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.

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?

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


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Five Gold Rings


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


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.”
“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?”
“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.”