Wednesday, 26 December 2012

World Music

The café is relatively empty; only two other chairs are occupied, and one of those is taken by the barista. I suspect this may have something to do with the background noise. When I arrived I thought that I had a headache, but after a few minutes it became apparent that the dull thudding was emanating from the speakers, and studded with the occasional shrill of pan-pipes. It’s called ‘world music’ because no country will claim responsibility.


Monday, 24 December 2012

The Waitress

In the café, the waitress is prowling, threading between the tables in search finished cups. I suppose that some might consider her pretty, but instead of her high, pointed cheekbones, or round, glossy lips, I focus on the space between her eyes and forehead. Eye shadow, dark red, fades into orange and blue, and it sparkles with a sheen to rival that of the polished floor. It looks as if, while asleep, two black eyes wandered onto her face, and decided that instead of settling in the hollows of her eye sockets, they would prefer to sit just beneath her eyebrows. Upon waking, she must have decided that glitter would do better than concealer. Her hair is sufficiently unobtrusive; brown, it falls in ringlets, and as she walks they sway, like a man from a noose in heavy wind. She reminds me of a painting I once saw, of a tiger stalking a gazelle. They both had the same look in their eyes, a sort of hunger coupled to desperation, and badly-applied paint.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Tennis Club

Thank you for joining the Fortis Green Tennis Club. We are always happy to welcome new members, and would appreciate it if you took a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the club rules.

1. The first rule of Fortis Green Tennis Club is ‘you do not parody fight club’.
2. The second rule of Fortis Green Tennis Club is that the clubhouse is for members only.
3. Shoes with non-marking soles should be worn at all times.
4. Clothes should be worn in addition to shoes.
5. If you’re the last person in the clubhouse in the evening, please remember that rule 4 still applies.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Strangely specific greeting cards

Kids will be kids, and accidents happen
you’re alive when you shouldn’t expect to be.
Besides, by order of the courts
We’ll pay for the javelin-ectomy

--

We’re sorry for all the events of last night
we’re sorry that you got excited.
But when I said that “we are going to bed”
We didn’t mean you were invited.

--

Sorry we saw your house being burgled, and did not call the cops,
We were watching TV at the time, through our freeview box.
We wanted to get up and help, but the box wont record – we know why
It’s a cheapskate piece of knock-off tat – we should have paid for Sky.

--

Sorry for the offensive cards I’ve given you over the years, you old, fat, feckless waste of space.


Friday, 21 December 2012

PC World

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you in order to lodge a complaint. I think you should treat my letter with the highest priority; I very rarely complain, as it means that I have to go to the post office to buy stamps, and the queue’s too long because there are too few staff on duty, and I have to ride a bus to get there and it’s always disgustingly hot, and the engine’s too loud. You might think to yourself that these are the words of an old git with an inflated sense of self-importance and too much time on his hands, but I should warn you that I could come round to the office tomorrow and have you fired.

The matter in question concerns one of your theme parks, by the name of ‘PC world’. Upon receiving your brochure through the post, promising that PC world was “where state of the art technology and cutting-edge service meet”, I promptly decided to take my two grandsons.

They were so excited when I told them, and as we pulled into the car park they had their little faces pressed up against the window, each hoping to be the first to spot a rollercoaster or a log flume. They could barely contain themselves as I walked to the pay and display machine, and made sure that they were wearing suntan lotion (an important precaution, since it was a fine day and I had assumed we were to be spending the best part of it outside). As we walked in, I was immediately struck by the large quantities of items for sale. Now, I’ve heard about getting tourists to ‘exit through the gift shop’ before, so I assumed that it entering by it was the done thing. After wandering through the aisles for about twenty minutes or so, we still could not locate the exit. I asked one of your staff for directions to PC world, but he just laughed and said that it was here inside. Well, you can imagine my disgust – a theme park solely indoors? Does PC world want children to spend their time in darkened rooms?

The facilities left a lot to be desired. The single ride, ‘The Escalator’ was a slow and predictable rollercoaster, and although there were very short queues for entry, one could only ride it so many times before the magic wore off. I noted that despite there being a camera placed quite conspicuously in the path of the ride, we were never offered the chance to buy our photograph. I’m not sure whether you were innocently but incompetently missing the commercial trick, or whether you get off on collecting photos of children, but neither option leaves me impressed. Nor was I impressed by your dining facilities; when I asked a member of staff about food, he led me to an aisle filled with blenders, toasters, and those JML products that promise to dice your vegetables while steam cleaning your wife thin. While I’ll concede that the sight of thirty-odd toasters in orderly rows did have a certain charm to it, I was expecting to find something edible.

Your hired actors also left a lot to be desired. For a start, they never once approached my grandchildren on their own, I had to actively search them out. Once I had stopped them, the characters were ill-defined and scripts repetitive, they just said things like “Sorry, we’re just looking at laptops” or “I don’t work here”. The decor was also lacking; just because you’ve got a wall of televisions like David Bowie in “the man who fell to Earth” doesn’t mean that you can ignore all the other walls.

You can rest assured that we won’t be making a return visit. Next time I have the grandkids, I’ll be taking them to ‘Kingdom of Leather”.

Yours disappointedly,

Mister Arthur Grant



Thursday, 20 December 2012

Advance payment

Dear Sarah,

I am writing with regards to an outstanding bill you have with me, to the tune of two hundred and forty pounds. You don’t know me yet, but in the very near future, I’ll be your psychic. I know you don’t believe in psychics, but you’ll have to trust me – after Dennis dies, you’ll want to contact him.

Now, the thing is, it would really help me if you could pay in advance; I’ve foreseen some money troubles this week. Mrs Smith, my Tuesday afternoon séance, won’t be able to pay after a workplace fire; her incense factory will go up in smoke, leaving her penniless and with a distrust of fire alarms. I know for a fact that Mister Johnson (Thursday morning tarot) isn’t going to bother chasing up his invoice, as he’s dead. Last week, he asked me how he was going to die. Believing, as I did, that honesty is the best policy, I told him; his life was going to end within the week, after falling from a great height. As soon as I finished talking he shouted that he ‘couldn’t bear the suspense of knowing’ and promptly threw himself out of the window. He didn’t die from the impact; he landed on my next client, Mister Stevens, who promptly throttled him. Johnson’s widow is taking me to court, so I could really do with the money.

‘Why don’t you just predict the lottery numbers?’ I figuratively hear you cry. Well, I’ve been placed on the national lottery blacklist. I didn’t even know that the national lottery had a blacklist, but it turns out that they do, and winning the jackpot four times in four weeks is enough to earn a place on it.

So if you could write me a cheque, I’d be most grateful. I’ve attached an invoice overleaf.

Many thanks,
Megan Foland

P.S. When you come for your first appointment, can you please bring a pint of milk? I will have forgotten to buy any, and I know you don’t like black coffee. Ta.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Cheese Hotline

November 4th
Hi Dad. I know we haven’t spoken in a while, but I thought I’d send you a quick postcard update. You know how they say that you should stick to writing about what you know? Well, it’s paid off. My sitcom about a graduate writing a sitcom about a graduate writing a sitcom has been optioned!
Best, Tom

November 17th
Hi Dad, me again. The production company’s dropped the idea. Apparently the series finale in which the budding writer has his idea dropped because the series finale is inappropriately bleak is inappropriately bleak. I think it’s time for me to wake up and smell the low-fat soya milk caffeinated -style beverage; most people’s tastes aren’t as sophisticated as mine.
Best, Tom

December 4th
Hi Dad, it’s Tom again. The money situation’s getting tight now; I have enough to cover the rent, but not for such luxuries as food and heating. I did try using jumpers instead, like you suggested, but burning them only gave me a few hours of heat. What with the scorch marks on the carpet and the tiny hole in the ceiling, it looks like I’ve launched a very small rocket. The landlord spotted this and reported me to the council for ‘space exploration without a licence’(apparently you have to give the council six to eight week’s notice if you’re going to be launching an expedition, so that they can check your rocket’s MOT’d and fitted with a valid tax disc). I’m going to try to get the fine waived, but just in case I can’t, I’ve decided to get a ‘proper’ job. It’s one of those fines that’s like a self-conscious mathematician – it multiplies while you’re not watching.
Tom

December 8th
Getting a proper job is harder than it looks. The amount of dedication they expect is more than I could have imagined – the bloke at the oil refinery physically chased me off the premises when I asked how often I could go out for a smoke. My second interview didn’t go too well either; the photographer looked offended when I told him I was there for the bikini model position. So much for equal opportunities, eh?
Tom

January 6th
I did it! I’ve got a job! Probably! When I asked the interviewer if I’d see him on Monday, he shook his head violently, but his wig nodded. Such mixed messages...

January 7th
Apparently that didn’t mean yes.

January 9th
I have actually got a job this time. I’m manning a phone line; I’m the new voice of the sliced cheese hotline! (You know how there’s sometimes a number on the side of food packaging? Well, that’s me). They seemed really relieved that I could step in to fill the post; apparently my predecessor started hearing voices. The work seems easy enough. I just have to answer the phone when it rings.

January 23th
Two weeks into the job, and not one call. I’m not sure what I was expecting, really. I mean, you never really hear about any cheese-based emergencies. No-one turns up in A and E because they slipped on some stilton, put their back out carrying a heavy block of cheddar, or took a dairylea triangle to the eye.

January 25th
This job is driving me mad. I thought it’d be great; I’d just have to turn up and sit in a room for eight hours, and get paid for a full day’s work. I thought it’d give me time to work on the re-write of my sitcom (in which the good-looking protagonist gets a job giving him the time to work on the re-write of his sitcom, in which the good-looking protagonist gets a job giving him the time to work on the re-write of his sitcom). But I can’t concentrate. I’m waiting for that damn phone to ring.

February 12th
Why won’t anyone ring? Someone, somewhere, must be have a question about cheese. I’m not picky – I’ll accept a conversation about yoghurt. I’d even make do with a wrong number.

February 17th
I went to throw the phone against the wall, and discovered that it wasn’t plugged in. Still no calls.



Monday, 17 December 2012

James Bond's expenses

Dear M,
I’ve attached the expense claim form for my last mission, with receipts stapled on the reverse, I know a few are slightly unorthodox, so I’ve annotated them to explain.

14th June. £450
Two nights in the Hotel Troubadour

14th June £200
Dinner in the hotel restaurant.

14th June £2, 000
Entertainment in the hotel casino.

14th June 50p
A twix.
(Turns out that haute cuisine isn’t very filling, and I was upset about having lost two grand in the casino).

15th June £50
Dry cleaning for the hotel curtains, to remove bloodstains

15th June £50, 000
Compensation for garrotting the hotel manager with a set of curtains.

16th June £4.1 million pounds
for the reconstruction of the Hotel Troubadour

Best,
James.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Five Gold Rings

INTERIOR. A SHABBY LIVING ROOM. A WOMAN, LAYLA, WATCHES THE TV SHOPPING CHANNEL.

TV: ... this burnished set of five rings, not available in any high street retailer...

THE DOOR SLAMS AS HER HUSBAND, NICK, ENTERS.

Nick: Turn that thing off.

Layla: ‘That thing’ has a name

Nick: Of course it does, like a smoothie has a personality and a games console has deep concern about your feelings. And, of course, I must use its name. How else could I tell the Hitachi Horizon Power Pro X from the Samsung Universe Megatron Seven? I might make the mistake of assuming that they were functionally indistinguishable!

TV: ... every home should have one...

Layla: It’s not that bad.

Nick: No, you’re right. You shouldn’t want to waddle as fast as your short, fat legs will take your butter-bloated body, until you reach the edge of what we’re told to call ‘civilisation’. You shouldn’t want to throw a match behind you, imagining the whole thing alight, vowing that you’d destroy the world for real if only petrol weren’t so damn expensive.

TV: ... only $49.99...

Layla: Oh, Nick –

Nick: Don’t you ‘Oh, Nick’ me.

TV: ... buy it for your loved ones this Christmas? Show them that you care...

Nick: Show them that you care about them thinking that you care about them thinking that you care. It can join the pile of scented candles and bookends, that shrine to the god of habitat™ that you’re building in the cupboard under the stairs. Let it fester with letters and efforts of old friends, the gaudy tat that you hate and makes you suspect that despite the decades that you killed together they hardly know you at all. (Or they know you well, and hate you).

TV: ...Buy now to get a free upgrade!...

Nick: Upgrade, update, upload. Constantly. These things elevate us above animals. We must be above them, after all it’s an insult to say that someone ‘doesn’t deserve to call themselves a human being’. Humanity’s an exclusive club, so refined with their deodorants and mortgages and democracy and semi-automatic weapons.

Layla: You’re just saying these things because you’re tired.

Nick: Everyone’s tired, they just won’t admit it. They’re tired of working nine-to-fives that bleed into eight-to-sixes, sink tendrils into the soft part of their brains and take root in their dreams. They’re tired of the commute, of forty minutes standing next to a stranger in a pool of their musical leakage before they arrive at the office and start it over again, but this time with an ergonomic chair. They’re tired of being told that they’re tired.

TV: ...24/7...

Layla: If you’re just going to be like this, I’m going for a walk.

TV: ... hurry, we’ve only got a few left ...

Nick: Be my guest. Feed the reindeer while you’re at it.



Friday, 14 December 2012

The Legend of King Arthur - By Class 4L, St Joseph's Primary


Last Saturday, I attended the modern dress version of the myths of Albion, performed by the Saint Joseph Primary School for Boys Players, and directed by a collective who refer to themselves only as ‘The Teachers’.

I had high hopes for this piece: the cast was young, and the venue experimental. In a bold move by the directors, the piece was performed in a fully-functioning school dining hall. A move made especially bold by the fact that there were no wings, and actors, while not onstage, were forced to sit in front of the audience, cross-legged, and change costumes out in the open. Not that this happened often; it was rare that there were any fewer than ten actors onstage at any point. While I think that equal opportunities initiatives are to be applauded, I do wonder whether the decision to take on monophobic actors in some way compromised the artistic integrity of the piece; the fact that players tended to clump together in groups of at least four meant that several were obscured for the entire duration of the play and this, coupled with the fact that most never spoke, left me with the impression that the cast was somewhat bloated for the modest demands of the script.

The set design was minimal - one suspects to match the lighting, a monotonous binary of ‘on’ and ‘off’.

This was an intensely physical piece of theatre; the company was in constant motion - tugging sleeves, straightening crowns, and rubbing their noses - which conveyed a powerful, visceral sense of nervous energy. One really felt immersed in the world they had created, steeped in anxiety over the fate of the future king, and of Albion itself. To the company’s credit, this movement was maintained consistently throughout the piece. Although quite why this nervousness persisted after the young King Arthur ascended to the throne is a mystery. While this attention to physicality should be lauded, it was not without its flaws: efforts to break the fourth wall by intermittent eye contact with, and waving at, members of the audience felt confusing, and one was left with the impression that the director was trying to be just that bit too clever.

This was a highly experimental piece; in an audacious move, the directors chose to abandon linear storytelling in place of a form of semi-improvisation, giving the cast a script to learn, but allowing the actors to deliver lines in the order that they feel appropriate on the night. Example:

Arthur “I’ve done it!”
Kay “He’ll never be able to do it”
Arthur “Can I have a go?”
Kay “It’s a sword!”

Another innovation came in the form of Pinter-esque silences, ended by a detached female voice engaging actors in call-and-response. The decision to have an all-male cast, but an apparently prescient female voice reading characters’ thoughts and voicing them before they can voice the lines themselves, is obviously a bold political statement. But what is it saying?


The musical numbers felt forced and under-rehearsed, with a good fifty percent of the cast mouthing at least some of the time. Instead of acting synergistically, enhancing the narrative drive, the flow felt somewhat interrupted as songs were placed at the peaks of action. See, as exemplar, the somewhat incongruous number “Castle of Camelot” (consisting of that phrase sung repeatedly to the tune of the first line of “Jesus Christ, Superstar”, for three and a half minutes). Soloists seemed uncomfortable, keen to finish their songs as soon as possible, often starting their pieces several bars prematurely and ignoring bridges in order to race to the end of their allotted lyrics.


To conclude, it was not quite the tour de force that I was expecting. I can see why they only booked the venue for a single performance.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Three French Hens

Not long ago in a garden in France
A dusty and dirty and barren expanse
Next to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Spain
Lived three hens; one clever, one stupid, one vain.

These hens grew nervous as Christmas drew near
Their fate at the table an annual fear
They all agreed that the tension’s main source
Was not knowing who would be that year’s main course

For each year the farmer selects only one,
To be slaughtered, and butchered, and cooked by his son
The clever, noting this habit entrenched
suggested (though obviously in French)

That each of the chickens should draw out straw
So they could decide who’d be taken before.
Vain drew the short one; consigned to her fate.
She resolved to look her best for the plate

For Vain had come across human magazines
and knew that a key part of all haute cuisine
essential and critical was presentation;
aesthetic perfection was her aspiration.

The first step to look good was always ‘lose weight’
(with less of you there there’s less for them to hate).
Discarding glasses was tip number three
(if you think you look good, you don’t need to see.)
‘Have flesh on show’ advised point number four
(unless you have weight on; then you’re a whore)

As physical changes wracked the vain chicken
the plot, and the vegetable gravy, did thicken
although the hen could a four-inch waist boast
Twas agreed that she’d make a terrible roast

The famer and wife did confer with their son
About what they could cook, what should be done.
The stupid was served, and clever as well
two French hens fried, with a sauce Béchamel.



Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Two Turtle Doves

It was 2016, the year that ATOS started disinterring corpses to check if they were fit for work. It was also the year that I pretended to work for TfL.

You might have heard of TfL – they run the network of tube trains in London, and intend to continue doing so for the foreseeable future (as that’s where the tunnels are). I started working for them by accident; I fell into the job. Literally fell into it. You see, I used to work as a window cleaner. One day, while I was working on a neat set of Georgian sash windows, my foot slipped and I came off my ladder. I was okay, as I only fell from the first floor, but the man I landed on seemed rather worse for wear. When he realised that he couldn’t get up, he was distraught – apparently it was his first day at work as a train driver, and if he missed the induction he’d be promptly dismissed.

I offered to go in his place. It was the least I could do and, since it was his first day on the job, no-one would recognise me as an imposter. He quickly pointed out that people would then recognise him as an imposter, when he did finally show his face. Some sort of co-ordination would be needed. We were roughly the same height, but he sported a mass of raven-black curls, while I had blonde hair, poker-straight, solitaire-boring, and two-person-game-of-spoons-short.

What we really needed was some kind of defining physical characteristic that would stop people from looking at my face. He seemed unenthusiastic when I suggested an exaggerated limp, while the idea of a shared toupée was dismissed on the basis that the training session started in a mere forty minutes, and there wasn’t a wig shop for miles. (Small, family-owned wig retails outlets were a thing of the past, now that there was a Toupaperchase in every out of town shopping centre.)

Time was ticking away, so I bent down to gather my things. As I did, a man walked past with a ferret on a lead. The two of us watched in stunned silence as he passed. There was the solution! I just needed to take a strange pet along to the induction. I’d probably be asked to leave it at the door, but all that people would remember about me was that I was ‘the man with the ferret’. It was too late to ask the man with the ferret for his ferret, besides, I didn’t really want to approach him – he was the sort of a man who owned a ferret. There had been some turtle doves on the first floor windowsill, and I was pretty sure that I could catch one from my ladder. I used my shoelaces to make tiny lassoes, and caught the birds by their feet.

In the end I decided to take two, for good measure.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

“It’s for you. A partridge in a pear tree”.
“Where’s the partridge?”
“In the tree.”
“I don’t see it.”
“You can’t. It’s literally inside the tree.”
“In a secret compartment?”
“No, don’t be silly. I ground it up, watered it down to make a thin paste, then fed it to the pear tree over a course of, oh, about six months, I’d say.”
“Why?”
“For you.”

...

“I thought you’d be grateful.”
“Oh. It’s not that I’m not.”
“You don’t look grateful.”

...

“Are there any special care instructions?”
“What?”
“Well, I mean, if it’s used to meat, would it become anaemic if I just left it to sun and water?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. I suppose it would.”

...

“Do you want me to take it back?”

...

“No, it’s okay. You obviously put a lot of thought into it”
“And time. It took weeks for the partridge carcass to decompose to the state that I could make the flesh into a slurry.”
“I can imagine partridges being quite hard to come by.”
“Yes. They’re endangered.”

...

“Thanks.”



Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Magnificent Five

We all arrived in London on the same day, the same train. I can still remember it pulling into the station, the commuters leaping from their seats as soon as the upside-down table of Battersea Power station drifted into view. They all seemed so desperate to be the first out of the door. They hovered around the exits, tapping against the glass like flies, muscles tensed in anticipation, like greyhounds waiting to spring from the traps. When the doors opened they would fly away. Sorry, I’ve always been bad at mixing my metaphors. Or should that be ‘good’ at mixing my metaphors? I suppose it’s entirely dependent upon the scale that you use... The five of us were good friends. Or, at least, the five of us considered each other to be good friends, in the way that people who have grown up together usually do. In reality, we shared little more than the same age, and parents who were geographically proximate. No, on second thoughts, we did share one other thing. Hunger. Some call it greed, others ambition, but I think ‘hunger’ does it justice. We were all possessed with that gnawing itch, that desire for more, for bigger, for faster. And so we’d buttoned our seatbelts, pulled our skates up, and moved to London. To make our fortune, or figuratively die trying.


It was the early nineties, so property was gold, and the obvious choice for investment. So what if it was theft - theft is exciting and profitable. From the first day, we spent money indiscriminately. It would have been hard not to; at every corner of every street there were estate agents offering you the chance to sign your name on the dotted line. A flat in Euston? Why not? A shop on Vine Street? Why, thank you, I don’t mind if I do. Within months, I had a string of houses stretching from Bow Street to the Strand. I think a small part of me realised that it couldn’t last forever, but at the time I was content, and rolling in it. D (I can’t bring myself to type his full name. He doesn’t deserve that courtesy) and I were doing best. He’d invested in Islington penthouses, and was raking it in now that professional twenty-something couples decided that they’d like to like to live somewhere with a postcode that didn’t contain the letters “W” or “S”. He started taking us all out to posh restaurants, telling us stories about meetings with his accountant. “Well,” said B, “That’s nothing. My accountant is so good that he has his own accountant”. They’d always been rivals, but this streak got worse when alcohol was involved. S always had to sit between them at our meal, reminding them that there were families present in the restaurant. We’d always meet at D’s beforehand – he had a limousine and a driver now, and we would travel around the city feeling like kings, fingers crossed that we’d find somewhere to park for free. It very rarely happened, but when it did, we felt like we’d won the lottery. The irony of a stretch limo in free parking was delicious, the icing on the bee’s knees.


But as the months and years went by, it started to feel a bit repetitive, like I was just going around in circles; Sign this lease. Pay that rent. See your accountant. Sign this lease. I know that everything was going well and I should have felt great, but I couldn’t shift this slight sense of unease. It’s just... Well, I don’t know quite how to express it, but... It felt like I wasn’t in control, like these things were just happening to me. I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or a man with a white beard who welcomes you with outstretched arms once you start to decompose, but I felt like an observer of my own life. At school I’d always joked that I was an emotional backstop, experiencing things two paces removed, while wearing thick gloves and a helmet. But the restaurants, the cars, the nights out – there was a little voice in the back of my head whispering “you are not the architect of your success”. And I think I knew that it was true. I hadn’t done anything to deserve this. I was living off compound interest; the money wasn’t mine, it was the money’s. I know it’s bad, but I was almost relieved when I got the call about L. He’d been taken to a police station, and needed someone to pay bail. Well, he didn’t need someone to pay his bail, per say – he’d been burning the midnight oil from both ends, and now owned half of the West End and a large shareholder stake in the redesign of King’s Cross. He just didn’t have fifty pounds to hand. Just think – for us, that was petty cash! So I walked over to the station, and paid it without hesitation. We had a good catch-up, afterwards, over a pint in one of the chain of hotels that I now owned. When I asked him what he was in for he said that he couldn’t say – probably just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, some jumped-up policeman wanting an arrest. I believed him then. After all, who hadn’t had a run in with an official with a clipboard and a god complex?


That meeting was my last with L for about a year. The restaurant visits had stopped, and the five of us had grown apart, too busy with our expanding empires for such indulgences as friends. I think D’s birthday was when it really hit me. No-one gave him a card, or a cake, or an hour. They just handed him a ten pound note, brusquely wished him a good day, then left. Their property wasn’t going to look after itself. It was just another transaction on their balance sheets, just another invoice in the out tray... Invoices in the out tray were becoming increasingly common around this time. You see, the lines of credit were starting to dry up. It was a slow process, imperceptible at first. But soon the estate agents calls were less frequent, fewer couples booked viewings, and eventually people just weren’t putting their property on the market. This hit B hardest of all; most of his assets were luxury houses in Mayfair. He still had viewings, but no-one was putting down any deposits. You can take a horse to water, but you can’t take the water out of the horse... I was largely unaffected – as I said, I was merely living off compound interest, and as long as people continued to want to stay in a hotel while they visited London, I could conceivably continue to do so. D decided to adapt, ‘diversify his portfolio’, buying into the trains. Soon, he was a stakeholder in services from Marylebone, Fenchurch Street, and Liverpool Street Station. I think S was the busiest around this time. He’d bought into the waterworks and a gas plant, and was constantly on business trips to the European continent, to slip Gazprom execs little brown envelopes.


As the years passed, I started to wish it would all end. I did, once or twice, contemplate leaving: taking a train out of London, giving my property away, and calling it a day. My hotels were doing fine, but I was bored, so bored, and increasingly isolated. L was in and out of prison, and only called when he needed the bail. I know he kept saying that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but if that was true, why did he keep getting arrested? He’d had to sell on his West-End flats to cover the mounting legal bills, and the King’s Cross Shares were all he had left. Which would have been fine, were it not for D. You see, over the years, D had become obsessed with the idea of owning all of the stations. Whenever L was arrested, he’d show up at the police station, offering him the £50 bail money for his station stake! Can you believe it? B had gone bankrupt, in the meantime, his empty penthouses overlooking Hyde Park a monument to excess. Had Tracey Emin stuck her name on them, they would have won the Turner Prize. S had dropped below the radar since a deal with a Russian oligarch turned sour. Apparently one of his little brown envelopes was empty. Or at least, that was the word on the grapevine. For all we knew, he could be living in comfort in Switzerland or the Bahamas, having concocted the most creative non-dom alibi of the decade.


When the most exciting thing to happen in your week is receiving ten pounds from a bank error in your favour, I think it’s time to step back and take a look at your life.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Recursive

"People say that I'm overly dismissive of other people's opinions, but they don't know what they're talking about".

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Caution: Disobedient Magic Carpets



I came across this sign the other day.
I didn't realise that being thrown from your magic carpet was such a prevalent problem...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Carpe Sandwich

I went to meet someone in a train station the other day, and their train was slightly delayed. As you might expect, I had a little walk around, occupied myself by looking at what the shops were offering. Then I came across this sign, displayed in a sandwich shop (to be kept anonymous).


Seriously?


I'd like to think that, at some point, they had a slogan that made sense, and the following conversation occurred between two ad execs.

"How about 'start the day with a sandwich'?"
"I like it, but isn't it a bit vague?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it doesn't specify where you should put the sandwich."
"Start the day with a sandwich in your stomach?"
"No, that sounds too scientific. Like a sandwich spontaneously generates there each morning. What's another word for stomach?"
"Tummy, gut, paunch, belly-"
"'Start the day with a bellyful of sandwich' What do you think?"
"Well..."
"No, you're right. 'Start's a bit flaccid. We need something more proactive"
"Carpe Diem?"
"There's no need to swear. Mug the day? Grab the day by the shoulders and shake it a bit until it's got the message that you are not to be messed with? Attack the day? Yes, attack."
"Erm, sir"
"Yes, you're right, I've noticed it too... we don't just sell sandwiches. How about we replace 'sandwich' with 'tasty'?"
"Tasty what?"
"That's up to the customer."


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Oh, the irony

True story:
I received my first ever library fine today, for a copy of Michel Foucault's 'Discipline and Punish'.


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Episode Two


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Mediocre of the world, stand up and lose your balance a bit

My front door is a piece of truly mediocre carpentry. It does technically have two hinges, but they’re both positioned next to each other a few inches from the top of the door, as the carpenter didn’t feel like bending down when he was installing them. The door itself is a good foot shorter than the frame, so there’s a gap between the top of the door and the ceiling. I personally like it that way – it means that, if I ever forget my keys, I can climb over the top, root around in the jeans that I was formerly wearing, climb back out and then unlock the door. If I know that I’m going to be going far away, I can throw the keys back into the house so I know that I won’t lose them.

I’d like to sing the praises of mediocrity (but out of tune). I cherish what was supposed to be a blown-glass owl but, thanks to the poor skills of the glass-blower, resembles an overweight pug having a stroke, the wrinkly face nestling in the drooping folds of its torso, melted and drawn down one side. I delight in sub-par oil paintings, where the likeness is adequate, but distorted, as if viewed through a fug of myopia and acid, eyes too large for the face, three-fingered hands grasping indeterminable blurs. Where rooms have corners and walls but floors melt into shoulders, windows lack glass and views. But my favourite, the absolute pinnacle of the poor, is mediocre magic. Illusionists failing to find the card, while knives fall out of the assistant. A dove wriggles its way down the magicians’ sleeve, and, taking two ten pound notes and a false hand with it.


(A sub-par oil painting I did many moons ago. Not before perspective was invented, so I have no excuse).

Saturday, 27 October 2012

That big project I mentioned...

A radio sketch show, starring some very talented actors; Ralph Jones and Vyvyan Almond of The Awkward Silence, Boris Thomas of The Oxford Imps, and Tim Skew of Two Shades of Blue.





Monday, 15 October 2012

Lesser-known Agatha Christie works

Murder At The Pizza Express

It Was The Butler What Did It


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

How much would novels gain by the exchange...

This week, a Finnish couple stormed to victory in the North American Wife Carrying Championship, jumping hurdles, sand traps and a water hole, to win the woman's weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.


(To clarify, that's the wife carrying championships held in North America, rather than the competition for carrying North American wives.)

Friday, 5 October 2012

A Surfeit of Lampreys

Time travel is, was, and will be invented in 2052. Within years, Rymans make, made, and are yet to make a killing on 12,000 month diaries. Pedants manage, managed, and will manage to introduce a new form of grammar. The owners of advertising space allotted by the word rejoice, rejoiced, and will rejoice.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

General Knowledge

How many sides does a pigeon have?
What is the square root of Spain?
Mexico: True or false?
What colour is grief?
How many drunken games of Cluedo have ended with the winner declaring it was the Top Hat what did it?
Is this seat taken?


Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dancing about architecture

In 2011, computer scientists from the University of Washington wrote a piece of software capable of detecting the potential for, and making, “that’s what she said” jokes. DEviaNT (Double Entendre via Noun Transfer), as its creators Chloe Kiddon and Yuriy Brun affectionately named it, gave sentences ratings for “noun sexiness” (NS) and “verb sexiness” (VS). If the combined values exceed a threshold, their program gave the sentence the green light, and added the line. Two out of three times, it was inserted in the right place. (That’s what she said.)


For those interested, the paper can be found here:
http://www.aclweb.org/anthology-new/P/P11/P11-2016.pdf

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Milk (monologue)

It was three days before he found the body, and four more before he phoned the police. Mrs Denham, the little old lady from flat number six, had died, apparently in her sleep. As her discoverer said, there was no real urgency – he was pretty sure that she’d remain dead, and in the event that she didn’t, there would be no need for the police.

He’d booked a city break for himself and his mistress, and he’d be damned if he was going to lose the deposit.

I never liked Mrs Denham. She smelt of old wax and tried to give me eye contact when we passed on the stairs and in the night she crept out into the communal hallway and turned the milk bottles so that the labels face inwards and you had to turn them back out again if you wanted to read them. When I told Steve about this, he asked why she would want to.

I replied that I didn’t know, but apparently some people are strange.

When the police arrived there was a lot of noise. The lump of blowflies and sinew and rotting flesh that was Mrs Denham was taken away on a stretcher, and a lady who looked like Mrs Denham’s shadow came around and started shrieking and water leaked from her eyes. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. In this progressive day and age, if someone wants to be dead in the comfort of their own home then that’s their business.

The pigeons would say that it’s the nanny state gone mad.

The man at the chip shop has started wrapping his wares in copies of the Daily Mail. Since then, the pigeons have gotten angrier. “BRUSSELS BUREAUCRATS ARE GIVING YOUR MORTGAGE DIABETES” they shout. “HEALTH & SAFETY OFFICERS ARE PLANNING TO HAVE SEX WITH THE ROYAL FAMILY.” I don’t want to agree with them but I find my resolve melting, like an Action Man on a barbeque. They’re very persuasive. And they know so very much.

When the leaflet came through about the fumigation, it was the pigeons who told me it was alright to stay in the flat.

I have this recurring dream. I’m sitting on a stone pillar and all around is darkness. Then a blinding light and I start to feel hot and it burns and I gasp and I sweat. But it’s not sweat, it’s cheese. I’m sweating cheese, and as the lumps of brie and edam and feta fall from my arms and face these hands reach up to grab them. The fingers scrape and grab and prize the folds of my skin and they tear, and rip out chunks of flesh until I am nothing.

The pigeons say that I should stop eating cheese before I go to bed.

After an hour and a half of the dull whirr of the pump let me know that the fumigation had started, I began to feel inexact. I wanted to open the window, but the pigeons said that wasn’t fair, it would get their nice clean windowsill all fume-y and also THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT MUSLIM SINGLE TEENAGE MOTHERS WOULD WANT. When I couldn’t take it any longer I stumbled out into the street.

My legs felt unfamiliar.

I was blinking in the light and air was escaping from my chest in violent bursts. A man walked up and asked if I was okay. I vomited down his sleeve. His face revolted in surprise, eyebrows colliding, lips divorced. He winched his mouth into a an oily smile that bobbed on top of his words. “Do you want to go to A and E?” he asked.

I didn’t.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Not comedy or prose.

That thirst
for when you view it first
drinking details like they're calling time
is gone
and though you chase it on
it's quick to lose and oh-so-hard to find.

Too late;
streets sigh beneath the weight
of events you have ten times lived through.
Though past
under foot they crack like glass
and leave bitumen stuck to your shoes.

These ghosts,
these pale, unwanted hosts
Are distractions and they leave you blind
to now
they cloud your vision. How
hard to lose but oh-so-quick to find.



Sunday, 23 September 2012

13:51 to London Paddington

The time is 15:42. Customers for the 13:51 service to London Paddington should be aware that it was running twenty minutes late. We apologise for the delay in this apology. This is due to an earlier excuse failure. Customers seeking admission, confession, or redress are advised that the next apology will arrive in approximately twenty minutes. We will then apologize for any inconvenience caused.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Reformation, reformation, reformation (lyrics)

Few are as noble, brave, and bold
As that crusader Michael Gove
Attempting to alert the nation
To the threat of grade inflation

Years and years of upping ease
Has created casualties
Of the racing to the bottom
That should never be forgotten

You should pity all of us
who left school with GCSEs
ain’t got no concept of syntax
and can barely count to three


We are grossly unprepared
In the realm of current affairs
Oh, I must be uneducated –
I thought David Laws was slated?

Hunt was tarred with Murdoch’s brush
Liam Fox made Cameron blush
What happened to the Big Society?
Where, with Warsi, went variety?

You should pity all of us
who left school with GCSEs
ain’t got no concept of syntax
and can barely count to three


(Spoken – different accents)
I once knew someone with GCSEs, and they thought that skimmed milk came from translucent cows.
My brother did GCSEs, and he thought that “four legs good two legs bad” was a side-note in the Karma Sutra.
Yeah, well I know a kid with GCSEs who thinks that Donald Trump’s hair is real.

(Gasp)

Will the critics stop effacing?
The system clearly needs replacing.


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Criminal stupidity

How were you identified?
“We were wearing masks. But masks of each others’ faces”

Why were you standing on the pavement when the police arrived?
"The getaway vehicle was too small. It was a toy truck; we bought it on ebay without checking the dimensions”

Why did you leave the vault without taking anything?
“You know when you walk into a room and you forget why you went in there?”

Why did you steal sixty pints of A-positive?
"We didn't realise it was a blood bank, but we would have looked stupid if we’d walked out empty-handed.”


Monday, 17 September 2012

The Headlines

GCSES TO BE SCRAPPED, REPLACED BY BORIS JOHNSON
"Polls show that the public prefer him"

HILLSBOROUGH REPORT NOMINATED FOR MAN BOOKER PRIZE

GOVERNMENT GIVES GO-AHEAD TO FULL-SCALE ATHLETE CULL
"An unseasonably wet summer, coupled with an abundance of stadia and velodromes, has meant that the athlete population has swelled. The transport network is infested; it's now rare to find an open-top bus that doesn't contain a waving athlete."




Sunday, 16 September 2012

Thomas the out-of-work train actor

I visited Ikea this weekend...


...and I don't want to upset you, but Thomas has aged badly.


Really badly.


Thursday, 13 September 2012

Agony Michaels

Dear Michaels,

I hope that you can offer me some advice. My girlfriend and I have been seeing each other for four years. We live together, and are close. But lately she keeps talking about this man she works with. How do I let her know that I feel uncomfortable about how close they're becoming without seeming jealous?

Tony, London



--

Dear Tony,

You need to take decisive action; go in with all guns, preferably automatic, blazing. Send a short range missile into the side of the office block and, as the flaming chunks of brickwork, plaster, and asbestos rain down onto the tarmac of the carpark, don a pair of sunglasses. Stride in through the flaming hole and pepper the desks with bullets, sending invoices (and clerks) flying. When you reach that bastard's desk, act real cool. Put on another pair of sunglasses. They should just fit over the top of the first. Nod to him, then press the detonator in your palm. Do not flinch as his desk explodes with a dull roar, ball of orange flame, and a whimper from the health and safety officer.

Michael Bay

--

Dear Tony

I think that you should approach her directly, being frank and honest. No, on second thoughts, you should say nothing at all. Hmm. How about saying nothing at all, but frankly and honestly? Actually, I think you should leave her.

Michael Gove

--

Dear Tony,

I think that you should get yourself a cameraman and a baseball cap and storm the office. Ignore that guy your lady's interested in, and go straight to the top, to the head honcho. Ask him the questions that he doesn't want to hear, make him real uncomfortable. After that, your girlfriend will find you irresistible. People love documentary makers. Well, obviously not the subjects of the documentary. Or the security. Or the critics. Or your family. But everyone loves a documentary maker.

Michael Moore




Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Horoscopes (September edition)

Aquarius
As you watch your bride inexplicably explode, with flaming chunks of debris raining down into the pews as the smoke clears, you’ll question whether it was a good idea to get Michael Bay to do your wedding video.

Pisces
They say that too many cooks spoil the broth. As Venus rises into Mercury’s orbit, you would do well to remember that the inclusion of even one cook makes the broth unsuitable for vegetarians, and it should be labelled accordingly.

Aries
Sometimes work can feel like a game of snakes and ladders. If you’re fed up, quit your job at the bunkbed and pet shop.

Taurus
You will lose a large sum of money betting on a horse. At the second fence it will falter, causing the blackjack table, and all of your chips, to fall off.

Gemini
A truth will strike you suddenly, like an angry nun.

Cancer
Life is a matter of perspective; whereas the pessimist sees the glass half empty, the optimist sees the glass half full, and the waitress sees a table where no-one has bought anything. Step back, and go to a different café.

Leo
As Saturn ascends into Jupiter’s sights, romance is in the air. Remember that a woman is like a delicate flower; cut it in half and display it on the kitchen table and it will eventually die. Also, if you’re giving one as a gift, it’s polite to remove the price tag.

Virgo
Your film pitches will be rejected. Looks like the world just isn’t ready for ‘Every Which Way But Loose Women’ or ‘The King and I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester’.

Libra
After reading Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ you will spend the week reminding your boss that he has no children, and that the endemic poverty experienced by the Global South has been structurally reinforced over generations by a myriad of economic, environmental, and social externalities and is unlikely to be solved by recourse to international aid. For reference, there was an ‘r’ missing on page 44; it should have read ‘make them feel important’.

Scorpio
Your world record attempt (first ascent of Everest in a canoe) will not be successful. You can, however, take solace in the fact that it won’t go as badly as your brother’s attempt to cross the Atlantic in a climbing harness without refuelling.

Sagittarius
Your horoscope writer will withhold the entry for Capricorn in lieu of payment.

Capricorn
Witheld.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Man Machine (part three)

The solution struck me suddenly, like an angry nun.

“I’ve got it” I shouted.
“You have?”
“Yes! We must make your house appear smaller”
“And how, exactly, shall we do that?”
“Do you think we could strap binoculars the wrong way round to their faces without them noticing?”
“No.”
“And do you have enough blue paint to cover all but the centre of the east wing?”
“No.”
“Then there is only one thing for it. We shall have to take your house to Everest.”
“Why on earth would I do that?”
“So that, from a distance, it looks like it’s a tiny house on top of a small hill”
“You, sir, are a genius. ”

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Man Machine (part two)

I threw open the door, then reminded myself that I should really get it fixed to some hinges. There, standing on the porch, was my old friend and business partner Mister Samuel Pettigrew. I hadn’t seen him since our last business venture, a drive-through brothel, failed. It had always been touch and go.

“How are you, my good fellow?” I asked, as my wife thundered past on Slatterly.

“Well,” the chap said, wringing his hands. “I’ve got a problem with the old... erm... well... the old... euphemisms”.

“How ghastly!” I exclaimed “Does that mean that you can’t express anything directly?”

“You’ve hit the nail on the head.”

“Is your wife alright?”

“She’s not the most jovial of rabbits.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, it’s quite alright. The saw and bone man’s got me on a course of sugar pills and he says that it should clear up within the next few lines of dialogue.”

“How fascinating,” I said, marvelling at the precision of his prognosis. “So what brings you to my door?”

“Money troubles.”

“Oh, good heavens, we better continue this conversation in private.”

I closed the front door and frowned as I realised that my guest was on the other side. “Would you like to come in?” I asked, reopening the door. He nodded, and we agreed to speak inside the exposition parlour, over afternoon tea.

--

As we sat down in the exposition parlour I placed a slice of cake in front of my guest, and poured him some tea. Then Martha, the scullery maid, appeared with the cups and plates and I felt a tad premature in my service. Pettigrew was quite decent about the affair, lapping delicately from his puddle of tea as I asked him what, precisely, was the matter.

“I’m being hounded by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.”

“Whatever for?”

“Certain... irregularities”.

“Oh, no, you seem to have relapsed. Shall I get you your pills?”

“No, I’m being purposefully evasive”.

“Right. Sorry. So why are you in trouble?”

“I got creative with my tax return. I may have said that I live in a two foot square hovel to avoid that dratted land tax.”

“and?”

“Well, they’ve only gone and said that they want to inspect my property.”

Therein the problem lay. For Pettigrew’s estate was vast, enormous, almost obscenely large. Like an American. He had inherited a mansion from his father, with so many rooms that he had to constantly replace the army of manservants as they became lost in its labyrinthine corridors and corridor-y labyrinths. He didn’t clean his kitchen, he just moved the staff into a fresh one.

“Why don’t you just hide?” I offered. “They’ll never find you in the house.”

“But they’ll have seen the house.”

“True. And, I suppose, they could give your summons to court to the porter out front.”

“There’s only one thing for it. I shall have to fall on my sword.”

“Actually or euphemistically?”

“Euphemistically.” He snapped. “I shall hand myself over to the constabulary.”

“No” I insisted “there must be another way...”



Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Man Machine

It was 1924, the year when, inspired by my good friends Mallory and Herbert Scott, I attempted the first ascent of Everest in a canoe. While I will concede that this feat of adventure did not end successfully, it was still better than my brother’s attempt to cross the Atlantic in a climbing harness without refuelling.

It was a Tuesday, and we had just received an invitation from Lady Frittington to attend one of her garden parties. Or, at least, we had assumed that we had just received an invitation from Lady Frittington to attend one of her garden parties. You see, the spidery writing was almost indecipherable.

I would, here, like to point out that I have not made a lazy choice of metaphor, but a rather accurate one; the text was actually composed of spiders, specially trained to stand on the paper in formation, spindly limbs forming spindly letters. This was an ostentatious show of wealth on the part of Lady Frittington, who never tired of showing people that she could not only afford to keep four spider wranglers in her employ, but also specially padded envelopes so that the messengers weren’t crushed on the journey.

It was also precision of phrase when I said that the writing was ‘almost indecipherable’. For, you see, if one attained sufficient speed and viewed the missive from the corner of one’s eye, one could just about make out the words. And so it was that we tacked the letter to the wall of the hopping parlour and had the manservant, Slatterly, run along the corridor with my wife on his shoulders, her eyes almost closed. I had originally asked Slatterly to attempt the task alone, but with his eyes half shut he kept knocking himself out on the wall at the end of the corridor.

They had just worked out that the dress code was ‘black tie’ when the chimes of the doorbell rung.

--

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Dear Mister Dastardly

Dear Mister Dastardly,

We regret to inform you that your job application, for the position of store manager, has not been accepted. It is not company policy to give individual feedback on failed applications, but in your case we at the HR team have decided to make a charitable exception.

Under your employment history, you have written “catching a pigeon” from 1994 to 2006. While we have taken on board your assertion that he was a “slimy little bastard”, this doesn’t exactly exude an air of competence. Have you held any other positions that you could, instead, mention?

While we were impressed that you hold a pilot’s licence, and are able to fly even with a hydraulically-powered tennis racket obscuring your vision, we were concerned to hear the circumstances under which your driving licence was revoked. Perhaps, in future applications, it would be best to omit mention of your racing career.

Finally, we regret to inform you that it is not our company’s policy, nor the policy of any company that I know of, to provide health insurance for employee’s pets. Besides which, your dog’s chronic cough and pulmonary condition would be classified as a pre-existing condition.

We wish you the best of luck in your job hunting.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Hoover

HR Department, MacDonald’s


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Report Anything Suspicious

Dear The Police,

We’re told that we should let you know if we think a crime’s happening, and that we should ‘report anything suspicious’. I felt the urge to write to you after watching a documentary about Lego.

You see Lego, the documentary informed me, is produced at a rate of sixteen thousand bricks per second. Over one year, the flagship factory in Denmark produces forty billion pieces. That's sixty for every person on Earth. Lego could be considered the world's most productive manufacturer, creating about three hundred million tiny rubber tires a year. Now I may not be a scientist, but I know that plastics are made from oil, of which there is a finite amount. I’m going to be blunt; I think someone is slowly trying to convert the world’s oil reserves into Lego.

Now, I can think of many reasons why someone might want to do such a thing (imagine a world in wehich there are no disputes over oil; or perhaps this is a vendetta by an evil genius whose parents refused to buy him duplo).

I just thought it should be brought to your attention.

Yours sincerely,

A Concerned Citizen.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Princess and the Pea

It was a dark, stormy night and the castle corridors were an inky black. The storminess could not have been helped, but the darkness was a side effect of the energy efficient light bulbs that had recently been installed. Well, as the Prime Minister said, the royals had to be seen to be doing their bit to combat climate change. When the king had heard about the new light bulbs he had been incandescent with rage. An unfortunate state, really, as his indignant luminescence masked the fact that the fuse board hadn’t been reset and the castle was, in fact, off the grid. The royals were oblivious to this fact, assuming that their television was showing endless repeats of a documentary about a group of mutes working down a coal mine. The King had not stayed angry for long and, as he remembered that these particular energy efficient light bulbs were installed throughout their sixty-four bedroom residence, registered as their second home, the light level had dropped. (Officially, his royal highness occupied a semi-detached in Basingstoke).

The doorbell rang.

The king headed for the door and walked head-first into a wall. The corridors were indeed an inky black, and there were a large number of walls in his sixty-four bedroom residence. He usually had a man who would open the door for him, but the butlers had stopped responding to his intercom since the light bulbs had changed. The King was beginning to miss his fleet of butlers, with their tight satin uniforms, shiny patent hats, and inane platitudes. One can develop a taste for sycophancy.

There at the door was a young woman.

She was tall, svelte, and blonde, sporting a grey leotard and a sizeable overbite. She reminded the King of a lamp-post. “Excuse me, sir” she said. But before she could finish her sentence, assuming it was incomplete and she hadn’t come seeking monarchical absolution, the King began to speak. “I’m sorry, miss, but one is not interested in any feather dusters or j-cloths. One has a man who buys them for him.” This was a lie; the King did not, in fact, employ a butler for the purpose of the procurement of household items. But he didn’t want to give her any money; he thought she’d just spend it on drugs. Smack. Crack. Bacharach. Whatever it was the kids took these days.

“Excuse me sir, but I am a princess”

This changed things, somewhat. For the King had a son and heir, the prince, who, thanks to a poor choice in fancy dress costumes, had experienced limited success in the relationship department. If she were a genuine blue-blood, it would be churlish not to let her in. He’d heard of mail-order brides, but never door-to-door calls. But how to tell if she were royal? Under normal circumstances, there would be a man who whispered into his ear the names of house guests. But since the light bulb changeover, he hadn’t shown up for work. Or if he had, in the darkness he hadn’t managed to locate his liege. For all the King knew, he might have been there, a hundred metres down the corridor, informing a decorative table lamp that the Minister for Work and Pensions was here to see him. The King might have gone to the royal computer and typed her name into Wikipedia, although, strangely, the computer didn’t seem to be working since the light bulbs had been switched. The King had rung the court electrician about this, but he didn’t offer any suggestions. He was, in fact, silent. The King had assumed that he was going through some personal difficulties.

Could she be royal? She did have an overbite...

The King called for the Queen, and explained the dilemma. “I know how to tell if she’s royal,” the Queen declared. “We shall invite her in for the night, and place a single pea under her mattress. If she can feel it, she’s royal.” At this, the Queen began to giggle to herself and stroke an imaginary cat. The King sighed to himself. Ask her if she were clinically insane. That’s the way to detect a royal for sure.

He invited her in, and enacted the Queen’s plan.

In the morning, over breakfast, the King asked his guest how she had slept. “Terribly,” the girl replied, “there was this lump beneath the mattress, and I woke up with bruises all along my back. My spine looks like a Rorschach test.” The Queen clapped her hands with glee, and considerable effort, since she was wearing a straight jacket. “I knew it!” she shouted “You really are a princess!” The King, pleased with the turn of events, summoned his son to the dining hall. “Princess,” he said, addressing the girl, “I would like to offer you the hand of my son in marriage.”

“You’ll offer me a damn site more” she snapped.

The King was metaphorically, but not literally, speechless. “What?” he exclaimed, proving the extent of his not literally being speechless. “Well,” the princess said. “As far as I can see, last night a princess came to your castle, and this morning you have offered her your son’s hand in marriage.” The King nodded hesitantly. “To me, and I’m sure to a court of the law, that may be construed as a state visit. The business of a princess.” Again, the King tipped his head in assent. “And this morning, thanks to your bed, I have woken up covered in bruises.

I’m going to claim compensation for an injury in the workplace."

The princess called Injury Lawyers 4U, and using their national network of genuine lawyers who specialise in personal injury cases, she got honest and professional advice. She took the King to court on a no-win no-fee basis, and won £100, 000. The princess lived happily ever after because, although money can’t buy you happiness, it can fashion a crude facsimile.



Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Waiting Room (part one)

It was 2016, the year that a polygraph test proved that Jeremy Kyle had been seeing other audiences. It was also the year that Donald Trump’s hair was reintroduced to the wild.

It was three thirty on a Thursday, and I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment. In this regard, I had a lot in common with the other occupants of the room. (All twelve of them.) When I’d walked up to the desk to check into the clinic, the receptionist had smiled apologetically, with that mixture of pity and boredom that comes with working in a service industry. She explained that they were still seeing the patient booked in for one thirty... on Wednesday... from the week before, and that she was sorry for any inconvenience. She invited me to take a seat, and I took the last available chair, next to a man with five chins and one eyebrow. I know they say that beauty can’t be reduced to a series of numbers and items on a list, but this man was evidence to the contrary.

Opposite me sat a woman nursing a coffee, magazine, and black eye. There was a small dog tied to the leg of her chair. I say dog, I mean a sort of dog-rat hybrid, the type fashionable with celebrities. I always look at them with disdain and think “You really let yourself go. You used to be a wolf.”

As the hours passed, I came to appreciate my seat. The next person to arrive was forced to stand awkwardly in the corner, trying desperately to look as if they were there for a purpose, rather than decoration. The man to arrive after him couldn’t even find a section of wall to lean against, so stood in the middle of the room, as if we were playing a game of duck-duck goose. I considered offering him my seat, but I realised that it wasn’t mine to give. The receptionist had told me to sit there, and if I know one thing about queuing, you don’t want to disobey the warden.

As time went by and patients continued to arrive, the room attained the mood and consistency of a Ryanair flight. The march of the clock’s hands, until then my source of entertainment, became obscured by a wall of flesh and nylon-polyurethane blend.

After a few days, the inevitable happened: the vending machine ran out of salt and vinegar crisps, and the water cooler was emptied. We sent out a search party of five. When they didn’t return, we assumed that the world outside was hostile. Upon reflection, this was a rather hasty conclusion to which to have jumped. You see, we had no way of knowing whether they had actually returned. By this time, and with a patient backlog of six days, the room had taken on the density of a Virgin Trains service. People had been standing for so long, they had forgotten what they were there for.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Guided Tour

Hello, and welcome to this guided tour of Renaissance and Seventeenth Century art. My name is John, and I’ll be your guide for the hour.

Now this painting is ‘The Last Supper’, so called because it’s the last evening meal the artist ever painted. His body of work after this mostly consists of pictures of kittens in boxes.

And if you all look to your left now, we can scare that child who’s standing with her back to us when she turns around.

Actually, if you look behind the child, you’ll see a doorway. If you want to head through that door after the tour, be sure to take a knife with you: a few years ago we had a Damien Hirst piece that was self-assembly, and the tiger arrived before the formaldehyde.

This work over here, entitled ‘Four midgets relay race against a camel’ is one of my favourites. It took the artist eight years to complete. And I think, what’s interesting about this piece is the lack of perspective. I mean, this was the seventeenth century! You were probably only going to live for thirty years, what are you doing spending eight of them painting?

Right, any questions?


The Waiting Room

It was 2008, the year that the egg marketing board sued the unicycle marketing board for the use of the slogan 'go to work on a unicycle'.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Cowboy (Monologue)

It was 1835, the year when archaeologists admitted they were wrong. The Romans had actually been a race of skeletons that lived underground and ate off broken plates.

It was a Tuesday, and we’d spent the morning branding the cattle. We decided to go with the slogan ‘beef on legs’. The morning’s work had tired us out, so we decided to take the rest of the day off and head down to the local saloon. We were just about to go in when the Sheriff rode up. He got down from his horse. It was pale brown, and made great pillows. In fact, the more I think about it, I’m pretty sure the sheriff rode a duck. You know the saying; you can take a horse to water, but if it dives in and starts eating pondweed you’ve been conned by a dodgy horse salesman. Not one to admit his mistakes, the Sheriff duly tied his steed to the hitching post, next to our stallions. Not one to turn up a chance for a swim, his steed duly jumped in the drinking trough and paddled in circles, quacking contentedly.

When we called out our orders we were served by the Saloon-keeper’s daughter. She moved with grace and speed. She seemed to glide across the floor, like a swan on roller-skates. I would have liked very much to have made an honest woman out of her. For she was a compulsive liar, and it made it quite difficult to keep track of your bar tab.

We’d only just settled our accounts, denying that we had drunken three bathtubs of whisky and that she was the queen of Sheba, when the saloon door swung open, and a stranger sidled on over. He was wearing a ten gallon hat, tight pinstriped trousers, and a grimace. I supposed that the tight trousers explained his sidling and grimace. He opened his mouth as if to speak, and then spoke. People tend to do the two actions together.

“I was born in squalor, destitution, and Eastbourne, which explains the accent. You fellers seem like decent, honest folk. What’s say I’ll exchange you a story for a glass o’ firewater? A jug o’ hooch? A jar o’ moonshine?” We agreed to buy him some alcohol instead. He started recounting his story.

--

“I remember it as if it were yesterday, which is worrying as it happened this morning. I’d just ridden past Bover’s Rock, and I was heading towards Morningside. The Irn-Bru Kid had tipped me off that the mayor o’ Morningside was offering a large cash reward to anyone who could rid the town of its terrible infestation. You see, Morningside was experiencin’ a plague o’ mentalists. A travellin’ stage show had visited the town three months ago. A coupla stage magicians from the visitin’ rodeo musta ‘scaped, and started breeding in the woods. Within weeks, it weren’t safe for people to leave their houses. Every time they opened their doors and stepped into the streets, they’d be surrounded by a clamourin’ crowd urging them to ‘pick a card, pick a card, pick a card.’ This shoutin’ had been so loud it’d spooked the buffalo, so the local Injuns had packed up and moved on to hunt elsewhere.

After speakin’ to the Mayor, it was agreed that I would disguise myself as one of ‘em, and walk amongst ‘em to find out why they weren’t leavin’ the town. So I donned a tight suit, shaved my beard into a moustache, and walked out into the midday heat. When they leapt upon me, a crowd of fifty or so, I abandoned Hope. It seemed unwise to take my six year old daughter with me.

They accepted me as one of their own immediately. The disguise had worked. I followed them back to the woods, joining in their refrains of ‘A round of applause for the gentleman’ and ‘nothing up my sleeves’. As we walked closer and closer towards the raked ranks of pines, I realised that I was stopping short of breath. It wasn’t a steep hill, but the tight trousers made the going tough. Then it hit me. The town was in a valley, and the reason the mentalists were causing havoc in the town was that they were trapped. Like spiders in a bathtub. It wasn’t their fault they were unwelcome (like spiders in a bathtub). But they needed gettin’ rid of. Like spiders in a bathtub.

At night, I snuck back to Morningside to tell the Mayor what I had discovered. The townspeople built a large ramp, out of desperation, sweat, and pine. The mentalists left, filing over it, until the cries of ‘think of a number between one and a hundred’ faded into silence. The Injuns returned, and at last they could finally brutally massacre each other in peace.”

--

He finished his drink, and bid us farewell. We watched through the saloon doors as he untied his steed from the hitching post and slapped its rump, causing it to gallop off majestically into the distance. As he watched it recede into the sunset, he couldn’t help wishing that he’d climbed onto it first.



Sunday, 26 August 2012

Agony Aunt

Dear Agony Aunt,

I’m writing for help regarding a serious problem. I feel the need for constant external validation. Please tell me what I should do.

Lost, Devon


--


Dear Lost,

None of us are perfect; I, for example, view myself as an infallible moral arbiter. What you really need to do is follow my advice.

Agony Aunt.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Fish-Canner’s Prayer

Lord in heaven, thou who art
Strong of mind and soft of heart
Please heed my words and hear my prayer
Or, if, indeed, you are not there
Then Brahman, Zeus, or Thor would do
Horus, Dawkins or Vishnu.
I’m desperate, I would accept
Bono or Geldoff if they leapt
To act, improve my situation
Trapped within the wrong vocation

I ensure that tins are filled
With squid and salmon, sole and sild
Grab the creatures from the kettle
Furnish them with crypts of metal
The odour makes me feel unwell
Please save me from this soggy hell
The octopus keeps climbing out
Last night he freed a vat of trout
I stand with hands over the tin
Just to attempt to keep him in.

I longed to be a ballet dancer
By day, find a cure for cancer
But I fell short of super-surgeon
Now I’m here and packing sturgeon
Seems unlikely I’ll have my dream
Lest ‘cure’ means ‘pack’ and ‘cancer’ ‘bream’
So Lord, or Geldoff, Horus, Thor
Please see to it that I no more
Touch cod or plaice or hake or eel
Long as I live I never feel

The scales of any wretched wrasse
or see another bloody bass.

Amen.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Work in Progress


I've dug out the brushes, dusted off the paints, and questioned why I buried the brushes in the first place. Click to see full-size.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Door to Door

It was 1992, the year that an engineer registered a patent for the chaos-theory powered hair dryer. The idea was that a butterfly flapped its wings in Brazil, and in Texas someone could dry their hair in the resulting breeze. Although ineffective, it was installed in every youth hostel. It was cheap, and people couldn’t tell if it had broken.

It was also the tenth anniversary of when I moved house. And I stress that house was the appropriate word. Watch any news channel, read any paper, and you’ll see that only rich people live in homes. The rest of us occupy houses. This was a house. Located just a stone’s throw away from a group of people throwing stones, it offered commanding views of the neighbour’s window, offering commanding views of my window, offering commanding views of their window. It was described as spacious, which I thought was reassuring. Well, it’s a relief to hear that the room you’ve put a deposit on isn’t restricted solely to the dimension of time. Having said that, the decor wasn’t to my taste. It was as if Lawrence Llwelyn-Bowen had taken inspiration from Noel Edmond’s shirts, then buggered off leaving someone else to decorate the house. Every wall was white, every carpet grey. After a few sleepless nights it was easy to imagine that you were in some Arctic wasteland. I think the lack of heating and furniture probably reinforced that. I kept saying that I’d go to Ikea and pick up some cheap units, but things always got in the way. In lieu of a desk, wardrobe, or shelf I operated a system best described as ‘open plan filing’. It had a sort of archaeological charm; you could dig down through the strata, charting the seasons from the dates of newspapers, the weight of items of clothing, and the presence or absence of ice-cream.

Today I was at home in the house. I would have liked to be at the library, but there was a man doing the gardening across the road. I couldn’t leave the house or he would have seen me. I had to avoid that at all costs. You see, all my jeans were in the wash, and the only item to hand was a pair of beige corduroy flares that I bought for a fancy dress party. The theme of the party was ‘superheroes’, so I did stand out at the time. I don’t want you to think that I’m vain. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to wear the flares for aesthetic reasons, although it is true that they made the wearer look like two fence posts started melting and then gave up. No, it was that as I walked the two cuffs overlapped, making a noise. I couldn’t possibly walk past him. He’d hear the ‘plaf-plaf-plaf’ of corduroy-on-corduroy. It’d be fine in the library as I could tip-toe, take vast strides to avoid leg overlap. But I couldn’t get past the man.

I like the library. Not just because no-one can tell that I don’t like speaking, but also for the atmosphere. Populated by the elderly, who mainly group there for warmth, hunched corpses shuffle around in no particular direction. You catch fleeting snatches of conversation, while a clerk on a telephone reads out thirteen digit numerical codes. It feels like a zombie film directed by David Lynch.

But no library for me today. I’d have to occupy myself around the house. I had just settled down with a pen and paper, when a ringing noise sounded in my ears. I thought nothing of it, and got up to make myself a cup of tea. But the ringing noise continued. It continued as I put the teabag in the water, fished it out, discovered the milk was off, reboiled the kettle, and absent-mindedly repeated the process. It was then that I realised that it was the doorbell.

I ran to the door. It had been a good ten minutes since the ringing noise had started, and I didn’t want to anger someone so persistent. When I opened the door there stood a briefcase, with a man attached to the handle. He asked if he could come in. I asked him why. “Because,” he said, tapping his briefcase “I can change your life”.

--



After I’d offered him a cup of tea, remembered that the milk was off, apologised, offered him a cup of coffee and repeated the process, he opened his briefcase. He beckoned for me to sit, and I took position amongst the nest of papers. I supposed that he was probably used to his audience sitting on sofas, but then, I was used to not having a man with a briefcase standing in my living room. I figured we were about even.

“I” he said “have discovered the secret to doing well in life”. He reached into his briefcase, and pulled out a small pie chart and laser pointer. I found this reassuring. Everyone has a laser pointer nowadays. It’s a sign of legitimacy, it validates the speaker. The pie chart had no units or segments, and the more I think about it was just a circle on a piece of paper. “I’ve cracked it.” he said. “Life, I mean.” He reached back into the briefcase, and pulled out a gun. “You stand on the doorstep of some unsuspecting idiot, with a briefcase. Ring the doorbell and they let you in, assuming that you’re there to sell them a religion, or a holiday home, or some tupperware. They just let you in. No questions asked. You pull a gun on them” here he stroked the barrel, “and you can live rent free. So, do you want to give me a tour of my new house?”

I obliged, leading him from the paper mountains of the living room to the tin-can valleys of the kitchen. I smiled to myself. You see, I was thinking about getting a room-mate, and here was one who did home delivery. He asked where the furniture was, and I explained to him about Ikea. His face fell with a sickening crunch, and he asked how I cooked without an oven. I told him the truth – that I didn’t need to cook. I had bread, and cheese, and lemons. He queried the lemons, but once I explained to him about scurvy, I think he understood. “Is this some kind of joke?” the man asked. He didn’t look amused, so I wasn’t sure why he was asking. I told him that it wasn’t. This was just how I lived.

“But how do you pay for the house?” he asked. “I mean, you don’t strike me as doing nine to five.” It was true that I had answered the door to him at twelve. I explained that I was an inventor. My last creation was the jazz alarm. It worked on a simple premise. If a burglar enters your house, it plays inaccessible jazz at them, and they run off without bothering to take any of your possessions. The creation before that was the carpet-shoe. It was aimed at the student market, first-time renters. It was a foot-shaped piece of carpet that strapped to the wearer’s foot. You’d wear it around the bedsit, to pretend that the entire flat was carpeted. If I’m honest, the world and I didn’t see eye to eye on the value of my inventions. I lived off the allowance my brother gave me. He was a moderately successful musician, the bassist of ‘Buck Fizz and The Opium Wars’. But I wasn’t going to admit that to my new roommate.

--

“Look” my roommate said, after we finished the tour of the house “I’ve given it some thought, and I think I can do better. I’ll let myself out.” I was sad to see him go. I thought he would have made a nice room-mate, and watching where he was pointing the gun had taken my mind off the corduroy and the library, and the man doing the gardening and - . And then I noticed the man doing the gardening was gone. I could go to the library. I went immediately, but left the door unlocked, just in case my room-mate decided to change his mind and come back.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Derren Brown (image)

Messing around in photoshop while listening to this week's episode of Chain Reaction.


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Lacuna

This blog will be going on a short hiatus; I'm working on a few larger projects at the moment, but they should, hopefully, be completed by the end of August. In the meantime, please take this Victorian advertisement for sewing thread as an apology.