Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Polar Bear

I was enjoying a few glasses of South African Pinotage by a warm log fire when I heard a disturbance in my hallway. I went to investigate and to my horror discovered that a polar bear had broken into my house. Recovering from the initial shock I tried to escape back into the front room. Maybe it’s psychological but when faced with threat why do we retreat to a place we know? I should have legged it out through the back door but it was too late and I retreated as the huge creature followed me into the room. It is a little known fact but polar bears are left handed or, strictly speaking, left pawed. I backed up but it started throwing left jabs sending me further across the room towards the fire. I tried to counter with right hand leads but it was clearly more skilful than I had anticipated. At ten feet tall and 1,400 pounds the bear clearly had a height and weight advantage. I bobbed and weaved, hoping to confuse it but the jabs kept coming. I took one full on the nose and it momentarily stunned me. I tried another short right below the bear’s rib cage hoping to wind it but my blow seemed to be absorbed all too easily. Another jab caught me on the top of the head scrambling my senses. To give me time to regain my composure I did that thing that heavyweights do. I dropped my hands and shook my head rapidly from side to side to indicate that I wasn’t hurt. I even beckoned the beast forward in a show of bravado. Big mistake. I thought it might dispirit him but he kept coming. He tried to surprise me with a right hook. I ducked and in the bending motion my trousers must have gotten too close to the flame of the fire. I yelped, feeling the first rush of heat on my backside as the flames licked over my clothing.

I woke with a start. A burning hot ember had been discharged from the fire and had set light to my trousers where I lay on the polar bear skin rug. I jumped up as I felt the flames burn through the material. I kicked the glowing ember away with my foot and rolled on the rug to douse the flames knocking over the remaining red in the wine bottle. It poured over the rug staining it from its pure white to a crimson blot. In my eagerness to douse my burning pants I hadn’t noticed that the burning ember I had booted away had come to land by the main window and had now set light to both curtains. The blaze shot up the material, caught the wooden pelmet and brought the lot crashing down onto the sofa. It didn’t take long to ignite, first the cushions and then the actual sofa. There was nothing I could do to contain it. I grabbed my mobile and frantically punched in 999.
Most of the inside of the house got caught by the blaze but the quick action of the fire brigade managed to save the property and kept the damage to the neighbouring ones under control. A fireman emerged from the smouldering shell dragging the remnants of the polar bear skin rug. He was showing it to his colleagues and they were staring at me with a mix of awe and admiration on their faces.
‘You musta put up a hell of a fight with this critter mate. You took it out single handed. The thing is covered in blood’.
It may have been shock from the trauma of the fire that made me say nothing but I found myself accepting the praise and wonderment of the other firemen at my heroic battle with the polar bear.

Unfortunately, my moment of elation was short lived. I was arrested and charged with keeping an endangered animal in entirely unsuitable conditions. The magistrate berated me, banging on about how polar bears should be allowed to wander free and not be enslaved. She even mentioned global warming as if my house fire had in some way contributed to the earth's woes. My desire to defend myself by revealing that it was simply a bear skin rug was flattened as the dilemma of my position became apparent. If the magistrate was such an animal activist it would only further irritate her to imply that I was using an animal as a carpet. I stayed silent and accepted my fate.  I escaped with a fine. I look back on it now and wonder if it wasn’t all a dream.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


There is a difference between shopping and going to the shops. And if both sexes understood that difference the better we would get along.
Let me explain. Women go shopping, men go to the shops. If I go out to buy bread I come back with..... bread. That is because I am a bloke. If a woman goes out for bread she comes back with milk, jelly, carrots, bleach, something for the biscuit cupboard (whatever a biscuit cupboard is) and ... bread, including some for the freezer. And that is just with basic everyday shopping. What about the more complex variety... clothes shopping? If I need a pair of jeans I leave the house with one mission in mind. Go to a shop that sells jeans and buy some. It is a perfectly direct, straightforward commando raid on the shop. Go in. Pick jeans. Try on. If they don’t fit, try another pair. If they do fit, buy. Go home. In, out, done. SAS style without the flashes and bangs. This is called the Direct Approach (Male) and is what I mean by “going to the shops”. On the other hand if a woman goes to buy a pair of jeans it takes on the proportions of day trip to Brighton. To start with they don’t go straight to a shop that sells jeans. They go via a shop that sells candles, or lighting, or furniture. This is often followed by a visit to a cosmetics counter, a handbag shop and a shoe shop. They do eventually get to a shop that sells jeans but not just one shop. Often it’s several shops that sell jeans. And many of them “popped into” more than just the once. This is called the Indirect Approach (Female) and is what I mean by “shopping”.
But .. that isn’t the end of it. On completion of the jeans shopping away day, a woman will return with not only a pair of jeans but a consignment of other stuff that we don’t need in the house and a stack of clothes that will only end up on permanent display in the wardrobe. There then follows a conversation that goes something like this.......

“Hi honey. Did you get your jeans”?
“I did.... but they don’t fit”
“They don’t fit???”
“No. They don’t. I will take them back on Monday”
“Errrrr.... can I ask why you bought jeans that don’t fit?”
“They did fit in the shop.”
“I see... they fitted in the shop that you left half an hour ago but now they don’t fit. What happened? Did they shrink in the car? Or did you put on half a stone on the way home? Did you not try them on first?”
“Yes, of course I tried them on, but now they don’t fit. You wouldn’t understand.”

Precisely. I don’t understand so I leave it at that. If someone wants to spend several hours shopping for a pair of jeans and then wants to take them back again, I guess that’s just their thing.

Now that you can see the difference in the female shopping trip and the male trip to the shops, you are probably beginning to understand why a joint venture never works. Since the approach is entirely different for both sexes, a woman should never contemplate taking her man shopping. It can only end in a mutually dispiriting experience (there is no need to advise guys against taking their women shopping .... the idea would not be imaginable). For a start, once a man has been taken into more than two shops, especially ones he would not associate with the purpose of the shopping spree, he starts to disengage his brain as he loses interest in what is starting to become an alien activity. When his brain has been disengaged he starts to become mono-syllabic at best and uncommunicative at worst and, to relieve the boredom, he starts to look at the other women shoppers legs (this is a natural condition of the disengaged male brain which, in that state, reverts to primeval instincts.) None of this makes the woman feel comfortable. His apparent disinterest in her activity and sudden apparent fascination with other women create the beginnings of a chilly atmosphere. All she wants to do is share the shopping experience with her man and point out all the delightful smelly candles, embossed picture frames and various other junk, sorry... knick-knacks, which are placed on the shelves for the pleasure of the female shopper. However, it is not mentally possible for a man to visualise whether that candle she spotted would look nice in the conservatory, particularly when his mind is preoccupied with the stunners on the cosmetics counter. So, don’t ask. He isn’t being awkward. It’s just that his disengaged brain cannot comprehend the question.
The most harmonious way to visit the shops together, if you have to go together, is to place your man on a seat in one of the many coffee outlets in the high street, give him a strong coffee, a Danish Pastry, a newspaper and strict instructions not to move until you get back. He is happier. He can then read the sports pages and look at all the other woman to his heart’s content without serious risk to his relationship.
What you should also avoid like a seriously contagious infection, is taking him clothes shopping and expect him to be your fashion guru and advisor. Never hold up a top on a clothes hanger against your chest and say, “What do you think?” He doesn’t think. He cannot visualise it. He does not have the ability to pass judgement. And that is not because he isn’t interested. It’s because he has to see the whole picture. He has to see a woman in the top and preferably under low lights in a late night wine bar. Then he can maybe make an assessment, although in those circumstances it may be an unreliable assessment influenced somewhat by his bar tab.
Finally, never ask your man the two most relationship damaging questions you can possibly come up with on a shopping trip - “Does this make me look fat?” and “Does my bum look big in this?” In the first case it is an indisputable fact that if you weigh 19 stone, whatever you put on, you will look fat. If you weigh 7st, it is highly likely that no item of clothing will make you look better than undernourished at best. Anything in between and it’s your judgement call. As for the bum question, a man cannot answer that correctly without condemning himself to everlasting doom. Firstly, guys have a sneaking suspicion that you already know the answer to the question or you would not have raised it in the first place. If your bum does look big in those jeans that you spent several hours searching for after taking back the first pair you brought home yesterday, what can he say? If he says you look great you will be taking them straight back again the next day when it finally dawns on you that your bum may be mistaken for the rear end of the QE2. And not only will he be in the dog house for lying but it could well involve him in yet another unwanted shopping trip. On the other hand he cannot be truthful and say, “Yes, your bum does look big in those”, especially not after you’ve caught him ogling all those other women shoppers.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Takeaway Coffee

I expect I sound funny when I try my French and Spanish abroad but sometimes it is hard to get to grips with foreign accents in your own locality.I bought a coffee to take away this morning in a well known high street coffee shop. The conversation that followed my purchase went like this.
'You want a lead for that Sir?' I was asked
'A lead?'
'Yes, Sir, a lead.'
'Why would I want a lead? Is it dangerous?' I asked.
'Dangerous? No, Sir. Not dangerous. Fresh ground coffee from beans. No chemicals. No chemicals at all.'
'Why would I want a lead then, if it is not dangerous. I mean I want to drink it now, not walk it!'
'But you said you do want to walk it Sir...take away. Is why I ask if you want lead. If you want to drink in now, lead is not necessary.'
I was getting confused
'I want to take it out...with me...on the street... now,' I said.
'Then you should have lead, Sir.'
'Well if it needs a lead,' I said, 'it definitely sounds dangerous.
'Not dangerous, Sir. It fresh. Hand made by barristers.'
'Barristers? Your coffee is made by barristers?'
'Yes, Sir. Very good barristers. They have two week training.'
'Two weeks? I thought it took years to be a barrister. That is very quick! I wouldn't be happy using them for a legal case.'
'No. No Sir. No legal case needed. Coffee is good. No suing. But you must take lead if you want to walk it.'
By now I just wanted my coffee and was even more confused. I decided that I would take whatever lead the guy had to offer and be on my way.
'Ok, I will have a lead, thank you,' I said.
He handed me a lid. A lid for the takeaway container.
'Oh...a lid!' I said, the surprise showing on my face.
'Yes Sir. That's what I say. A lead so you don't spill coffee. You might sue us if you burn yourself.
'Well, I suppose so, but if you have your own barristers then they must be used to defending any claims you get,' I said, trying to make light of the situation as I felt my cheeks redden at the thought that he may think I had been taking the mickey out of his accent.
'No, Sir. They just make the coffee. Not do suing case.'
'Strange barristers then, that don't do legal work. Must be expensive for the....'
It was then that I saw the leaflet and the line 'hand made by baristas.'
Having appeared foolish enough already I resisted clarifying my understanding with my foreign friend, jammed the lid on my coffee container and bid him good morning.

'Sending' an e-Mail

What’s happened lately with e-mail speak? Yesterday I overheard a colleague on the telephone saying that he would ‘bang’ an e-mail over later. Earlier on a female client had told me she’d ‘pop’ me an e-mail and yet another colleague tends to ‘ping’ e-mails! What’s that all about? What’s the obsession with delivering emails in a flurry of perceived uproar or commotion? Maybe I am just old fashioned and haven’t got past the ‘SEND’ option for emails yet. Mind you, I can hardly be blamed for that since my e-mail software does not yet have a bang, pop or ping option as the method of delivery. I have to say, if someone tells me they will be ‘banging’ me over an e-mail I usually take precautions and sit well back from the computer monitor prior to its delivery.

Perhaps the psychology of it all is to make a relatively innocuous task seem a lot more important by applying an onomatopoeic noun to the deed. The aforementioned colleague has also been heard to say that he would ‘bang out’ an e-mail. I do worry for his IT budget if his keyboard takes such a hammering. Maybe it makes the, dare I use the word, ‘sender’, seem more crucial to the process as if the action of applying pressure with a single finger to a keyboard button demonstrates some contained power. A bit like the President of the United States hitting the nuclear button! It could even be that, in the mindset of the sender, the use of more powerful words imparts much more significance to the content. So, the more badly written and the more lightweight the content of the e-mail, the greater the need to use a powerful noun to imply gravitas. For example if you were to write ‘ hello mate. Hows ur weekend. I will get the parcel of to u in the morning’, you would need to explain to the recipient that you were going to ‘explode’ an email over to him in order to create importance and consequently engender any anticipation.

Having said all of the above I now feel some pressure to up my game in the e-mail vernacular stakes. I may well stop using such a passive and uninspiring word as ‘send’ to denote the method by which I will be providing information to you via cyber space and look at something more descriptive. The fact that communication goes via cyber space therefore lends itself to space related terminology and in future I may warn you that I am about to ‘launch’ an e-mail - as in, 'I will launch you an e-mail shortly, mate.' As the pressure increases to express the importance of my e-mail communication I may then resort to more explosive nouns and I may propel, thrust or even blast you an e-mail. I have decided though, that for reasons of decorum, ejaculating an e-mail may not be interpreted in the truest definition and therefore I will avoid that one, as indeed everyone else should!!!