Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Back in my day... (continued)

Back in my day, there were no supermarkets. You’d have to go to the butchers, and he’d weigh you and wrap you in brown paper. You’d tear your way out, find his glasses, and explain what had just happened, and then he’d sell you meat.

Back in my day, we didn’t have complicated words like “twittersphere” or “hacktivism”. We only had five words; yes, please, no, thanks, and mortgage. Society was politer back then, and there was a far greater emphasis on home ownership.

Back in my day, there were no copies of The Da Vinci Code in charity shops; it was wall-to-wall King James’ Bibles.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Back in my day...

Back in my day

Back in my day, people used Internet Explorer. If you had a question to which you required the answer, and none of your immediate friends or family knew, you would hire an intrepid adventurer. He would commission a magnificent boat, with billowing silken sails, hire a crew of twenty men, and set off down the intertubes. Occasionally, explorers would return with tales of new and uncharted lands. If they didn’t fall off the edge.

Back in my day, there was no telephone voting on TV shows. If you wanted to influence the outcome, you had to do it the old-fashioned way and blackmail the judge.

Back in my day, politicians didn’t refer to hard-working families, although children did still spend shifts down the mine.

Back in my day, there was no Skype. If you wanted to send a message to your friend, you’d have to go to a glazier and get it etched onto a pane of glass. Then, in the middle of the night, while your friend was sleeping, you’d let yourself into their house and install your pane of glass in the front of their monitor. It was an inconvenient system, I will admit, with messaging quite expensive and numerous mistaken arrests for breaking and entering, but it kept the glazing industry afloat in what must be said was an era of decline for the stained-glass window.

Monday, 16 April 2012


He was unusually tall for a seven year old. But then, he was thirty five.
It was unusually moist for a sponge cake, but then again, it was a swimming pool.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Astronaut

I've been listening to a lot of Blue Jam lately. Messrs Morris and Katz have inspired me to have a go at a monologue.


He had been dead for three days when I decided to let Houston know.

I made up some rubbish about a heart attack. It didn’t feel right to say that I’d done it. Not now. One doesn’t simply announce that you’ve decided to pre-emptively kill the rest of the crew. We’ve all seen what happens in space. They never tell anyone they think there’s something wrong. It’s just a pensive look out of the port-hole, a cough hidden behind the hand, a lingering on the bridge. Not this time. For the good of the mission. I’m not going to be infected by a virus from the sun, or impregnated by an alien.

It’s not true, what they say.
In space, they can hear you scream.


I played the corpse of Johnson at cards today.

He has an excellent poker face, or rather, what’s left of a face. He won seven games straight, which I thought was just poor sportsmanship – I mean, what could the bugger need the money for? An argument followed. I accused him of cheating, and he didn’t defend himself, so I took my money back. Now he’s sulking.

We haven’t spoken since lunch, and he’s refusing to look me in the eye.


I heard a rattling in the ship’s command nodule.

It was a sound like hail on a tin roof, or the feet of thousand pigeons in tap shoes, or about a hundred pigeons in clogs dancing in moderate rain. I knew better than to investigate.

It’s the ones who investigate who get killed.

No, I was just going to sit on the bridge until the noise passed.


The noise is gone, now, and so is Johnson.

He was starting to smell, so I put him in his full space-walk suit. I could see my own face reflected in the curve of his helmet. It was grotesquely distorted. The back of a spoon, the helmet of a dead astronaut – it’s all the same. I don’t like mirrors, and so Johnson had to go.

I dragged him to the airlock, and the airlock dragged him out.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Blind Date

First Impressions
He looked as if he didn’t take care of himself. He had these dark circles around his eyes, and he was carrying quite a bit of extra weight. It was quite a surprise when he vouched for the salad option.

Good table manners?
The restaurant seemed to have forgotten to give us cutlery, but instead of bringing this up with the maitre-d he just picked the food up, and stuffed it into his face with his paws!

What did you talk about?
Not much. I tried to start conversations, but he just made a few guttural noises in response.

Any awkward moments?
At one point during our meal, a man with a camera was stood outside the window of the restaurant, talking about a 36 hour fertility window. A bit unsettling when you’re on your first date.

Best thing about him?
He paid for my meal. Or I assume he paid for my meal. I wasn’t given a bill.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
What friends?

Could he meet the parents?
They’re currently in a research facility in China, so I think that might be difficult.

Did you go on anywhere afterwards?
No. The restaurant door was locked tight. In any case, I’m not sure Yang Guang was up for anything. He seemed quite disinterested in me, actually.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I think I probably would have chosen a different restaurant. I’m sure it’s very popular, but I found the bars on the windows quite disconcerting.

Since the Blind Date, Tian Tian and Yang Guang have moved in to adjacent apartments in Edinburgh.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Surreal Renaissance

It occurred to me this morning, as I rode a tandem penny farthing with Dick Van Dyke along what we initially assumed to be cobbled street but turned out to be a large serried mass of immaculately-iced cupcakes, that surrealism is undergoing something of a Renaissance.

I’m not talking exclusively about works of art - although the likes of ‘This Is Jinsy’ and ‘Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy’, which present images of rats playing musical instruments being used as cavity wall insulation, and a geriatric’s birthday party involving a game of charades between the celebrating pensioner, the voice of god, and the ghost of a flea, would be inclined to affirm this suggestion.

No, I’m referring to the news.

The Prime Minister deems it necessary, in a national address, to tell the nation that ‘One time I ate a pasty, a big one, in a station.” The leader of the opposition goes into Greggs to buy eight sausage rolls. Expats phone the British Embassy, asking consular staff how to erect a chicken coop, if they knew a good dog-minder, or if they knew how to say ‘I love you’ in Hungarian.

This absurdity seems to have spread to real-life people, not just the display-model humans on our televisions and in our newspapers. I was at a municipal dump the other day* , and observed two adult humans holding the following conversation, while trying to decide whether their defunct toaster should be abandoned next to the sign reading ‘small electricals’ or the sign reading ‘large electricals’:

“Our toaster’s quite small.”
“Yes, but I’ve seen smaller.”
“It’s not as big as a TV.”
“It doesn’t have to be. I don’t watch the game on the toaster.”

Truly, a line worthy of Lynch’s rabbits.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to wrap up this rambling piece of prose abruptly; my pen has just turned into a vermillion caterpillar, and a man with an apple in front of his face has asked if he can borrow my notebook.


* Why? Well, since you ask, to dispose of a broken ironing board. Despite being incapable of functioning, this ghost of laundry past has remained in the cupboard for a number of years, taking up space, resenting the new ironing board, and occasionally falling on those brave and/or stupid enough to open the door.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Five Minutes a Day: Nineteen (Gremlin)

The salesman proffered a small stuffed animal.

"Whatever you do," he said, "don't get it wet, and don't feed it after midnight."

"Why?" I asked, with a derisive snort. "Will it turn into some sort of demonic monster?"

"No, you dolt, it's a stuffed toy. If you get it wet the fabric will shrink, and it's inanimate, so it can't eat."

Monday, 2 April 2012

Nominally five minutes but more like an hour a day - Eighteen (The TV Chef)

Eighteen – The TV Chef

Interior. Day. A modern kitchen. The worktops are shiny, white and synthetic - like an American’s teeth. Behind the worktop stands a man in a checked shirt, thick black-framed glasses, and presumably jeans. This is a cookery show.

And here’s a little tip for you

The chef winks at the camera

If you’ve just cut a piece of apple, and you want to stop it from going brown, squeeze a little lemon juice over it, [beat] then encase it in concrete.

The CHEF draws attention to his fruit bowl. It consists of a stack of small concrete cubes.

I guarantee your fruit will last for much longer.

The CHEF walks back over to the hobs.
And while you’ve got some concrete to hand, why not try using it to thicken sauces. It works a treat.

And it’s high in calcium.


Exterior. A vegetable garden.

Now, this next recipe requires very fresh ingredients. I find it’s always best to grow your own, but if you live in a flat, and don’t have a garden shop-bought would also work.

The CHEF leans down and, completely overlooking the herbs and salad leaves, picks up a handful of earth.

Actually, I should have mentioned this earlier, but this recipe’s not suitable if you think you may be pregnant. Or you think you may have a heart condition. [beat] Or you think.


Interior. Back in the kitchen. The worktop has been set up for the recipe; visible are bowls, of various sizes, filled with ‘ingredients’. Flour, eggs, caster sugar, earth, concrete, tiny breeze blocks (about the size of lego two-by-four pieces), and butter. Three circular cake tins, of decreasing size, are laid out on the side.

We’ll start with a bit of prep work. Now this is important, as it’s the foundation of the cake. You want to take some butter,

The CHEF lifts up a bit of butter, and begins to run it around the inside of a cake-tin

And just run it around the edges of the tins. Then you’ll want to take your earth

The CHEF lifts up the bowl of earth, and tips it onto the table.

And ensure that it’s spread in an even layer, and not too compacted. You should start preheating your oven now, to one hundred and eighty degrees.

The CHEF takes a mixing bowl from the side of the bench, and starts filling it with ingredients.

Right, so now we make the basic cake batter. You’ll want to start off by beating the eggs with the sugar, until they reach a creamy consistency. This’ll give your sponge a smoother texture. Then you’ll want to add your concrete and epoxy resin; these will give it structural integrity. Now, as this is supposed to be a decadent dessert, I’m also going to add a few glace cherries. [beat] And as this is going to be a load-bearing sponge, I’m going to add a few cross beams.

The CHEF finishes stirring the mixture, and transfers it to three cake tins.

Bake the cakes on a central shelf for about twenty minutes, or until a light golden brown.


Interior. The kitchen. About twenty minutes later. A wire cooling rack on the worktop contains the smallest of the three circular sponges. On the side of the bench are a large number of thin metal poles, a large bowl of icing, a piping bag, and a small sack of gravel.

Okay, so I’ve started to assemble the cake.

The CHEF proudly gestures towards his creation. The largest sponge has been placed squarely in the middle of the pile of earth laid out earlier. The second tier of the cake is suspended above the first, as in a ‘normal’ multi-tied cake. The entire structure is surrounded by miniaturised scaffolding. At the edge of the table, there is a miniaturised sign reading ‘protective footwear must be worn on this site at all times’.

The CHEF picks up the final layer from the cooling rack, and slowly lowers it into place. While doing so, he makes a beeping noise, like a vehicle reversing.

In order to really impress your guests, you’ll want to decorate your cake. I’ve chosen to go for a combination of royal icing and pebble-dashing.

The CHEF meticulously ices, and then throws gravel at, the cake.

Done. That’s the last recipe of this episode, and, in fact, this series. So I’d like to take this opportunity to say something.

There were some people who raised doubts about my career change. They said I’d never manage to throw off the habits of my old job. I’d like to think that I’ve proved them wrong.


My zoo-keeping days are over.