Friday, 25 October 2013

Polite.......!

I am not overly keen on 'politeness' for the sake of it. That is probably due to a traumatic experience I had as a callow youth of twenty-one when, as a keen tennis player anxious to become involved in the social scene of the local club, I overcame my natural Capricorn reticence and shy nature and bought myself a ticket for a Wine & Cheese party!!! Out of my depth at such functions (in fact out of my depth socially anywhere) since I still retained the inelegance of my teenage years and gauche nature of an ex boarder, I attempted conversation with a variety of people whilst balancing a plate of cheese nibbles and a glass of red plonk in either hand. My face was pinker than the not very inspiring vintage that wobbled around in my glass, this state having been induced by my cringingly embarrassing attempts to engage in conversation with the fairer sex, my limitations in this skill being cruelly exposed by rambling sentences interspersed by a stutter which, up until that point, I didn't realise I possessed.

My evening scaled the heights from difficult to extremely complex when I was engaged by what I can only describe as a professional ‘small talker.’ His conversation, such as it can be called conversation since to accurately be described as such it possibly has to be two way, involved him telling me all about his accountancy firm. I assume he was telling me, but I wasn’t entirely certain, because his eyes scanned the room as if he was expecting an imminent attack by a disgruntled client, rather than look at me directly.

In hindsight I wish I had had the cojones to interrupt and say,’ Can I stop you right there. Listen, I am not remotely interested in the boring, dull and pathetic existence you lead out there and your attempts to make it sound like what you do is some sort of much sought after, wild, innovative career. And since I am not interested, why don’t you save your breath and go tell it to some of these other similarly dull half wits that earlier on this evening I had so wanted to be accepted by.'

But I didn’t say any of that.

But... the experience has made me question why people need small talk and pleasantries? Why don't they just get to the point? Why ask things of strangers like, ‘How are you?’ Just get to the point. If you are talking to a stranger it must be for some reason otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it. Always remember that if you ask a question which is merely a preamble to the real point of your conversation, you run the risk of having that question answered and, consequently, being bored witless by some nobhead who actually thinks you might want to know!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Shaving Gel

After work this evening I called into a well known high street purveyor of cosmetic and beauty products to get shaving gel. I took my selected item to the counter, handed it to the sales assistant and reached for my wallet.
'Would you like anything else, Sir?’ she asked.
‘No thank you,’ I said.
She looked at me squarely in the face.
‘Did you know that if you spend fifteen pounds you can have a free face mask?’
Ignoring the obvious insulting content of the question I gathered my thoughts. I'm no oil painting but I am allowed out in public so I considered a mask to be unnecessary and risked telling her so.
‘It’s ok,’ I said, ‘I'm ok without the mask.'
I don’t know if she thought that to improve my facial appearance I would need to spend a lot more than fifteen pounds but she suddenly switched anatomical regions.
‘We have a special offer on body butter,’ she said, an optimistic smile lighting her face.
I say optimistic because I assume the confidence in her sales pitch was based on the assumption that I had actually heard of body butter.
‘Body butter?’ I said, confirming my lack of knowledge. The fact that I was questioning it was completely missed.
‘Yes, body butter. We are doing two for one.’
I was confused enough at that point, considering that perhaps body butter was something you applied after spending too long exposed to the damaging rays of the midday sun and resembled a bit of burnt toast. I was half expecting the two for one to include body marmalade as well. The shake of my head and the mumbled ‘no thanks’ only encouraged her to move back to my face.
‘Perhaps you would like something to exfoliate?'
'Exfoliate?'
'Yes...your face.’
My Face? Sure I needed a shave. I wouldn't have come in to buy shaving gel if I didn't but what had she got against my face? And what would happen if I exfoliated it anyway? Did she mean obliterate it? I only wanted a shave.
‘No. I don’t think I should...should...err..exfol...a shave is...I mean the shaving gel will be fine thanks.’ A queue was building up behind me, all of them women.
The assistant then decided to treat me like a four year old.
‘Shall I pop it into a little bag for you?’ she asked, in a twee, high pitched voice.
I was surprised she didn’t begin to make coochie coo noises and tweak my cheek between thumb and forefinger. I suppose I shouldn't have been that surprised given that she found my face so horrendous. She'd probably decided that touching it in its present 'unexfoliated' state was a step too far.
As she placed the shaving foam into the bag she came up with another offer.
‘Would you like a free Moroccan scrub, Sir?’
Moroccan scrub? I had visions of a bloke in a fez and djellaba jumping out from behind the counter with a very large brush and a bucket of soapy water. She saw my quizzical look.
‘It’s a free product that helps get rid of dead skin.’
She placed a small round container into the bag.
Dead skin. Blimey, she clearly didn’t think much of me. I grabbed my little bag, ignored the smirks of the ladies behind me and exited the shop as fast as I could.

I might just grow a beard.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Jam

I don't go food shopping! I'm a bloke. I did go once and found that :
a.) women get in the way
b.) everybody wanders around in no coherent order
c.) people just stop dead in the middle of an aisle with a full trolley completely oblivious to others trying to get past with their trolleys. (I do hope the same people are not allowed out in cars)

It seems that most people have no idea what they went out shopping for in the first place. Either that or they suffer amnesia on the way there...because they just stand staring at things once they get there...as if they are indeed suffering memory failure. Go in, pick it up, put it in your basket and get the hell outta there. That's proper commando shopping. Get in, get the job done and get back out. Don't stand gawping at jam! It's goddam jam. You either came out to get jam or you didn't? If you didn't why are you staring at it? If you did...pick it up and move on! Jam can't have suddenly become immensely appealing, causing a trance induced state - unless you started out on hard narcotics. And if you did, you shouldn't have driven to the shop in the first place. In fact you shouldn't even be in charge of a trolley. Perhaps that's why you just leave your trolley slap bang in the middle of the aisle when people are pushing past to go stare at Weetabix. You forgot you had a trolley. Maybe on the drive home you'll just forget you had a car, stop it in the middle of the road, get out and just leave it right there, engine running holding up the whole High Street causing a ........a jam.

Extract from Vegas Pursuit (Fleeing Sin City) - The Speed Awareness Course scene

Lucy looked up and placed her hand over the telephone mouthpiece.
‘I will be with you in a moment, Sir.’
‘I just need to know…to find out…where the course is...some information…’
As I said the word, I stopped in mid flow. Information. The board. The notice board behind me. An information board maybe. I ran across the floor towards the window and stopped in front of the gold framed panel. Speed awareness…where was it? Speed…speed. I caught sight of the key words - speed and conference. Room B, Ground Floor.

I practically broke down the door of Room B, such was my rush to get in. My hurried entrance caused the audience to swivel around as one in the direction of the hastily opened door. At the far end of the room a surprised looking executive type in a dark blue suit stood in front of a white drop down projector screen, mouth open as if his script had been ripped from his hand.
‘Sorry. Sorry I’m late,’ I blurted out. ‘It’s a long story. I’m not too late am I?’
The executive type regained his composure in an instant.
‘Never too late my friend, despite the fact that it’s nearly twenty past ten. Now who are you?’
‘Yes, I know. I’m sorry. My name is Matthew Malarkey. I’m booked on the course. I’m really sorry about being late.’ I realised I was overdoing the apologies.
‘Well, welcome Matthew, take a seat. You can catch up as we go along. I’m Robin Hargreaves and I’m running the course today. We’re having a coffee break at eleven fifteen and we can do the formalities then.’ He turned towards the white screen. ‘Right, let’s crack on.’
Relieved at having finally made the course I took a seat at the end of a row in the middle of the room. The adrenaline that had been pumping through my system began to dissipate as I settled in my seat. Robin Hargreaves picked up where presumably he had left off before my entrance but my attention began to focus on my surroundings rather than on what he was saying.
‘…are in an age of instant demand…’
I estimated that the room was filled with around thirty to forty other people, all smartly dressed, an even mix of male and female. The thought flashed through my head, as I viewed my fellow miscreants, that we law breakers all looked fairly normal.
‘…it’s about expectations…you know that feeling when you are standing at an ATM and your cash can’t come out fast enough…’
The age range appeared to be between early twenties up to late forties. Speeding wasn’t just the domain of boy racers it seemed.
‘…when you surf the web you need instant access. It’s all about speed in this day and age…’
A wave of tiredness washed over me as I surveyed the room. The sudden drop from hyper unease to quiet inactivity had hit my concentration levels. I knew I had to focus in order to get through the course successfully but I was just catching snippets of Robin Hargreaves’s delivery. I sat upright and stared ahead in an attempt to apply my full attention.
‘…a Traffic Management system that allows you to monitor traffic activity so you never go over your limit…’
My interest picked up. That sounded useful.
‘…successfully achieving speeds up to two hundred and forty times faster than the national average…’
Who was going that fast, I wondered. What did he say? Two hundred and forty times faster than the average? That couldn’t be right. What was the average anyway? My mind started to tick. I was on the course because I had been doing forty-six in a forty mile an hour speed limit area. If someone was going two hundred and forty times faster than say thirty, that would mean they were doing…I pulled my iPhone from my pocket and tapped on the calculator icon…7,200 miles an hour. Seven thousand, two hundred? That couldn’t be right. I must have misheard.
I leant towards the person on my right, a woman in her twenties.
‘Sorry,’ I whispered, ‘did he say two hundred and forty?’
‘Excuse me?’
‘Sorry…I didn’t quite catch what he said. Did he say two hundred and forty times faster than the…err…limit…the average…limit, thing?’
‘Oh…erm…yes, I think so.’ She turned away and looked to the front again.
I concluded that she must have misheard too and tried to focus my attention on what was being said.
People are demanding faster speeds and we are encouraging that demand…’
I knew that there had been Government discussion on increasing the speed limit but I was not aware anyone was encouraging it.
Our platform is based on super-fast network capacity and our unique fibre optic system is capable of delivering some of the fastest broadband in the world.’
Broadband.
I turned again to the woman on my right.
‘Sorry to interrupt again but did he say broadband?’
‘What? Broadband? Yes, he did say broadband.’
I detected a slight note of irritation in her voice. She turned away.
‘But I thought this was about speed awareness. What’s broadband got to do with it?’ I asked, risking her disapproval.
She turned sharply to face me, the irritation at my continuous interruptions now plain on her face.
‘Yes, it is about speed awareness and broadband has everything to do with it. Look, I realise you were late and you have missed the introduction but if you listen you’ll catch up. Now I really would like to hear what is being said. My company has paid a lot of money for me to be on this seminar.’
‘Your company paid for you to be here? Err…do you have a company car then?’ I asked, a little confused since I had paid my own way.
‘I beg your pardon? A company car? What are you on about?’
‘I mean…you know…were you speeding in a company car?’
‘Speeding? I wasn’t speeding in anything. Look, I told you, I want to hear what –’
‘Yes, sorry…I know…but you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t broken the law too, would you?’
‘Listen, Mister…Mister whatever you said your name was. I don’t know what you want or who you are looking for but this is definitely a case of mistaken identity. I haven’t broken any laws at all. I am here because I want to be here. Because I work in an IT department and I want to learn about next generation broadband delivery. Now if you don’t mind I would like to listen to what is being said.’
Next generation broadband delivery. The words penetrated my skull but I brushed them aside by forming another question.
‘Err…are you sure you’re on the right…the right…’ Next generation broadband delivery. The words swirled around my head refusing to be dismissed so simply. ‘…the right course?’
My newly made acquaintance did not reply. She simply stared directly at me as if I had asked her to remove her clothes and dance naked for the entire gathering.
DashNet Internet Solutions has anticipated the growing demand for bandwidth and committed the capital investment that will make these superfast speeds possible…..’
Robin Hargreaves’s enthusiastic delivery rang in my ears as I contemplated my own words - right course.
A shockwave began its heated ascent from the pit of my stomach and rushed rapidly to my face, its sudden impact causing me to jump to my feet in an uncontrolled reaction.
‘The right course…is it the right course?’ I shouted out, causing the entire audience to turn in my direction.
A brief look of dismay darkened Robin Hargreaves’s features.
‘The right course, Mister…err…Matthew. The right course for what?’
‘Yes, the right course…am I on…I mean, is this the course…the right course…for…speed awareness?’ I asked, my sentence struggling for coherence as I waited for an answer.
‘Well, sure it is Matthew.’ Robin Hargreaves scanned the room. ‘You guys are all in the ISP business, right? As carriers you want to deliver better and faster broadband wireless to your consumers. We at DashNet Internet Solutions are here to show you how to do just that.’
At that point I knew that my next question was pointless but I couldn’t help myself.
‘No, I mean…the course…isn’t it for people who have been going too fast?’
A low murmur echoed around the room, interspersed with a few stifled chuckles. A smile played on Robin Hargreaves’s lips. He glanced towards a window to his right as if looking for composure before he replied.
‘Quite the opposite Matthew. Today is for people who want to go faster. People who want more speed. For those who want to get hold of the latest innovations and –’
‘Shit…bollocks.’
The expletives silenced the room. I spun around and sprinted towards the door.

Back in the hotel lobby I rushed over to the noticeboard. I skimmed the list looking for Conference Room B. I found it. DashNet Internet Solutions-The Need for Speed Conference. Definitely room B. My gaze scanned the rest of the list. A hairdressing product launch in room C; a doctor’s medical conference, room D; I could hardly read the letters such was my rush as my stress level heightened.
‘Come on, come on…where are you?’
Surely not the wrong hotel too?
‘Are you ok, Sir?’
I heard the voice from behind and turned to see Lucy, the receptionist that I had tried to engage earlier, standing to my right side. Out from behind the main desk she looked taller, her hair tied back in a tight ponytail.
‘Err, yes…no…I was just talking to the...the…err…no, look I am trying to find the National Speed Awareness Course. The driving thing…for people who have been speeding. I’m supposed to be attending it today and I’m late.’
‘That’s in one of our meeting rooms, Sir. This is the Conference list,’ Lucy said, a kindly smile lighting her face.............

Monday, 12 August 2013

Ghosts

I hadn’t been in the bar for two decades. Nothing had changed. Still the same decor, exposed bricks, whitewashed pillars. A low rouge light from badly placed lighting. I remembered it only too well. But something had changed. People. Sure there were still people. But now coupled up. Sitting round tables, eating bar snacks. Where had it gone? The Friday, Saturday, Sunday thing? The vibrancy. My friends. Back then there had been friends. A big group, smiling, interacting, carefree. No plans. I stared around dismissing the sounds of the present, still hearing those that I knew, the chatter of the past. Danny, Bruce, Kathy, Gill, Kevin...even Steve Six. Echoes still bouncing off the walls but no longer a presence. Where were they? Where had their lives taken them...all of a sudden? No, it’s never sudden. It’s slow, a creeping thing that none of us see happening. How does it happen? Why do we walk away one night with the casual assumption that we will 'see ya tomorrow.' We walk to the bus, the train, the taxi in the unproven certainty that we will 'see ya tomorrow.' But we don’t. Not always. Sometimes maybe, but in the end the inevitability we exude is stamped upon by fate’s capricious whim and an era stops. So, where are they? They are not ghosts. Too young to be ghosts. But one time we had laughter, chatter, love...together. As I stand staring at a crowded bar that’s all I can hear. The chatter of ghosts. They are out there somewhere but I will never find them. Lost souls...to me anyway. When was that last night? The last night that you didn’t know you'd never see that person again, the characters who you came to expect in your life? Not your fault. You just didn’t know. ‘See ya later,’ you’d said and heard it echoed back. But you didn’t. They didn’t go suddenly. They started to drift until one night there was no more ‘see ya’ and one by one they dropped off into a parallel timeframe. A timeframe that ticks along beside your own but one you cannot share. Ghosts now...living, breathing ghosts that you cannot find. Wrapped up in lives that they had no inkling of when they’d said that ‘see ya’ for what was, unintentionally, the last time. Maybe he's right. Maybe the Dalai Lama is on the money. Live in the present ...for ghosts arrive too quickly

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Vegas Pursuit (Fleeing Sin City)

My new book, Vegas Pursuit (Fleeing Sin City), is out in both paperback and Kindle now. It can be found on Amazon.

Vegas Pursuit is a sequel to Cupid's Pursuit and, once again follows the misadventures of Matthew Malarkey. This time Matthew finds himself  in the bright lights of Las Vegas on a trip to celebrate his fortieth birthday. Where Matthew goes mayhem often follows and instead of enjoying a chilled, relaxed party atmosphere, he finds himself in the middle of life threatening confusion. As usual Matthew is never sure how he got involved but he does know that he has to find a way out...and he doesn't have much time to do it.

Vegas Pursuit, like Cupid's Pursuit, is a fun read, written to amuse and raise a smile.

For more details go to www.pursuitseries.com

If you buy the book I hope you enjoy it.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Flowers in the Rain

I had been looking forward to the date. She looked good in her pictures and we had seemed to hit it off on the ‘phone. In fact it was the ‘phone chat that had done it. Killed the apprehension I had about internet dating. At the end of it I asked her out. For a date. In effect a blind date. Nothing overly complicated. Just a simple drink at the Dog and Sausage. So as I sat in the back of the taxi, speeding my way through the driving rain to our rendezvous, I had made my mind up to impress. I glanced at my watch. Five to six. Our date was at 6.30pm. I wanted to be early.
It was at that point that I caught sight of the florist sign through the cab’s rain spattered windows. If I hurried I would just catch it before it shut.
'Stop...just here. I need to pop into that shop,' I said to the driver as I pointed across the street. ‘I won’t be a second.’
I pulled open the door thinking that my date was bound to appreciate the effort. Outside the rain was coming in horizontal sheets, lashing the street in a flurry of wind-whipped spray. I pulled the lapels of my jacket tight around me and raced across the road.

Perhaps I should have been paying more attention but my thoughts were elsewhere. I just didn't see it. The vacuum cleaner wire was drawn tight across the floor as the assistant cleaned up before close. My foot caught the hazard and pitched me forward like a human missile. My impetus was arrested by a free standing display of pot plants and vases of flowers. As I hit the bottom of the rack, several pots and vases pitched forward straight at me. What felt like an avalanche of soil and water tipped straight over my now prone body, covering me in a glutinous muddy mix. The assistant screamed. I sat there on the floor, surrounded by splintered ceramic, in a pool of water, dazed, trying to gain some composure.
'Err...do you have any...err...roses,' I asked, as I spat a mouthful of soil and petals onto the floor.
There was no discernible, coherent response from the assistant. Well none that I could translate into a recognised world language. Her reaction was bordering on hysteria, a mix of sobs, screams and wails. She even did what appeared to be a mini two step dance, an involuntary movement born out of some sort of helpless frustration. I looked around me. Sure there was a mess. Yes, there were a lot of broken pots but I considered her response something of an overreaction. I, on the other hand had plenty to get upset about. My jacket was soaked, soil trailed down the front of my new white Paul Smith shirt, and when I glanced down at my trousers I spotted a six inch rip straight along the seam of the right leg.

I began to rise to my feet, still blowing soil out of my mouth. The assistant stopped the wailing noise she was making and began to step backwards, almost in fear of my approach.
I held out my hand in a placatory gesture.
‘It’s ok,’ I said, ‘no need to be upset. It’s only a spillage. Nobody’s died-’
‘Not yet they haven’t,’ she said.
I was taken aback by her sudden ability to speak English. My next thought was to wonder whether what she had said was a threat or a prediction.
‘Yet?’
‘Yes. My mum will go mental,’ she said as she wiped a tear from her face.
‘Mental? Err...your mum will? Why? What’s it got to do with your mum? It’s just an accident. Accidents happen.’
‘It’s her shop and it’s just my second day. She asked me tidy up and lock up at six. She has an important client coming in tomorrow. Some big contract....for a function or something. God...she will kill me.’
‘Well, can’t you call her? Tell her what’s happened. I mean, she is your mum. I’m sure she’ll understand?’
‘I can’t call her. She’s out. That’s why she left early and asked me to take care of everything.’
I wiped the soil from my hands and looked at my watch. Ten past six. I was in danger of being late for my date if I didn’t get out of the shop soon. Across the street I could just make out the flashing hazard lights of the waiting taxi through the driving rain.
‘Look, I’m really sorry about what’s happened. I just didn’t see the...the wire thing. I tripped.’ I reached into my pocket and pulled out a business card. ‘Here take this. If you need me to speak to your mum about what happened, so she won’t think it’s your fault, I am happy to do so. But you need to call her and get her to give you a hand to clear up. I’m sure she’d want that.’
She took my card, stared at it and then looked up. ‘I can’t call her. She told me not to...not to disturb her.'
‘Why? It’s an emergency.’
‘She’s on a date.’
The word focussed me on my own necessity to get out of the shop and get to my date. And then the word took on another meaning. The hairs on my neck began to prickle.
‘A date? Did you say a date?’
‘I did. Why?’
‘Err...what sort of date?’
She ran a hand through her hair and shot me a curious look. ‘A date. You know, with a bloke. She was looking forward to it. Said he seemed nice, not like the idiots that she normally ran into. So, that’s why she doesn’t want me to bother her.’
Coincidence. It had to be. ‘Erm...where is the date...,’ I asked.
‘Why do you want to know that?’
‘Err...well just out of curiosity...you know, in case I ever...well, wanted to go on one myself...erm...you know, sometime. Wondered if there are any good places.’
‘I dunno...some bar or pub...the sausage dog or something.’
As she said it I just caught sight of the taxi driver walking across the road to the shop. I bent down and picked up a piece of broken plant pot. Time to impress.
‘I’ll give you a hand to clear up.’

Friday, 5 April 2013

Court in the Crossfire

Sometimes I play tennis. It's good to hit some balls and unwind. The other night I pitched up at the tennis club I play at for the weekly social tennis event. This just involves members turning up and playing, usually doubles, with whoever else shows up. I got paired up in a men’s doubles. I had never met my playing partner, Harry, before so had no idea of his standard. On the opposition I knew that one of them, Dick, was average but that his playing partner, Tom, was very good. Anyway, after a few games it was my playing partner’s service. Before he served he walked over to speak to me.
'I am going to serve this one out wide to Dick’s forehand which will take him out of court and force him to play it back towards you and you can put it away for a winner.'
His approach took me by surprise as this was nothing more than a friendly social game of doubles not the US Open, but if he wanted to do tactics that was fine by me. I took up my position at the net and tried to focus. I didn't want to disappoint. Harry served. The ball went straight into the net. He went for his second serve. If you know about tennis you will know that what you are supposed to do when serving is get the ball into that little box on your opponent’s side of the net. Well, Harry’s second service didn't do that. He actually launched it out of the premises. Right out of the club grounds into the street just missing a passing bus. To put that in perspective, that is like a bloke standing at the urinal in a pub and missing it so badly he pees in the public bar.

Harry's next serve was to the good player, Tom. I crossed over and stood at the net again and waited expectantly. The serve missed my head by about five centimetres and hit the back fence without touching the ground at any point. I swear I heard a whistling sound as it flew past my ear at something like the speed of sound. I have to say it unnerved me slightly. His second service was to come. It may have been that he was able to improve his aim, having used his first attempt as a marker, because this one now missed my head by the much narrower margin of two centimetres. I started to consider the possibility that although it may not look cool on court, a crash helmet might be a wise investment when playing with Harry, or perhaps even when playing against him. Harry’s next two serves, mercifully hit the net. Whether it was frustration on his part or a determined effort to improve, he saved his best effort to last. The serve exploded from his racket with such force that it took a horizontal flight path straight into one of the floodlights poles. It then ricocheted off the metal post like a bullet from a wayward rifle shot, flew across to an adjacent court and promptly smacked a bemused woman on the back of the head. She had just been attempting a smash when the ball made contact with her cranium and she hit the deck like a bag of cement. Fortunately she was not seriously hurt, although her mutterings thereafter about meteorites and comets suggested that the onset of concussion was not too far off. Instead of apologising to the dazed lady, Harry hurled his racket at the net in some sort of demonstration of pique. Clearly this was not his night for accuracy as the racket failed to hit the net at all and, instead, crashed hard into the net post where its lack of robustness was brutally exposed when the head completely split in two. Fortunately for Harry, but perhaps not so fortunate for local residents, public transport users and the rest of us on court, Harry had a spare racket in his bag.

The game continued. Each of us had won our particular service games and it came around to Harry’s turn to serve again. It was with some trepidation that I moved to take my place at the net. As I did so Harry stopped me.
'Right,' he said, 'what I am going to do this time when I serve to Tom, is to make it kick in towards his body as he will find it harder to cope with that.'
I was about to ask, 'How would you possibly know that, as Tom hasn’t had the opportunity to return any of your serves so far as they have not actually been anywhere within his immediate vicinity let alone on his side of the court,’ when Harry then added, 'I want you to stand nearer the middle of the net so you can pick up any balls he gets to.'
Apart from the fact that I now thought Harry was deluded and also bordering on derangement, it crossed my mind that I would sooner stand in the middle of Helmand Province wearing a pair of union jack shorts with a target painted on my chest, than stand in the path of any of Harry’s projectiles.
True to form Harry then preceded to serve up the same array of unguided ballistic missiles, not one of which managed to land within the confines of the actual court and we subsequently lost the match. I was relieved to get off the court.

As we walked off I felt Harry's hand on my arm. I turned towards him just as he said, 'We should have won that. I was a bit inconsistent tonight but I reckon we could have won.'
I stared at him for a moment trying to comprehend Harry's definition of inconsistent. The deluded sometimes need a reality check. My response began to take shape along the lines of, ‘No you weren’t inconsistent Harry. You are just totally shite at tennis,’ but it was prevented from emerging when he asked if I would like a beer. Maybe delusion is a happy existence. I left it. What I actually could have drunk to numb my senses after that exhibition was a whole gallon of aircraft fuel. However, I declined Harry's offer of a beer for fear that at some point I would have been tempted to pour the whole lot over his head.

The Battle Bus

It’s Friday night. No, it’s not. It’s now Saturday morning, 3.30am to be precise. Sure, I went out on Friday night but I’m coming home in a different time zone. I’m walking across Trafalgar Square. I know I should get a taxi but I opt for the night bus. It’s cheaper by about forty quid. Why I’m working at that kind of economic level I don’t know. After all, my night out has already cost me a hundred and fifteen quid. Maybe that’s why I’m doing it. Two pounds and forty pence on the bus; forty-five in a taxi. Seems like a good idea.

There’s a crowd round the bus stop when I get there. Some checking the timetable, some stuffing the remnants of a burger into their faces, onions and red sauce hanging off their lips. Dining out in London. Behind me there’s a guy, his shirt hanging open to reveal a scrawny white chest, singing some incoherent ditty as he pisses up against the corner of a building. You’re in London man. Lord Nelson is looking at you. You got no respect? A dark puddle forms around his trainers and trickles away into the gutter like many a night on the tiles. I turn away. Ahead of me I see the shiny bright red of a Routemaster, its headlights beaming, a yellow glow of light spilling over the passengers on both decks. The crowd moves forward. No orderly queue here. I pay my money and look for a seat. Nothing. I head upstairs.

I squeeze onto a seat in the middle of the bus, next to a guy who’s lolling in some sort of fitful twitching sleep against the window, a can of coke perched perilously on his lap. It’s the only seat left on the top deck. I got no choice. Across the aisle two girls, their skirts riding high, are giggling about their night out while it is still fresh and the adrenaline is still coursing through them. It’s the only view worth looking at. The whole top deck is a clamour of chatter, random shouts and screams, alive and bustling. The bus lurches forward and then it begins.

There’s always one. The night bus entertainer. The bus clown. He walks forward from the back seat regaling the aisles with a song. I think it’s meant to be ‘Wonderwall.’ Maybe he thinks it is too. In his right hand there’s a can of Fosters. His left hand is slapping the handrails. It’s not meant to be a percussion accompaniment. It’s just him trying to keep his balance. I just want to get home. I find myself thinking in a kind of New York trash talk. Don’t know why. I’m from Wimbledon. Must be that last JD and coke. Sit down muva. It’s hometime. We don’t need it. Party’s done here. He carries on. Clearly he doesn’t do telepathy. Some of the bus crowd are getting into it. That only encourages him. He starts to shimmy like he’s on X-factor. Maybe he should be. He’s got no talent. He does a spin at the top end of the bus and starts a return strut. He reaches the seats opposite me where the two ‘ladies’ are sitting and decides to serenade them.
    'I done bleeve dat anybahdee feels the way a do aboucha now...'


The girls are giggling. The ping of the bus bell brings the bus to a slow halt. Not slow enough for the cabaret guy. The stopping motion causes him to lurch back. He over compensates by lurching forward. His Fosters can is in perfect sync. A slop of beer pitches from the can and hits me right in the face. Surprise rather than anger causes me to jump up.
    ‘Hey, mate. Watch what you’re doing with that friggin beer will you.’
He turns towards me, his eyes trying to focus, his lips pursed in the way a drunk’s lips do when the brain is forming a sentence but the tongue is unable to articulate the thought within the same time frame.‘Whasureproblem?’ was what came out.
My problem? I had Foster’s lager trickling down my chin. I’d had that before but normally I’d paid for it first. Yeah, what is my problem I asked myself? Maybe it was the fact that I was stuck on the night bus with a crowd of people whose collective IQ had now dipped below imbecile level. Perhaps if the X-factor wannabee got off the bus at that point it may have zoomed up to moron category. Still, it was my fault. I had wanted to save forty quid and now I was getting the benefit. Cheap fares and full on, up front, participatory entertainment.
I glanced around. The ‘bus’ was looking at me. I was on Mastermind and needed to answer the question. The two girls opposite turned their painted faces in my direction. My inquisitor swayed around an upright hand rail like some nightmarish pole dancer.
     ‘My problem,’ I began, ‘is that if the round is on you, I’d sooner a JD and coke. All beered out tonight.’
Humour. Maybe that would diffuse the thing. Maybe make me look cool too. I waited. The two girls giggled. ‘Wonderwall’ screwed up his face, his eyes momentarily turning into slits. His brain had shut down several departments. The synapses that normally fire up the neurons to operate sight had bid goodnight. Instead a substitute stepped in. His brow creased several times, up and down like an accordion, until the upward motion opened the two unfocussed slits.
Who knows what his next words of wisdom were to be. The bus lurched away from the stop causing him to tilt backwards. With his hand still holding the upright rail, his impetus swung him around to face the front of the bus. As it did, his head caught the rail just above the bridge of his nose. It was the perfect knockout. He pitched forward and landed on his face, the Fosters can hitting the deck and rolling straight under his body. The two girls screamed. The rest of the bus whooped and cheered. I sat back down in my seat. Next to me my ‘travelling companion’ remained oblivious, wrapped up in the comatose sleep of a battle bus drunk.

As I slumped back into my seat and contemplated twenty five more stops to go, I began to see the value of forty quid.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Human Resources


It was a quarter past eight in the morning.
‘You wanted to see me boss,’ he said, as I motioned him into my office.
‘Yeah, I did fellah. Take a seat,’ I said.
He pulled up a chair from the corner and placed it in front of my desk. ‘Wassup?’ he asked.
I gritted my teeth at the over casual air of confidence but decided to tackle the question head on, if indeed it was a question.
‘Sorry? Where? You allergic to them then?’
‘Allergic to what boss? I’m not with you.’
‘Wasps. You mentioned a wasp, or am I mistaken?’
‘For a moment his eyes glazed over and then a grin cracked his face. ‘No, I mean, you know…what’s up. It's an expression. What is it?’
‘An expression, huh? So...What’s what? What do you want to know?’ I asked as I leant back in my chair.
His grin disappeared and he leant forward in a sub-conscious body language response to the space that had grown slightly larger by my action. It was deliberate on my part. A conscious decision to pull the strings. Draw the sucker in. You make the puppet dance in this game. He attempted to answer my question.
‘I mean. You wanted to see me. I wondered what for. That was all?’
I leant back over my desk, placed both hands flat across it and stared him directly in the eyes. ‘Yeah, I wanted to see you fella. I wanted to see you about your non-attendance.’ Calling him ‘fella’ de-personalised it. Not for my benefit. I couldn’t give a shit. But he needed to know he was a nobody.
‘Non-attendance? What non-attendance?’ he said, a surprised frown crossing his features. ‘I’ve got a good record. My attendance has been good. I’ve been here every day. Never taken a day off sick in the four months I've been here. I don’t understand.’
Time to fire up a cigar and blow smoke at the sucker. I flipped the lid of the wooden box that sat on one corner of my desk, pulled out a Quai D'Orsay Corona and rolled it between my fingers for no other reason other than effect.
‘Well, let me tell you about non-attendance fellah. The way I see it is you’re meant to be here every day at eight o’clock and leave here at five o’clock. Yeah?’
‘Well, yes,’ he said hesitantly.
‘But the thing is, you’ve been getting here at five minutes past eight…that’s past eight...and leaving again at five minutes before five…yeah? Every single day of those four months.'
I saw his mouth open to respond. I didn’t let him.
‘So you see we ain’t talkin about attendance…your so called perfect, no-sick record. We’re talking about the times you ain’t bin here. That’s what non-attendance is. It’s the time somebody has not bin somewhere…somewhere they’re s’posed to have bin.  You getting the difference now? Yeah?’
He shifted uncomfortably in the seat and glanced towards the window. Another body language giveaway. Looking for help. Then he spoke.
‘My time keeping's not so bad
–’
I couldn't help the smile. The puppet was dancing.
‘Time keeping? You call it time keeping? You understand what keeping time is? No? Ok. Let me elaborate.’ I reached for the cigar cutter and clipped the butt end off the Corona in one clean snip. I stared at the cleanly sheared end before continuing. ‘Keeping time. Keepin time is what a drummer does. He picks up the beat and stays in time with the bass and the guitarist. That way the whole band stays tight and in sync. You seeing it now?’

I stuck the cigar in my mouth, and chewed it for a second. Creating space. Creating tension. His fingers twitched as edginess crept in. I reached over to the corner of my desk, picked up the red jet torch lighter that sat there like a mini dumbbell, flicked the trigger and flared up the cigar with a yellow burst of butane. The first cloud of blue smoke wafted across the desk.
'So by getting their arses in to work at the same time and then leaving at the same time…the time that my employees are all signed up to…the whole team stays in sync. But you, you my friend are doin a solo act without the band. You’re a singer with no backing, yeah…cos you ain’t in sync with the team.’ I took a long pull on the cigar and shot a cloud of smoke right into his face.
In an effort at justification or perhaps an effort to gulp some oxygen, he attempted a stuttering response. ‘It’s only five minutes boss. I mean –’
Cheeky sucker. ‘Only five minutes? Is that right? Yeah? Ok…let me explain your five minutes. You, my friend have been stealin ten minutes every day for four months. That's right...stealin. There's eighty-five working days in those three months. That's a total of eight hundred and fifty minutes or fourteen hours that you took. Two of your working days in fact. So, hey, what’s two days in four months you might ask? You wanna ask that?’
There was silence. I blew some more smoke. He stifled a cough.
‘Well do you?’
‘Sorry…do I what?’
‘You wanna ask that question. What’s two days in four months?’
‘No…it’s ok.’
‘Yeah you do.' Ask the fuckin question sucker.
His startled look gave way to another stifled cough as another plume of smoke enveloped his head. I stood up and walked around the desk.
‘You got a cough?’
‘No…no, it’s the…no…it’s fine.’
Yeah sure it’s fine. Suck it up chump. ‘Ok…now you had a question…right?’
‘Err, yes…I did. Err...so…err...what’s two days in four months?’
I rested the cigar on the corner of the desk, turned towards my in-tray and picked up a folded sheet of paper. I opened it slowly. His gaze was focussed on the paper, just as I had wanted. I held it out in front of me and started to tear it into little pieces. Each piece fluttered down onto his lap. His face clouded over in a mix of surprise and curiosity.
‘What’s two days in four months? I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the two fuckin days leave you just applied for this weekend that you ain’t getting cos you owe me sucka. Now get the fuck outta my office.’

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Radioactive Boots

I was going to throw them out but at the last minute I thought that they may be useful to do the garden in. Well sometimes, even when there is plenty of mileage in them, a pair of old tennis trainers are just that – old. Out of time.  Unfashionable. My other half even referred to them as ‘Moon Boots.’ Well moon boots were good enough in 1969 when the Eagle landed. So I kept them. To my mind thick, sturdy soles with plenty of tractor tyre-style grip still had some use.
She was out shopping when I decided that I couldn’t put off the moss removing job from the patio any longer. I’d get it done, then I’d win the award of being allowed to sit in front of Soccer Saturday all afternoon. I grabbed a bucket and began to read the instructions on the moss removal product. Dilute with cold water, 1:4. That means chuck a load in the bottom and fill the bucket up, in my book. Harmful to plant and aquatic life it said. Do not drink. I hadn’t intended to drink it but I wondered why those two warnings followed one another. It was unlikely a Triffid would come along and want to de-moss a patio and no matter how intelligent they are, dolphins do not build patios. Perhaps that is a mark of intelligence – not to have a patio.
There were several other alarming warnings and scientific terms such as fungicide and algaecide plastered all over the side of the container.  I felt some trepidation as I began to wonder whether I should bother doing the job at all. Wear protective clothing it said. Like what? A radiation protection suit? Do not breathe in. Did that mean I had to hold my breath throughout the whole operation or did it mean I should be wearing breathing apparatus? I dismissed it all. I’d never get it done if I kept worrying about the warnings. Bit like reading all the side effects you can get from taking a medicinal pill. Once you swallow it you think you have them all. Despite my trepidation I unscrewed the cap and poured a dollop (err…1:4, I think) into the bucket. I topped up the level with cold water and dipped the broom head into the mix. For good measure I tipped a small amount of the liquid onto the patio and began to scrub. A soapy, white film appeared first on the patio surface, followed by a thin, wispy trail of vapour, rising almost imperceptibly. My first thought was that I was glad I hadn’t drunk any of the product and my second was, ‘is this meant to happen.’ I carried on, purely on the basis that it would be impossible for moss to continue to live on the creamy, smoking surface appearing before me. Within ten minutes the whole of my once grey slate patio was a smoldering mess of white paste and pale, cloudy fumes rising into the air. A sickening sensation began to form in my stomach, mostly from the worry that I had somehow started to vaporize my garden but probably stimulated by the bleachy, corrosive fumes that had replaced most of the oxygen available in my immediate vicinity. I decided that enough was enough. As my eyes began to water I accepted that moss could not exist on what had now become a hostile environment to any living organism and I considered the job done. I stepped across the alien landscape that I had inadvertently created towards the hosepipe attached to an outside tap. As I turned the tap fully on to wash away the molten grunge that was creeping across the slabs, I noticed my tennis trainers had begun to glow red around the soles. I hoisted my leg up and back to check the sole properly. Sure enough the underside was a glowing red colour but, with the better view of the whole shoe base, I could see two small yellow spots between the toe and the heel that seemed to be pulsing.  Slightly alarmed at what was happening to my trainers I let go of the hosepipe just as my other half was coming through the back gate laden with shopping. The hose bucked and writhed in a powerful coiling motion across the patio, as the water jet erected it into a hissing, gushing snake-like life form, spurting gallons of water from its nozzle directly at the lady of the house. The first burst caught her round the legs but as the hose bounced upwards she got the full spray directly over her upper body and face. Her screams galvanized me into action. As she dropped her shopping I sprang forward only to find that my enthusiastic reaction had caused me to leap clear over the six foot fence that bordered the garden. I landed some forty metres away on a grass mound at the back of the property. I didn’t have time to be surprised. As I looked round I caught sight of an impromptu wrestling match taking place between the hose pipe and my good lady. The hose pipe seemed to be winning despite profanities coming from my other half that I had not heard since our honeymoon night.  I shot forward to rescue the situation only to find that in an uncontrollable blur of speed I crashed straight through the wooden fence, splintering the panel into matchwood as I came to a skidding halt. Somehow I had covered over forty metres of ground in a split second. I grabbed at the hose pipe directing it away onto the grass and managed to switch off the tap.

I didn’t get to watch Soccer Saturday. It cost me a few hundred quid for a new outfit to replace her soaked one. The patio came up lovely eventually. No more moss. I repaired the fence. I found out that my neighbor had borrowed the bucket and had left a small amount of
Hydrofluoric acid, something he had been using on glass. I discovered that my old trainers contained erradiferticulatesulphate acid as part of the sole. A rare chemical reaction between all substances had clearly taken place. Unofficially I hold a new world record for the forty metres. The trainers still glow. I kept them.