frenzied, in an unrestrained manner with no.... no, err... forward planning.”
“Oh, right, yeah,“ said the youngest elder. “Sounds about right for a dragon. They ain’t that up on strategy.”
“Yes, but out of control dragons are not good for the village,” said the senior elder. “What shall we do? What shall we do?”
“Dragons? With an ‘S’? There’s more than one?” The middle-aged elder said.
“No... no. Just one. It was a figure of... look, we’re wasting time here. What shall we do? What shall we do?”
“I’ve an idea,” said one of the elders who wasn’t really an elder because he was still only sixteen but, with wisdom beyond his tender years, had been elected as a teenage elder.
“An idea?” the senior elder said, his eyebrows arching involuntarily. "What's that then?"
"Uh... it's an original thought, a sort of -"
"I know that! I meant, what is it, this idea of yours?"
“Oh, right. Well, why don’t we get some of the peasants to go down the street and beseech George to come to our aid?”
“Do what?” several elders said in unison.
“Get George to come -"
“No... beseech. What’s that?”
“Beseech? Uh... ask. It means ask... like urgently.”
“Why didn’t you say that then?” said the middle-aged elder?
“I dunno... because... well because, I’m only a teenage elder and if I use words like ‘beseech’ it gives me gravitas.”
“Isn’t that a song?”
“A song? What... gravitas?”
“No! I’m only a teenage elder... by Wheatus?”
“You what?”
“Teenage Dirtbag.”
“Oh yeah... right.”
The senior elder looked perplexed. “We’re wasting time. The dragon will be upon us. I say that we do as our teenage elder suggests and beseech George to help. It's an original idea for such a young elder.”
So, the elders organised four peasants to go to George’s house and beseech him.
George was chilling when the urgent door knocking started. For years, after many battles as a warrior with his trusty lance, Ascolon, across the Middle East, George had forsaken the life of a warrior and decided to be a trainee Saint. He realised it could be quite a lucrative profession after his good mate Patrick had taken up the challenge to strive for sainthood. Patrick was now revered for banishing serpents and snakes from the island across the water and was not far off sainthood. George needed a similar act of bravery that also showed him as a commanding presence. A break was needed.
Ascolon was gathering dust in the corner. Life was at an all time low. The knock on the door was about to change that.
George strode across the straw strewn floor and flung open the door.
“Who are you?” he asked, as he laid eyes on the ragtaggle quartet that stood on his threshold.
“We are but four peasants from the village who have come to... be seek... err, bysch... beezeash...” The lead peasant turned to his comrades. “What was that fancy word?”
“I think it was ‘beseech, Jezz,” said one of the group.
“Oh, yeah. Thanks,” the lead peasant said. He turned back towards George. “Uh... yeah. We’ve come to beseech you on behalf of the village.”
“Beseech me? For what?”
“Err... oh yeah. There’s a dragon running amok, toasting our sheep and frazzling our pigs."
“Frazzling your pigs? Is that a euphemism?”
“A ufo what?”
“Never mind. A dragon you say? But surely dragons are mythical creatures, figments of the imagination. A dragon that toasts sheep and frazzles pigs? That’s not the way of the dragon.”
“Ain’t that a fillim?” one of the peasants said.
“Course it ain’t a fillim cos fillims ain’t been invented yet, stoopid,” Jezz said. “Anyway, I read about dragons in books, so they exist. Like in them holy books where bushes catch fire and the seas part. If it’s in a book it’s kosher.”
George rubbed his chin. He was dubious but he saw an opportunity.
“Peasants, men of the soil, beseech no more. I am suitably beseeched. Fetch my trusty steed.”
“Steed?” said one of the peasants. “What’s that?”
“My horse, Shergar, you ignoramus. Fetch him and saddle him for battle. You... whatsurname... Jezz, prepare my armour and dust off Ascolon. I go to war!”
“Uh, I’m not that comfortable with war,” Jezz said.
George rose to his full height, his nostrils flaring. “Comfortable! Comfortable! Do you -"
“Err, why are you saying everything twice,? Jezz asked.
George looked down his nose and ignored the interruption. “This is not about comfort. The dragon cometh, breathing fire, a desire to dominate our village, take our livestock, change our way of life. Are you an Englishman, Jezz? You and your peasants? If you are, you rise up, you grab Ascolon and you defend what is your heritage. Now, out of my way all ye who are faint-hearted.”
With his armour in place and Ascolon tucked firmly to his saddle, George rode purposefully to confront the dragon.
There, on the edge of the village, stood the giant scaley creature, it’s nostrils expelling plumes of flame that consumed the brushwood instantly.
George clicked his heels and Shergar strode forward, his proud head high, his eyes intent and gleaming. The dragon roared, his long neck waving his head high above the approaching George.
As they got closer George dismounted, looked at Shergar and winked. “Odds on old chap? Distract this scaley-backed intruder who woudst change our existence. Oh.... and don’t go disappearing on me!” He grabbed Ascolon and strode forward.
The blast caught George by surprise. A flamethrower of hot yellow sparks enveloped him.
“Shit!” The metal armour suddenly reached temperatures that were going to boil George alive. He pulled off his visor and just managed to avoid another jet of flame from the dragon. He rolled across the moorland towards the shrubb. As quickly as he could he removed his breastplate and armoured leggings. If you are going to defend your land sometimes you have to do so in your Calvin Kleins.
The dragon roared. Shergar reared. It distracted the dragon for a moment. George ran towards the dragon. The dragon hesitated, a moment’s doubt. It had never encountered resistance from one man in his underpants. It was all conquering, roasting the sheep and frazzling the pigs of Europe. George grabbed Ascolon and took aim. Shergar took off at speed, distracting the monster. George threw Ascolon. It caught the dragon in the eye.
“That’s for Hastings, sucka. Welcome to our Village.”

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Stamping Job

As I progress in life I sometimes reflect on my first job after leaving school. I had been at a boarding school and left with no qualification to do anything useful except a clutch of examination passes that I think were called 'O-Levels' at the time but may have been 'Oh!' levels as that was my mother's response when she saw the grades.
With no direction, no ambition and no idea about what I wanted to do except get a job and earn some money, I applied for an office job. That's what you did when you got 'oh levels' back then. It was advertised in a well-known London evening paper (The Evening News, well known at the time but now defunct) and was an office clerk's position in Central London, between The Strand and Fleet Street to be precise. I'm not sure how I managed to convince anyone at the interview that I should be worthy of a clerical job in a grand building with plush offices. Somehow I did. I sat at the interview in my three piece suit, kipper tie and long hair (everybody under 30 had long hair back then... even the women) and tried to answer the questions without stuttering or passing out. I wasn't dim but I was naive, unworldly and excruciatingly shy, each of those 'qualities' a product, no doubt, of being closeted away in the boarding school for three and a half years.  Nowadays you can burgle a house, assault a pensioner or cause criminal damage to public property and not get put away for three years. I'd done none of those things. In fact I'd done nothing of note at all... except cope with the early death of my father through illness a year or so earlier. I guess, after that, I'd run away. Escaped to the 'safety' of a world that was a complete contrast to my earlier happy childhood. Imprisoned myself by choice. And now, out in the real world, I was trying to adjust to three and a half years 'exile' from the 'ring,' the arena of normal teenage development.
A few days after the interview I received a letter in the post, enclosed in a crisp, expensive looking envelope with the organisation's crest on the front. I opened it and found I was being offered the advertised position. I was bemused and then ecstatic. I'd been offered a city job at my first attempt. The only way was up. And then ecstasy gave way to self-doubt, fear even. Not fear of work. I have never had a problem with that. No, fear of entering the unknown world of work which I was ill prepared for (if you discount my 'oh levels'). And it wasn't a job in some provincial, one-horse town. This was in the capital of England. Would I be able to cope with a high powered role in a big organisation? (I had decided that the position of office clerk was 'high powered' given that it was in London). Would I be capable? Could I cope? Of course, I had 'oh levels,' after all.

The reality was something else.

On my first day at work I was given 'The Stamping Job.' I had my own desk but that was a necessity, not a status symbol, as it was a filtering station for every single piece of paper, letter, memo and telex that came through the organisation. (For those of you accustomed to the modern digital world of communication, telexes were a prehistoric electronic communication tool, a bit like a caveman sending a text). And my job was to stamp each one. Stamp them all with the date and department name… with a stamping device. Stamping was authenticating it as an officially received document. I didn't even have to read the documents. Just place them on the desk and 'kerrthump' them with the stamping device. And it was no ordinary bit of kit either. No, not for a high powered city job. It was a large, silver piece of mechanical machinery with a big red knob on the end of it. The handle, I mean... not me. Although, having said that, I did blush a lot. I say a lot but perhaps it was only when anyone looked at me, spoke to me, smiled at me, walked past me or was a girl. Part of the problem was the fact that I had had no real interaction with girls before I got The Stamping Job. Three plus years incarcerated in a school for boys meant that I was as familiar with their species as I was with the Nile crocodile. They never crossed my path so I didn't know how to handle them. So, like you should with the Nile crocodile, I gave them a wide berth.

Anyway, my first day in my new high powered City of London job began with a training session on how to 'stamp.' My training was conducted by the existing 'Stamping Job' incumbent, a guy named... perhaps he should remain nameless for the simple reason that he is actually still a real life friend. So I will call him 'Phil' mainly because I cannot think of him as anything else and Phil is a great abbreviation for his proper name! Phil was one of the good guys. Within seven nano-seconds he recognised that I was a naive young lad way out of his depth and totally lacking in social skills. I could use a knife and fork but my ability to interact with other humans was somewhat underdeveloped. Phil began the training by explaining that the stamping process involved placing a document flat on the desk, positioning the stamper thing onto the document and then pressing the knob down in a firm, emphatic manner so that it made contact and left an imprint of the date and department (in this case ‘Shipping’) on the surface. Kerrthump! Simple. There were only two other additional tasks in the training programme. The first involved putting the stamped document into a filing tray marked 'pending' (to this very day, nobody knows what pending means. I concluded that it meant don't do anything else with this document because somebody else will. The problem is, everybody thinks that and, as a result, some documents 'pend' forever). The second task was to ensure that I moved the date on by one digit each day. 

I'm a fast learner and within two and a half minutes I had grasped the whole concept and was ready to take on the responsibilities of 'The Stamping Job.' Phil looked relieved that I had picked up the process so quickly. I assumed that he was pleased that his teaching technique had been successful but I suspect it was because he had previously dealt with a succession of morons who hadn't made the grade. However by the end of the next day when my right arm was inflamed with a dull ache (Repetitive Strain Injury, RSI, had not been invented back then so you couldn't sue anyone - in fact, I don't think suing people for having to do your normal job had even been thought of as a money making concept), I realised his wide grin the previous day had been a reaction to the knowledge that the organisation had now recruited another sucker and he would no longer have to face the daily boredom that would eventually vegetate normal thinking processes.

I had no other function in the office other than to 'stamp' and by day three, my right arm had adopted an automated involuntary action of its own so that even when I was not holding the stamping device, my hand would randomly punch down on the desk, much to my embarrassment since fellow office workers would turn and look in my direction. They all thought I had some sort of spasmodic tick and back then, unusual behavioural patterns were not immediately considered worthy of an 'employee support group' but were simply categorised as 'weirdo' behaviour. I would respond by going red and then staring at the table as if it had been propelled upwards by some seismic shift of the earth's crust. The worst happened when Phil brought me a mug of tea on my third day. I raised it to take a sip but some reflexive action caused me to smash it down again onto the table. A fountain of tea shot into the air as the shock wave reverberated through the base of the mug and slopped the hot liquid over my pending papers. I blushed the incident off. It was what I did.

By day four of my first week I had communicated sufficiently in a series of stuttering responses to colleagues to make them realise that the red thing with the long hair and the involuntary fist thump, sat at the back of the office, was in fact human. This revelation made them confident enough to give me additional tasks but only tasks at a level of difficulty that a semi-comatose chimpanzee could carry out. So I was given routine photocopying. I was at the bottom of the office food chain, the amoeba of office life forms. But I didn't mind. It broke up the boredom of the stamping task and I viewed it as a trust thing, that my colleagues considered me a part of the team and were getting me involved. You have to start somewhere in the big city.However, my first experience of the photocopier didn't go as well as it should have done. For a start it was positioned in a corridor bordering another department which meant that I had to walk into unknown territory, an unnerving experience for a shy kid who had only just begun to feel at ease behind a pile of papers that needed stamping. Armed with a wad of documents that I had been asked to copy, I headed for the machine. I turned the corner into the corridor and stopped in my tracks. There was a girl. No... not just any girl. A blonde vision from the Planet Stunning. She was using the copier. And she had a short skirt on which meant that she had... had legs. I stopped, not deliberately. No, some part of my brain sent a message to my feet to say, 'you can't go there. This is Nile croc territory.' As a result I stopped some six feet away from the photocopier, the wad of papers held out in front of me, an improvised protective shield.  My instinct was to turn and run... but she'd spotted me. "Hello. You're Patrick aren't you?"At that point I had no idea who I was. A blonde vision had noticed me, spoken to me. And knew my name. I wasn't equipped to deal with it. So I went red. Maybe it works for chameleons, going a different colour. Meant to frighten off predators apparently. But it wasn't helping me. For a start the decor was pale magnolia (whatever that is - I think it's a colour name people made up when they had considered that 'bland' wouldn't sell as a paint product) and there was nothing red anywhere in sight for me to 'chameleon' in to. I felt my face flashing as the blood tried to disguise me as a tomato.The girl at the copier noticed but she was cool, even though my lack of a verbal response could have seemed impolite."I'm Agneta." (Agneta. Again I must protect the innocent. She may well have a Neanderthal husband now and if he recognises his wife in my narrative he may come after me with a twelve-bore shotgun. Or maybe just twelve boars.) Agneta. The name was... original, exotic, sexy. Not that I knew what sexy was. Why couldn't she have been called... I dunno, Mabel or something. Blonde, stunning and called Agneta was too much for me. I shifted the documents to my other hand. Agneta continued to press buttons on the copier, casual, unperturbed. Meanwhile, I was experiencing a mild seizure that left me unable to speak or move."I won't be long," she said, as she placed another sheet of paper on the machine.Be as long as you like, I thought. I can stare all day long, even from six feet away. She smiled and I dropped all my papers. My already blushed face now pulsated purple. I sank to my knees and started to scrabble about on the floor in an attempt to retrieve the spilt pile. And, in an instant, Agneta was beside me, effortlessly collecting my scattered documents and shuffling them into a neat, orderly pile. I knew I had to speak even if it was just to say thanks. But I was not that cool. "I am… " I said.She stopped shuffling and looked at me. Her wide eyed gaze and the subtle aroma of her perfume both in my face. "You are...? You are… what?" she said.
I am... I am... yes, I am Patrick, like you said. I am... erm... doing the stamping job."She giggled. "The stamping job? What's that?"My purpleness had relaxed into a sunset shade of blood orange, cooled perhaps by the beads of perspiration that had started to run down my face. I tried to be coherent. "It's the... the, you know, high power... err, office clerk job. I overtook it... I mean, took it over. I'm in that position... stamping… head.""Do you mean head of stamping?"
"Uh... well, yes. If you... if you ever want anything stamped just come and see me.
She smiled as she gathered up the rest of my papers. "Thank you Patrick. I will. Kind of you to offer." She stood up. "Will we see you tomorrow in the Surrey?"
The Surrey. I had no idea what that was but I nodded. If Agneta was going to be “in the Surrey,” then I had to be there. 
"Uh... yes. In... in Surrey. I'll... be there."She smiled and handed me my papers. "All yours now Patrick. I'm done."My blank look clearly suggested that more information was needed. "The photocopier. I've finished," she said, indicating the machine.It was my first real look at it. It was bigger than a small tank."Oh... yes. Err, thanks... erm... " I couldn't bring myself to say her name. No idea why, other than chronic shyness and perhaps the thought that doing so implied some familiarity that I was not worthy off."Agneta. It's Agneta. People have difficulty with it. Ag - net- ah." My face instantly returned to the molten lava look. She thought I'd forgotten her name or was too dim to pronounce it. "I hadn't forgotten. I know. Sorry," I blurted.She smiled. "See you tomorrow then. Hope the stamping goes well." And off she went.Tomorrow. See you tomorrow. I felt like I had a date.

I left the papers on the copier and went back to find Phil."You okay mate?" he asked. A normal question I suppose if somebody looks like they need an ambulance."Yeah... I am." I took a deep breath and decided to ask. "What's the Surrey?""The Surrey? It's a pub down the road. In Surrey Street. We all go down there Friday night for a few beers. Why?"We! All. 'We' meant lots of people. Not just me and Agneta. It threw me for a nano second but then I realised that me, lots of people and Agneta was still me and Agneta in the same room. "Uh... nothing. Just Ag... err, somebody mentioned it. Just in case... I need to know... things.""Yeah mate. It's a laugh. Bit of end of week down time... bonding thing. You coming?""Err... Yeah... sure."I returned to the desk buoyed with enthusiasm and stamped like a maniac all afternoon. Nothing went unstamped... everything that landed on that desk got stamped including a cheese sandwich that Phil had got me from the canteen. And then I remembered that I had never had any alcohol before. Never had a drink other than a sneaky tipple from a family member's sherry glass one Christmas when I was nine. And that had put me off for life. I remember wondering why my parents and their friends had decided to poison themselves but as they were still alive in the morning I dismissed alcohol as just something big people did. Now I was one of the 'big people' and if I was going to impress Agneta I would have to behave like big people and try alcohol. I was jolted from my daydream by a stern voice. "Have you done the copying, young man?"I looked up. It was the department head, a guy in his fifties who looked twenty years older, probably because the routine of holding down a mind numbingly dull admin job and negotiating the daily tube ride for decades had drained every ounce of individuality, passion and desire from his spirit... probably took his spirit too."Err, sorry, Bob. Yes... the copier was, uh... busy. I'll get it done... right now." Having been hypnotised by Agneta I had totally forgotten the copying task.
Friday came... and dragged. I stamped all day, stamped like the Chief Exec of Stamping would if there were such a position. It got me through the interminable wait for five-thirty. At five-thirty one Phil appeared at my desk, his jacket flung over one arm."You still coming over the road son?"There was no real discussion. "The Surrey? Yeah.""Yep. The Surrey. Get your jacket."I grabbed my jacket and followed Phil. Straight down the ornate spiral staircase into the lobby, out through the vast gated entrance and onto The Strand. We crossed the road and two minutes later we were outside the Surrey Arms. I had no time to allow my apprehension to take hold. Phil just walked straight in, comfortable and confident in his surroundings. I followed him. The place was heaving. Phil pushed his way to the bar and within a minute I was holding a can of Fosters. But these were not the cans of Fosters that you see nowadays. These were large, fat cans that held at least a litre of the amber fluid. The pub was mainly Australian and it catered big time for Aussie drinkers.

Phil flipped the ring and raised the can. "Cheers mate. Here's to your first week." I followed his lead and opened my can. A deep breath and I took my first sip of the cold contents. As the liquid hit my tongue it swirled around consuming my taste buds, an alien invasion of bitter sweet fizz that took control of my senses instantly. I gulped it down and stared at my surroundings, a heaving mass of laughing faces, a buoyant 'out of the grip of work' crowd giving vent to their end of week freedom. I was with the big people now. I gulped down another mouthful of beer, almost choking on the ambitious slurp. And then the gas began to impact, firing at my throat, a sensation I was not familiar with. I looked at Phil but in that instant he was distracted by an office colleague. My eyes began to 'pop', sensations washing over me as my young, inexperienced and totally unprepared system decided how it should deal with alcohol. I gave it more to consider by slurping another mouthful. It went down more easily but within seconds my face started to protrude. Probably not literally. It just felt like it was doing its own thing expression wise. The muscles in my jaws clenched as the alcohol injected itself quickly into my unprepared brain. My nose went numb, my eyes blurred momentarily and my jaw began to spasm  between tight and relaxed. The sensations confused, not something I knew how to deal with. I took a deep breath and stared at Phil. He was in deep conversation with a colleague and then, in slow motion, I saw him move away, towards the bar but get swallowed up by the throng in the process. Phil was my lifeline. Mentally I took a step forward but my feet didn't take the command. If I lost Phil I was alone. Alone in a packed pub. Everyone knew one another. Laughing faces, familiarity, joshing banter, but not directed to me. I was nobody again. Nobody, like when my dad left... I mean... died. I slugged the beer thinking that another hit would do the job, desensitise me and enable me to cope. Maybe it did. The hit fuzzed my brain, distorted my vision and then told me I could walk. I stumbled forward, a step at a time, each one precise and deliberate. You shouldn't have to place your feet that precisely unless you're a newly born antelope. The crowd parted, not because I was the new high powered Stamping Job exec. No, they parted because a glazed eyed kid should be avoided. They parted and in the space they left I spotted Agneta.

The blonde vision from Planet Stunning was there... as she said she would be. But not as I thought she would be. She was sitting on the lap of a tubby, moustachioed hippy, who should have stayed in Woodstock. He had to be a hundred and four years old which is what forty-ish
  seemed like to a seventeen year old. I looked. My Foster's head took in the scene. It made no sense. I wanted to speak, to say 'hello Agneta. I'm here.' Like you wanted. But I froze, mortified by the fact that the vision was contaminated. She smiled at me, a smile of recognition but not acceptance; not pleasure. My face warmed, this time not a blush, more a crushing disappointment fuelled by the fact that I was ill equipped to deal with rejection. I was unable to speak. A fleeting thought that I was supposed to be one of the big people scrabbled for acceptance in my head. It gained a momentary foothold causing me to attempt to return Agneta's smile. My mouth made it, but my eyes didn't mainly because they had fixed on Woodstock Moustache. As a result he thought I was smiling at him. And he winked. The wink destroyed me. Now, I can look back and see that it was nothing more than a simple greeting and a complementary reaction to Agneta's smile of recognition.  And maybe even a greeting directed towards a gormless, naive idiot who was standing staring at him and the Blonde Vision like someone who had just encountered Medusa and was morphing into a statue. But I didn't see it that way. To me it was a wink that said, 'I got the girl... the girl you want and can't ever get even in your wildest fantasies 'cos you're the stamping sucker and you can't even handle your drink like us big people.' It was too much. I glanced at Agneta, raised the oversized Fosters can and took a hit. The slurp didn't even touch my mouth. It blasted the back of my throat like the first jet of a car wash. Combined with a reflex inhalation of oxygen there was never going to be a good outcome. The Fosters tidal wave, did a reverse flow and surged back the way it had come, ejecting a spray of fluid straight over my jacket and shirt. The portion that did go the right way, driven by the eject reflex, suddenly found another pathway and splurted from my nose, onto my chin. The sudden convulsing cough mechanism that accompanied this reverse drinking process brought tears and spittle, never a good look when you are trying to impress beings from the Planet Stunning. I looked at Agneta. Yeah, she'd seen it. I turned away, wiping dribble from my face. "You alright son? You look a bit peaky."Phil."Uh... yes. Just went down the wrong way. Sorry.""Don't be sorry. Nothing to be sorry for, mate. C'mon. Let's get you down the tube."And so I got home. Phil knew I was out of my depth. Agneta knew I was out of my depth.
I resolved never again to swim with Nile crocs.

Friday, 17 March 2017

St Patrick's Day

St Patrick's Day! A reason for a celebration… not for religious reasons but because he got things done. Anyway, apparently he was born in Britain and was really called Maewyn Succat. That confused a lot of people as they all thought it was an anagram and for a long while nicknamed him ‘Anna.’ Maewyn didn’t like that so decided to reinvent himself and began to call himself Patrick. It was easier to pronounce and he realised that it would be more memorable since the Romans, who controlled Britain at that time (an early EU type thing before the Germans got the idea), had invented a game called ‘football’ where they kicked around the heads of defeated insurgents. It was common practice to award any Roman soldier who managed to kick a head into a bucket three times, with a flagon of wine and the practice of achieving the three bucket thing became known as a ‘hat trick’ because the head in a bucket looked like it had a new helmet on. Anyway, so Maewyn decided Patrick would be a better name.  

He arrived in Ireland and for while looked after farm animals but soon realised the fields were a treacherous place with all the snakes around so he decided that he would get rid of them. The locals laughed and said, “Sure ye’ll never manage that Paddy. (They had started calling him Paddy for short because they didn’t know what a hatrick was as they played a game there where they bashed a rock about with sticks – it eventually evolved into modern day ‘hurling’). Ye’d be a saint if you ever managed to get rid of them slimy fellas, sure ye would.” And they all laughed at him.

But Patrick was nothing if not a trier so he decided he’d show them all and make a name for himself (Not another name because he’d already done that, but a reputation at least.) So he called a meeting and all 7,934,895 snakes showed up. Anyway, he said (in his newly acquired Irish accent), “It's over fellas. The Irish don't like snakes. Yer culturally all wrong anyway. You don't fit here. So we're shipping the lot of you out. You rattlers, noisy bastards, are going to America. Pythons, 'fraid it's Africa for you lot. Hotter anyway. You'll like it. Bigger food there too. And if you get bored in the sunshine all day put yer heads together and write some comedy or something. As for you grass snakes we're sending you to Devon, in England. Don't look so miserable. It's nice. They'll take you in no bother, and the benefits there are great. You just have to pitch up and they give you stuff. Sure, the Devonshire people don't like strangers but lay low a while and you'll integrate. And they do nice cream teas as well. And now you clever feckers, you Adders, we're sending you to a place called Europe. It doesn't exist yet but it will one day and they're going to need your mathematical skills when they get their own money and nobody knows how the feck to sort out their budgets.”

The Adders were looking quite pleased with themselves but Patrick noticed that the Boa Constrictors were muttering to one another, so he held up his staff for silence.
“Don’t look so feckin worried you lot. You’re all off to a place called South Amerikey.” There was a gasp from the Boas and one looked up and asked where South Amerikey was in the world.
“Sure don’t be so feckin stupid fellas. Isn’t it down there below North Amerikey.”

The same Boa piped up and asked where North Amerikey was.

“Good question… and put yer, feckin tongue in when yer talking, can’t you. So, North Amerikey hasn’t been discovered yet either. At the minute there’s a lot of strange fellas out there who paint their faces and wear bird feathers on their heads. Don’t ask. But they’re keen to keep quiet about North Amerikey because they don’t want a load of people showing up and taking over. They’re none too keen on this immigration malarkey is what I hear, and want to keep the place to themselves. But that won’t affect you lot because you’ll be down there in South Amerikey and one day a fella called Trump that nobody is going to like too much will build a wall and keep you all down there anyway. But sure you can make a name for yerselves. If you don’t squeeze the life out of it, they’ll be naming women’s scarves after ye.” Before the Boas could question anymore Patrick turned to a group of snakes that were wriggling about in a nest.

“Are you Vipers paying attention there? Stop your wriggling and listen. You’re a poisonous bunch of buggers so were sending you lot way down to the bottom end of the world… a big place, ‘cos there’s so many of ye, called Australia. There’s a bunch of venomous spiders down there already so ye will all get along just fine. And, before ye ask, no, it hasn’t been discovered either yet. But you’ll do alright there. Once the nosey bastards of this world find out the Earth isn’t flat and get exploring in their boats, they’ll be sending their convicts out there to live and it’ll serve them ne’er do wells right if you bite their arses. Oh, and a little tip to help you Vipers out. Give it a few years and some clever clogs is going to invent a thing called the 'phone. Jump on that and create your own free call system. Right, be off with the lot o'ye, or I'll bust your heads with this stick."

Flushed with his snake success, Patrick turned next to ants. He gathered them all together, all 495 trillion and tried a similar speech. When he'd finished, one of the ants piped up, "We ain't goin nowhere geezer (he was a cockney ant). We're the workers, innit. You get rid of us and we ain't gonna build no more hills and this place is gonna be flatter than bleedin Holland, yeah. And then you gonna be overrun by nobheads on bikes wot wear lumo jackets and think they can drive round on pavements and right through red lights wot will be invented. So don't piss us off man or we go on strike, you get me?"

Patrick nodded. "Bejasus, sher I never give that a thought. I'm done here." And off he went to invent Guinness.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Diana at the Bar - Cupid's Pursuit Original Outtake

The following was an original scene, when Matthew Malarkey met Diana Twist for the first time in Cupid's Pursuit, that got cut from the final book and replaced. N.B. I am re-drafting that whole book at present.

I was nervous. The taxi ride hadn’t done much to help matters. I slipped the black raincoat over my jacket and fumbled in a pocket for the false beard and moustache. My fingers alighted on its soft texture and I pulled it out. A quick glance around, but the only activity was passing traffic. I ducked into a shop doorway. Using what little reflection I could make out in the window, I positioned the beard and moustache on my face. Next I pulled out the cheap glasses from my inside jacket pocket and put them on. The whole thing felt weird but I was taking no chances with this date. If she looked nothing like the bombshell on her profile I could make a fast exit without being recognised. A quick reconnaissance mission would put my mind at ease. I just had to hope my disguise would do the trick. For reassurance I pulled my mobile out and hit the camera app. I tapped the icon in the top right corner and watched as the image swivelled around to reveal my face. I looked a bit like a cross between Johnny Depp and a serial killer but I was confident the end result would fool even Cecil, had I run into him. My date would be expecting the clean shaven image portrayed in my online profile so, if she caught a glimpse of me, I felt confident I could carry it off.
I took a deep breath and headed for the restaurant. A waiter greeted me.  
Good evening, Sir. Can I take your coat?”
In the bright lights, my confidence diminished. “Err, no... no thank you. I’m not... stay... I mean, not cold. Not hot, I meant. Err, cold... I’ll keep it on for now.”
The waiter nodded. “As you wish, Sir. Do you have a reservation?”
“A reservation?”
“Yes. Have you a table booked?”
“Uh... yes, I mean... no, I’m meeting someone.” I peered over his shoulder hoping to catch a glimpse of my date.
“Very good, Sir. I’ll show you to the bar.”
“No... no. It's fine.” I needed to lose the waiter. “I just need to... to use your, erm... facilities... first. Freshen up, you know.”
“Of course. This way, Sir.”
He was not for losing, but I realised that if I stuck close to him, it would aid my cover. He walked ahead between rows of tables filled with animated Saturday night diners. I tried to stay focussed. 
And then I saw her. She was sitting at the bar, legs crossed, one elbow lightly perched on the bar surface with what appeared to be a Martini held delicately between her slender fingers. Tall, elegant, immaculately dressed in a simple black evening dress that stopped just above the knee, her legs, toned like a dancer’s, sheathed in black stockings. The whole image, professional, cool yet extremely sexy. A city lawyer and a stylish lady.
She looked round as we approached. She was stunning. Her profile pictures had not done her justice at all. And in that first fleeting glimpse my concerns evaporated. I hesitated, a wave of relief washing over me, a surge of euphoria following swiftly in its wake. I took a step towards her just as she glanced down at her watch.
“Hello,” I said.
She looked up. A flicker of a smile but no recognition.
“Sir, the lavatories are this way.”
I heard the waiter’s voice but I was mesmerised by the stunningly good looking vision to my left. I looked at him and said, “It’s okay. I’m meet... ” And then I remembered my disguise. “I am me. Yes... uh, I’m... look, sorry, I don’t want to go now. Thank you. It’s fine.”
Diana looked round at the waiter and then back at me. I realised I had to get out of the restaurant and ditch the disguise. I was already forty-five minutes late due to Real Libel Cars sending me the world’s most incompetent taxi driver. This was one date I could not afford to mess up. 
I swivelled round and took a pace forward to leave. As I did, my trailing foot caught up in something and I pitched forward flat on my face onto the floor.
“Oh my goodness.”
I heard the sharp intake of breath. And then Diana was crouched next to me.
“Are you alright? I am so sorry. A stupid place to put a bag. Are you okay?”
“A bag?” I mumbled, as I rose to a sitting position.
“Yes, my bag. I put it on the floor with the strap hooked around the stool. You caught your foot.”
“Uh, yes. I’m... ” Up close she was mesmerising, sparkling blue eyes and a concerned frown creasing her brow, giving her an air of vulnerability. But it was the heady rush of her perfume that overwhelmed me and rendered me unable to complete my sentence.
“You look dazed. Did you hit your head?”
I was dazed but not through injury. Err, no, I caught my ankle, that’s all. I’m... I’m good. Sorry about your bag. I didn’t see –”
“Goodness. Don’t apologise. Entirely my fault. Let me check your ankle.” She leant forward and reached for my foot. I pulled it away. “It’s fine... it’s nothing, honest.” I got to my feet, the waiter applying some half-hearted assistance. 
“Let me get you a drink at least,” Diana said. “You look like you could use one.”
She was almost right. I could use several. And then I remembered I was supposed to be meeting her.
“It's okay. I... I’m supposed to be...” I hesitated. I could hardly mention a date, a subject too close for comfort given the circumstances. “... you know, to be… err... and I’m sure you have to be... as well and –”
“You sound confused. Are you sure you’re okay?” She stretched out a hand and placed her red tipped fingers lightly on my arm. “I won’t take no for an answer. A good stiff drink will do you the world of good.” She glanced at her watch. “And anyway, it looks like I’ve been stood up. I had a date but he’s now nearly fifty minutes late. So join me for one at least. I hate to drink alone. What will it be?”
At the mention of her date my senses slipped into stall mode and I had a sudden overwhelming need for pure oxygen. I actually felt my face change colour. Diana’s voice arrested my freefall into catatonia.
“Look, are you sure you’re okay? You look a little dazed. Perhaps I should call an ambulance?”
“An ambulance? No, no. A drink will be fine... err, whiskey.” I didn’t really care what drink I had. My focus was now on rescuing the date, especially now Diana thought she had been stood up, and to do that I had to ditch the disguise. “Look, Di... err... ” And then I realised that I shouldn’t know her name. “... I digress. I mean... look, I think… I… err, need the gents. I won’t be long.”
She smiled. “Okay. Whiskey you say? Any particular one?”
“No... just, you know... malt.”
I headed for the lavatories.
Once inside I pulled off the false beard and stuffed it into the coat pocket along with the glasses. Then I took off the coat, scrunched it into a ball and placed it on top of the cistern in one of the cubicles. Next, I checked my look in the mirror. All seemed okay. I took a deep breath and decided to go for it.
I opened the lavatory door and took a surreptitious peek into the restaurant. Diana was engrossed in conversation with what looked like a very officious staff member who sported incredibly bushy eyebrows and a Hitleresque moustache. A good time to make a discreet entrance. 
I swallowed hard, nerves jangling, and headed towards the bar.
“Hello. Diana? Is it you? I’m Matthew. I’m really sorry I’m late...” She turned suddenly and it threw me. “Err, delays on the... the... mini cab, taxi thing.”
“Matthew. You made it. I’d given you up as a lost cause. I’m not used to being made to wait so long I have to say.”
“I’m so sorry. The tube... I mean, the taxi... it was, you know...”
She smiled, her whole persona cool and unruffled. “Well, never mind. Glad you made it.” She glanced at the barman and then looked back at me. “Would you like a drink? I have a tab going.”
As she said it the barman placed a glass of whiskey on the bar. “Your Dalmore for the gentleman, Madam,” he said.
I needed a drink. I reached out, grabbed the glass and necked the contents in one. Diana’s reaction was almost as instant as the whiskey blaze that hit the back of my throat.
“Matthew! Excuse me. That was for my friend.”
“Your friend. Err... I am... he is... ” I took a deep breath as I realised my error. “I’m really sorry.” I pointed at the barman. “Uh... he said it was for the gentleman. I assumed –”
Diana raised an eyebrow. “A gentleman never assumes, Matthew. My friend has gone to freshen up. He won’t be long. I’m just making sure he's alright. He had a minor accident. Anyway, lovely to meet you. I’m delighted to say that you look exactly like your profile pictures. So refreshing. So many men on these dating sites are extremely false.”
I gulped but tried to style it out. “Err, and you look very like... well, like you too.” I was saved from further bumbling when Hitler moustache intervened.
“Are you ready for your table, Ms Twist?” he asked.
“No, not yet, James. I think I should like to make sure that that young man who tripped on my bag gets his drink and is okay first. Speaking of which, can I get another Martini.”
“I’m sure he'll be fine,” I blurted out, anxious to dismiss the thought from Diana’s mind.
“With respect Matthew, you can’t say that. The poor chap took a tumble and may have hurt himself. Men are so silly, putting on a brave face. All very well until you have concussion. I need to know that he’s well.”
I bit my lip and wished I had another whiskey at hand. But I knew there was no option other than to sort my alter ego if I was going to have a successful date with Diana.
“Excuse me a moment,” I said. “Just need the... the, err, lads’ room.”  
Diana smiled and turned back to the bar. 
I reached the toilets and headed for the cubicle where I’d stashed my disguise. I pulled out the raincoat and slipped it on. Next I took out the false beard and moustache and placed it on my face. Then I put the glasses on. I buttoned up the coat and checked the mirror. The image that stared back at me blew any modicum of confidence I had into tiny pieces. Diana wasn’t stupid. She was too cool and too... too... legal. I looked like a pantomime villain. But I knew I had to sort out the ‘friend.’ If he didn’t come out of the toilets, Diana would fret. I needed her attention. I took a deep breath, stared at the bizarre image and decided to style it out. 
I strode back into the restaurant determined to sort the issue I had created. I approached Diana, my intention to thank her for her concern and take my leave. But she beat me to it. 
“Ah, there you are,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“Err, yes. Fine. Look, I have to go. I need to –”
“Have your drink first.” She picked up the replacement whiskey from the bar and handed it to me. I necked it in one, the sensation causing my eyes to squint involuntarily.
Diana smiled. “Well, nice to meet you. You be careful now. Watch your step and I’ll make sure I place my bag somewhere sensible in future.” As she said it she glanced at my feet. “Nice shoes by the way.”
I was pleasantly surprised by the compliment and for a split second forgot myself. “Thank you, Diana. I bought them especially for –”
“You know my name?”
My face flushed beneath the beard. “Uh... No... I mean, no... Not exactly... I –”
“But you just said it. That’s precisely my name. Diana. You could not have been more exact.”
I faltered for a moment, my instinct to run. There was no point in arguing with a lawyer. And then I said, “Someone told me it.”
“Someone? Who?”
“Err... yes. It was... it was the man in the gents... the toilets. We got talking. He said he had a date. I told him that I’d been offered a drink by a... a very nice blonde lady at the bar. And he said that it might be you and asked if the name was Diana. I said I didn’t know but that you had a black dress on and he said that it sounded like his date, Diana.”
Diana smiled. “I see. Well, speaking of my date, I wonder why he’s taking so long. He was late in the first place. Would you take a look, make sure he’s okay?”
A wave of panic shot through me. “Uh... I’m sure he is. I mean what can go wrong in a toilet?”
She placed a hand on my arm. “If you wouldn’t mind. You never know. I’ve been looking forward to this evening and it has got off to a strange start.”
I nodded. The sooner I solved the problem the sooner I could enjoy my evening. I headed towards the lavatories and then I noticed a short corridor to one side with double doors at the end. Each door had a glass panel at the top. I went along the corridor and stared through the glass. The restaurant kitchens. And an idea popped into my head.
I pushed one of the doors open and was immediately confronted by one of the chefs.
“You can’t come in here, Sir,” he said.
“Sorry. I... are you the Head Chef?”
“No. If you’ve got a problem with your order you need to speak with the Maître d’.”    
“No, no. Nothing like that. Can I speak with the Head Chef? It’s urgent.”
The guy was not of a mind to co-operate but we were interrupted by one of the other staff members.
“What’s the problem here? I’m Head Chef. It’s my kitchen,” he said.
“Of course. Sorry to barge in but I’m a customer who’s trying to surprise my friend... a special occasion. Have you got a back door? Out to a yard or something? I have another friend... the lady’s brother. He’s come a long way... err, from Australia. I’m trying to smuggle him in to surprise her.”
“You should see the Maître d’ for that,” the Head Chef said.
“Who’s that?”
“The guy with the moustache, out front.”
There was no way I’d get Hitler moustache to co-operate. “No... no, he’s busy. If you could just leave the back door open so he can come in through the kitchen. It will be a huge surprise as she won’t see him coming.”
The Head Chef frowned. “We have a back door, sure, but it’s for deliveries.”
I pulled out my wallet. “There’s a drink in it for you.”
“A drink? How much?”
“Err... twenty quid.”
He laughed. “There’s four of us here. A hundred and I’ll open the door for you.”
“A hundred?” I gulped. “But that’s more than twenty each?”
“You want it opened or not?”
I did. “Okay. Here.” I pulled out five twenties and handed them over. “My friend is about my height, dark suit, white shirt. Looks a bit like me. Oh, and shoes very like mine too. His name is Matthew. He’ll be five, ten minutes. Okay?”
“Okay.” He rolled up the notes and stuffed them in a back pocket. “He got a beard too?”
“You said he looks a bit like you. He got a beard?”
I kept forgetting about my disguise. “Err, no… no, clean shaven. I meant that if he did have a beard… which he hasn’t, he’d look a bit… a bit, you know… like me.”
I turned around and went back out to the corridor and emerged into the restaurant from the direction of the lavatories. Diana saw me coming.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Yes. All good. Your date will be out soon. He’s, you know, just sprucing up. Difficult journey he said. Anyway, I have to run. Nice to meet you. Thanks for the drink.”
I didn’t wait for a response. I headed straight for the front exit.
Once outside I pulled off the beard, glasses and the coat. I wrapped them into a tight bundle and walked to the corner of the street. I figured that if I went around the block I would end up at the back of the restaurant. I turned right. Midway along the street there was an alley lined with green wheelie bins. I turned right into the alley and realised I was behind the main block where the restaurant was. I followed it until I was somewhere in the vicinity of the restaurant. I opened one of the wheelie bins and found it was filled with flat packed cardboard. The top two or three pieces had the names of catering suppliers printed on them. I lobbed my rolled coat into the bin and walked towards the back of the building through a small fence-lined courtyard that had two cars parked in it. At the end of the courtyard, partially hidden by the fencing, there was a large white door set off to one side of the building. I pulled it open and found a wide corridor stacked with empty produce boxes on one side. At the end, a see-through plastic curtain filled the door frame. I walked through and found myself in the kitchen but this time at the far end. Immediately the Head Chef spotted me.
“And you are?”
I searched rapidly for an Australian twang, hoping something of Neighbours or even Skippy had rubbed off.
“Err... g’day cobber... erm, sport. Ahm Matthew, from Oz. Ma mate said it’d be fair dinkum to come through yer... err, uh... billabong... kitchen. Good onya. Come to surprise the Sheila out front there. My mate cut ya some... err, some buckeroos I hear so we’re... uh, bonzer?”
The Head Chef shot me a strange look but said nothing. I strolled through the kitchen trying to give it as much swagger as I could. Just as I reached the door that led out to the restaurant, I heard the Head Chef call out.
“Hey, Matthew. Where’d you and your mate get them shoes?”
I stopped as the word ‘shoes’, linked with ‘mate’ in the same sentence, sank in.
“Yeah, you both got the same shoes. I like them. Where’d you buy them?”
I turned, unable to say anything meaningful, my mind focussed on the implications of ‘same shoes.’ “Err... same shop,” I blurted out and headed through the door. 
Back in the corridor that led to the restaurant I stopped to collect my thoughts. If the chef had noticed my shoes were the same as the other guy’s, then Diana must have done. She would have noticed them on my disguised persona too. I had fallen over right in front of her. I remembered that she'd tried to look at my ankle. So she would have seen my socks - black, with a thin blue stripe. Not distinctive, but noticeable. She was a lawyer. She spotted things.  
I turned and headed for the lavatories. Once inside I stared for a moment at my mirrored reflection. I needed this date to go well. How likely was it that two guys in the same restaurant had identical shoes... and socks? I couldn’t risk it. I had no choice but to ditch the shoes. I pulled them off and stuck them on top of the cistern in one of the cubicles. I hesitated for a moment, a storm of wild thoughts blowing through my head. Should the socks go too? No, barefoot was a step too far. I could come up with some rational explanation for no shoes but no socks was a tricky one. Shoes were being left on the road all the time. Nobody had a clue how they got there. So it wasn’t unusual to lose your shoes. The same socks could just be co-incidence. My decision had been made, helped by the two large whiskeys. Time to style it out and get to know Diana.
I went back to the restaurant. Diana was still at the bar.
“Matthew. Goodness you were ages. I thought you’d got cold feet and escaped.”
At the mention of feet I decided to go for it.Oh, no. Nothing like that. I’m looking forward to our date. I... I, err... lost my shoes.”
Diana giggled and stared at my feet. “Lost your shoes? How funny. How did you do that?” 
I asked myself the same question. “Well... I... it’s a long story. Err... tarmac... look, I don't want to bother you with the details. Can we get another drink?”
“Of course we can get another drink. Whiskey?” She nodded to the barman. “And then you can tell me about your shoes. It would be a lovely ice breaker rather than all that dating small talk. And they were very smart, classy shoes I have to say.”
I gulped. “You... you saw them?”
“Of course I did. I’m a woman. We always make a point of looking at a man’s shoes. And his watch. They say things about a man. Shoes are detail.” She raised her glass and winked. “And, of course, they are a good indicator of the size of his feet.” She sipped her drink and then said, “They can’t be far away, Matthew. You had them on when you came in.”
The barman placed a glass of whiskey on the bar.
“Err, yes... yes, I did. But I... well... ” I grabbed the glass and necked the contents in one. 
Diana smiled, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Tarmac.”
“Tarmac?” I repeated.
“Yes, you said something about tarmac.”
“Tarmac. Err... yes. Well... I... on the way here, I stood in some wet tarmac. Accidentally. Road works near the restaurant... I didn’t see it. I stepped out of the taxi... dreadful journey. Wasn’t thinking... and my shoe went in it. So I decided to try and clean it off in the lavatory but it was really tough and... I needed more... err, loo paper, and as I was getting some I accidently dropped the shoe into the actual toilet.”
“Really? Why didn’t you just pull it back out?”
“I was going to but the floor was wet and I slipped as I went to get it out. As I fell forward my hand hit the flush lever and it... it got flushed away.”
Diana laughed out loud. “Must be a very big lavatory to flush away your shoe. So what happened to the other one?”
“The other one?”
“Yes, your other shoe.”
“Oh, I left it there. No sense in walking around with one shoe.”
“Well, what a disaster. I hope you haven’t left sticky footprints on the carpet.”
“Uh... no, I don’t think so. I was careful.”
Diana turned away and picked up her drink. I felt a sense of relief. My story had rambled on. It was off the cuff but I considered that it may just have been plausible. 
I picked up a bar menu and browsed for some Champagne. Diana interrupted my thoughts.
“I do hope that young man that tripped up earlier watches his step. He had identical shoes to yours. A shame if he stepped in that wet tarmac too.”