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:

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.


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

"Polls show that the public prefer him"


"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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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’.

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’.

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.

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


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?”
“And do you have enough blue paint to cover all but the centre of the east wing?”
“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.”


“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.