Directory of posts:
4)The Intruder— a story of battling adversity…
7)You have to love them…— it’s about CRUMPET LOVE.
8)How I wrote my first novel— obvious, really
9)3 ways to cheer yourself up immensely— need cheering up? You’ve come to the right place. (Unless you’re a recovering alcoholic. In which case you might want to read any other post here.)
10)All time favourites— a post about extreme dieting and my love of chocolate which is now firmly dead in the water
11)How I know that dogs can be embarrassed— animals are smarter than you think, you know.
12)The curse of the new age— If you have an old bathroom with no gimmicks, this will appeal to you. If you have a new bathroom with all the gimmicks, this will appeal to you. If you live in a hole in the ground, OK, I admit it, this probably won’t appeal to you. But then again, if that’s true, how are you online?
13)How to have sex— a short essay that a man who doesn’t have sex ever has absolutely no business writing. Warning: although this short story doesn’t contain any really graphic content — nothing even as graphic as a sex eductation lesson at school, actually — I should say that if you’re under 16, you probably shouldn’t be reading it, sorry. Obviously I can’t stop you, but I have to at least try. I’d rather I didn’t get a barrage of emails from angry parents around the world.
14)Tense spider-versus-man encounter!— yes folks, it’s exactly what it says: who will triumph? Who will prevail? There’s only one way to find out, my friend.
15)Confessions of a very dangerous inventor— an old story, but one that still makes me laugh. This one concerns an inventor hell-bent on taking over the world with ‘the greatest invention of all time.’
17)Adventures of a horny ghost!— A new little short story…oh, with that title what could it be about?
This is another old story, but one that I remember was much fun to write. Don’t expect perfect grammar, and be aware that I wrote this years ago, so it’s not going to be the most amazing thing you have ever read. But do expect a bit of entertainment. OK, I do on the odd occasion actually get off my computer and leave the house. I’ll be doing that now. Goodbye.
19)Yasmin on babies. Not literally sitting on them of course. What do you think this blog is?— ah, this brightened my day up! It’s not every day you receive a baby-based comment this long. It’s a whopper but well worth reading.
I’m sure Yasmin isn’t alone on this…
20)Think being a writer is easy? Or maybe you’re just curious. Either way you really need to read this— Every so often, like most people in the same boat, I come across someone who’s curious about what it’s like to be a writer. Occassionally it’s someone who wants to be a writer and who wants to find out more, or sometimes it’s someone who thinks that being a writer is easy somehow: that can be really frustrating.
Here’s the reality!
21)Shakes On A Plane— Just found this on my computer and thought I may as well put it on. It’s another story from a few years back. Hopefully it amuses you reading it. I can assure you it did not amuse me experiencing it…
22)The Sweet Woman— another old short story that was originally intended for a book; this one’s from when I was living in Cologne, Germany, between bouts of sickness which left me almost too much time to write. I suppose I could bung it on the Kindle, but actually I’d like to just keep it here. I’ve just read it, and although it’s not my greatest work by a long-shot, it still has meaning, I think, so it may be worth a read.
I should also say before you read — presumptuous, I know… — that this isn’t the most balanced story, and re-reading it 5 years later, I can understand if people think it’s derogatory towards Germans. This was never my intention. As we all know, ugly situations happen everywhere, and it just so happened that this one was in Germany.
23)Pet Ode — an old one. I don’t usually post old ones up here, but I have fond memories of writing this. No photos…I’d probably cry if I had to find them, and you’ll see what I mean if you read it. It’s 15 pages though, so be warned!
24)How To Fight A Man Tramp— what happened to me when two hot-headed man-tramps confronted me one day at work. Man-tramps!
25)Stag Party— A visit to Pinewood Studios to see my best mate Ben turns into a wild adventure. Me versus mother nature! I may not have antlers but I gave it a run for its money.
In my last post I said something like I was going to try not to get into any fights on the Bank Holiday Weekend. A wise move on my part, I think you’ll agree (especially for a notorious Cambridge thug with a penchant for watercolour painting and freshly baked sausage rolls). Well, in hind-sight, it would seem I was a fool and should have added I am going to try not to get into any bizarre situations over the Bank Holiday Weekend or I am going to pay extremely close attention to where I sit in the future on public transport. Sadly I didn’t add these things, and, although I don’t believe that if I had it would have made the slightest bit of difference, hind-sight is a wonderful thing. Expect it’s not really, is it? It just makes you feel stupid and regretful. Bloody stinking hind-sight. Wish I hadn’t mentioned it now. Can you feel its lurking smugness?
And now I have a story to tell. I hope you are sitting comfortably (I don’t say that anywhere near enough, but then, you’re not five years old anymore, are you? If you are then I suggest you get off this blog PRONTO because seriously, you’re much too young to be reading this and your parents will go ape-shit. Go and wreak havoc instead and make the most of making your parents go ape-shit, because in a few years you won’t be able to get away with half as much and if you make anyone go ape-shit then you will be punished severely. I suggest marker pens on walls, ha! But only if you are five, as I said).
When three alarmingly happy men get on your train carriage with matching luggage — black canvas bags, to be exact, and absolutely no reason to be this happy — the following things might run through your mind, as they did mine:
Three: these men are…no, it doesn’t matter how hard I think. At this point in time I cannot come up with any other reason for three enthusiastic men to be carrying the same luggage. At least, nothing that makes me feel comfortable. I block the darker scenarios out…after all, what are the chances of any of those being true? That’s just me being ridiculous.
(Then I have a minor internal panic attack as I consider all the other times that a seemingly normal situation has gone topsy-turvy, and once again tell myself to not be so paranoid. Yes, I have a habit of ending up in bizarre situations EXACTLY when that’s the last thing I need, but then again, think of all the OTHER times life is normal and nothing much happens?)
I was seated in the part of the carriage that houses the incredible high-tech toilet room; the toilet that is a pleasure to visit — when it gets left as toilets should and mothers insist on — and the train companies were forced to install when they became aware that yes, shock horror, some people do actually go about in wheelchairs. Back in the days of miniature stinking toilets — and Philip Scofield having brown not silver hair and a gopher called Gordon, remember that? — getting a seat outside the toilet was about as preferable as being trampled on by a herd of obese marauding cows. Now it is a joy to behold. There is more space in the seats nearby, which means infinitely more leg-room, and because most of the general public would rather sit somewhere that doesn’t mildly smell of wee and poo, you generally have more space. All in all it feels like a minor one-up over the evil train corporations who are slowly stealing our soulsand pretending this is ‘business’. It feels like First Class without paying extra, which I think you agree is pretty bloody good.
Moving my big old rucksack to allow one of the three men to sit opposite me — a friendly looking black man whose infectious laughter always came after a high-five — I had the vague impression that something was odd about the way they were behaving. It was hard to pin-point yet obvious all at the same time. The kind of thing which you felt someone else could spot straight away, but would take you literally forever to figure out on your own.
I think I am a friendly enough person. I have different levels of friendliness which I suppose I adjust according to the situation. For instance, around strangers in a tight space I always try to wear what could potentially turn into a smile. You never know when you might need it, and potential smiles sure as hell beat looking like a miserable git, right?
So I suppose my body language was open enough towards these fellas — two of which, a white guy and another black guy with shaved-head, were sitting to the right of me. That’s not to say that I wanted to speak to them, but I did quite like their enthusiasm and high-fiving: reminded me of the old BMX days, and those narrow gaps in space and time when complete strangers treat you with a surprising kind of respect. It made a welcome change from the usual hush-hush-don’t-even-look-at-me attitude that so many rail passengers very understandably seem to harbour.
Another reason why my body language was open was the gut-feeling I had. When I can sense a situation is abnormal, I, like you, no doubt, make subtle changes to the way I act — changes which you’re not even consciously aware of at the time, but later piece themselves together naturally as you re-assess a situation. I did it in this case because behind the veneer of happiness the three men were exhibiting, there was something…else. Not necessarily bad, exactly, but something off-putting and distinctly strange — like a too-bright summer’s day in Scotland or a trip to the shops where all the shop assistant’s smile. The kind of nagging doubt which prevents you from just plugging your music in or getting a book out and getting absorbed. That thing which says Something isn’t right here. Something is about to happen.
About ten minutes into the journey, I learned very quickly and very suddenly what was behind that nagging doubt (as did the Korean guy sitting directly to my right, who had a belt on which said, in big gold letters DO YOU THINK I’M SEXY?): according to the white guy — the guy who, more than any of them, went out of his way to be friendly to anyone within ear-shot, and made the kind of eye-contact that is usually reserved solely for good friends — the three of them had been released earlier that day from prison after a stint for armed robbery. The second I heard that I know my face must have changed; something about my body language, my posture, my eyes, must have given away some sense of curiosity or fear. A strange kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid, exactly, but I was definitely wondering: Is this a joke? Is this what people who rob banks are really like?
Weirdly, then, the atmosphere shifted again. But not in a bad way (which makes a change when you’re sitting near the toilets on a train). Actually it was to be a learning experience like no other I have ever encountered. The more the three of them talked about life on the inside — and they really were, candidly, as if there was absolutely nothing to be held sacred or private or mysterious about a life behind bars — the more I was leaning forward, almost as if to enter their private circle and say Go on, teach ME everything I need to know about armed robbery! It was becoming clear from the way they smiled and laughed — the cool black guy opposite me laughing and nodding at me as the white guy talked non-stop about everything from the weather to wild animals and why queue’s are called queues — that they wanted to talk and talk. And suddenly that was what I sort of wanted, too, the daft side of my brain wanting things which are probably a bad idea. My curiosity had won out and the stuff they were saying was so intriguing that they could have been murderers for all I’d cared — I’d probably still have sat there nodding, wanting to know more.
One of the fascinating things they were saying was about getting the ink out of those suit-cases filled with cash that Securicor delivers. I’m not going to go into specifics here, for obvious reasons — one of which being that I don’t want to tell secrets that shouldn’t be told and then get hunted down by angry criminals — but I will say that to get the money out clean you need to freeze that ink until it doesn’t pose a threat. That’s all I’m saying, and that’s probably already too much. After that I got chatting to the white guy about all kinds of things. All the while he looked around the carriage — the regular, normal kind of carriage with the 70s carpet and the needless window graffiti — as though it was a spectacle to behold and filled with the finest riches that money can buy. Which it most definitely wasn’t.
And then they all lit up. That’s right: the toilet was now broken, the door wouldn’t open, and so they all lit up, one by one, right there where they were, surrounded by NO SMOKING signs on every wall. To start with I was sure a ticket inspector was going to come running like in a good-old-fashioned murder-mystery, shouting about how the train would be stopped at any minute — then I realised it was non-stop to King’s Cross and relaxed a little. Chances were that nobody was coming, and the looks on the faces of the passengers in the next carriage was promise enough that all lips were sealed. At least I hoped they were. I didn’t really like the idea of one of the guys kicking off.
Next, the trio further invited me into their enthralling secretive world by allowing me a glimpse of things which might make the average middle-class Cambridge uni student literally piss his or her pants. First they showed me the prison-issue shirts and jeans they had been given upon release — very Ben Sherman, but with the HM Prisons logo, which apparently goes for mega-bucks on Ebay — and then they showed me the splendid and highly unique lighters which you can get nowhere else on Earth and prove you really were a criminal. All in all it was a good, if at times slightly uncomfortable time (one of the guys kept asking me if he could borrow my phone for a minute, but seeing as just five minutes before he had waxed-lyrical about how easy it was to steal a mobile phone out of someone’s hands in broad daylight, I decided to keep that puppy in my pocket. Looking back I highly doubt he’d have made a grab for my phone. Not because I look threatening, but because it is a rubbish phone and probably still behind the times, even if you have been inside for four whole years).
And so it was that I got to hang out with some friendly ex-cons and learn all kinds of devious and not so devious things about life. Yes, I could have got up as soon as they’d first sat down and risked finding another seat in another part of the train, but sometimes you have to ride these things out and take what you get. I suggest you try it. You might even have a laugh.
I was a curious boy – curious about everything, obsessed with fossils, and birds of prey, and insects, and my grandmother’s magical fantasy garden where, every single enlightened Sunday, I’d get lost in the colours of all kinds of plants with my brother and sister (usually my brother. By this time my older sister had moved onto more exciting things, like arguing and sarcasm). I was fortunate to grow up in a place where the countryside was on my doorstep, in a time when adults still felt secure enough about their surroundings to allow their children off on their own. Many summers, countless summers, were spent in the long grass at the nearby allotments, patiently catching the crickets and the grasshoppers – listening for them to give away their location and waiting for as long as it took to hold just one of these amazing creatures.
Like many children I was never afraid of picking things up; providing it was not a spider – I’m still absolutely pathetic about spiders… – I’d want to hold it. Especially if it was a bird. Between the ages of about 10 and 16 I used to spend a lot of time hoping that a bird would fly into our rear porch window, wishing that just one – a colourful one, some rare species only talked about in books – would strike it with enough force to daze it slightly and allow me to pick it up. I never wanted to see a bird die from hitting the porch window, but over the years that has happened more than a few times. The sad thing was – and this will sound very selfish – they’d always hit the window and die sometime I wasn’t around. I’d discover the dead body hours after the tiny organs had stopped working and be fascinated by it all right, but it wouldn’t be the same as holding that tiny creature in my hands and feeling its life and energy as it hopped about, regaining its balance.
There was a story recently about an owl – a Barn Owl, I think – which had flown into someone’s window and left a near-perfect imprint; the dusty membrane on its body and wings leaving a ghostly white line-drawing with face and wings and talons preserved. It all came together to create a picture of a very shocked looking bird. This story annoyed me immensely and really brought out my notable childish nature, as, just a few months before a Sparrow-hawk had flown into our porch window and left a near-perfect imprint. You could see the exact shape of its wings, its head turned at an angle – bound to happen when you’re hitting a double-glazed glass wall at speed thinking you’re about to fly into a strange looking human-containing chamber – and its claws. You could even see its slightly open beak and the talons and speed-lines from where it had reacted instantaneously to the impact and flapped itself away. This wasn’t the first time a bird of prey had been unlucky. I vividly remember 2010 as the year that one of its mates made the same mistake; I was standing behind the window at the time and witnessed the bird smack into it then regain itself quickly and fly off, landing on the fence and shaking its head several panicked times.
Yesterday – July 20th, 2011,sometimes during the early afternoon when I was trying to finish some writing so I could finish work by 6pm – it happened again. I was in the kitchen when I heard the noise: a dull thud, followed by my dad saying “there’s a bird outside the window!” (The exclamation mark is artistic license. In reality it was more like half an exclamation mark. Something which Microsoft Word really should consider creating sometime soon.)
I arrived to discover a small bird lying on its back on the concrete paving slabs which sit between the house and where the grass of the back-garden begins. It was at least 3 feet away, which meant it had hit the window very hard – hard enough that it had bounced off one of the most un-bouncy surfaces in the world.
We – my mum was now there, beside my dad – waited for it to flip itself upright again, but, as the seconds passed, it became obvious that this was not going to happen. Or that if it was, it was going to take too long. By which time a cat would discover it and it’d be a gonna.
I put my freelance work to the back of my mind – something which tends to happen only if I accidentally stumble across a particularly captivating episode of Loose Women or discover biscuits in my pantry (Bourbons are my favourite) – and made an executive decision. I’d go out there and help the little fella or fella-et.
Ordinarily I’d have expected my Godzilla-like presence to be warning enough for the little bird to pick itself up and fly away, but as I approached it, it didn’t move. In fact, as I picked its soft tiny body up and carefully turned it right-side-up, it didn’t even move. Its eyes were half open, its head bobbing up and down, wings utterly lifeless. Holding it and stroking its miniature head, I expected it to die quite soon. In a way I wanted it to die soon. I didn’t want to have to hold it for hours, watching it in pain, only for it to die sometime later after I’d left it out there all alone.
Weirdly, I hadn’t noticed right away that I was holding a bird I didn’t particularly recognise. I’m by no means a bird expert, but I do know my Tits, and can tell a Blue Tit from a Great Tit, or a Coal Tit from…I’ll shut up now. The point is that I know my Tits, by size and by colour and by that most telling of all things, shape, and here was a Tit – or possibly not a Tit after all – that I couldn’t name.
So it’s a good job I took some photos of it. I felt a bit bad doing it at the time, what with the little fella – I decided it was a fella – probably facing its last dying moments, but am pleased I did now. I shall fetch my camera and describe it:
You are looking at a perfect sphere. A fluffy egg shape covered in caramel fur. Fur, not feathers. Add to this a head which barely sticks out from the spherical body – around the small black eye the fur is more golden and on the front of the head sits a stubby, silvery beak.
Around the bird’s collar is a white ring, unfinished and unsure and broken in places. And now we move onto its wings:
If you ever want to challenge yourself as a writer, try and describe a young bird’s wings; fortunately, now you can match up the image in your head, you can see them now (insert photo) so I don’t have to. As you can see the little fella’s feet are crooked on my hand. That wasn’t just the angle the photo was taken at – another sign that I was sure he was on his way out.
Now you may well know what kind of a bird I rescued. But let’s not dwell on the type, anyway. What’s important now is what happened next…
As is common knowledge, you have to – or should, at least – draw a line between helping nature and making nature too dependant on you. So, while I had been picking it up off my hands and unsteadying it slightly in a bid to call its instinct into making it fend for itself, my dad had been shouting through the patio doors “put it on a twig and leave it.” To this I said, “not yet, he needs a bit more time!” There really was an exclamation mark that time. The idea of leaving the fallen fella to figure things out on his own horrified me. There was no way that was going to happen.
This was when he took a turn for the worst and started to look a lot like a drunk at a bar – the kind of drunk who still has enough sense to sit upright, but whose head won’t stop moving in slow, rhythmic circles. This went on for a few minutes. The eyes would open again, and then, every so often, his head would fall heavily on one side, exposing the skin beneath his feathers, so it looked as if his head might roll off at any moment.
At this point my dad started to bang on the window. What I forgot to mention before was that my dog Jojo, a greyhound who absolutely hates anything that moves and isn’t one of us, was standing staring at the bird in my hand through the porch windows. Poor Jojo, she really didn’t know what the hell to make of it.
Several more minutes passed. I felt torn: I wanted it dead if that was better, of, alternatively, for it to show some kind of sign that it might get better; any sign, however small. Something which would mean I could leave it with the knowledge that it had some kind of a chance out here on its own.
Almost as soon as I’d thought that, by complete coincidence, I’m sure, the birdie made a tiny hop after I’d placed it on the ground. Not much of a hop even by a fledgling bird’s standards, but enough that it’s feathers fluttered a bit, making it stumble and have to right itself again on its own. I then spent several more minutes pushing it in various ways, trying to get it used to the idea that it had reactions and they would soon come in very useful.
It looked like this was as far as it was going to progress, then, as I picked it up and placed it on the back of my hand, it started to try and walk forwards as I turned my wrist. You could see from the way it was starting to hold itself – its eyes a little more open now – that it was coming out of its colossal daze and seeing the world a bit more clearly. It had a long way to go – how much further remained to be seen – but the point was that it seemed to be able to control itself better. I looked at its wings to check they weren’t broken and was pleased to find that its body was fine. The feet were still standing awkwardly, but with every new step they were learning what to do and not to do. Learning and not regressing, which was the sign I really needed.
So, we’d come a long way, me and him. We’d been through the first dangerous stage, where it’d looked like the game was over, and we’d tackled – or were close to having tackled – the almost-as-tricky secondary bit where, at any moment, it could all prove to be for nothing. Now we were here, in this strange no-man’s-land which might never progress into anything more. For all I knew, this was as far as he was going to get. It still could all be for nothing, especially if those wings didn’t start to work…
When do you decide it’s time to decide another creature’s fate? Is there a right time? How do you decide? I will never know the answer to such questions. I will, as I did yesterday, have to do what we all must sometimes: use my judgement and gut-instinct to guide me, even if I don’t really know where the reasoning comes from.
I picked the bird up in my hands and started to try and shake it off. I could feel its grip getting stronger, so I knew it wasn’t going to fall off. My plan was to keep trying to shake it off until it started to sense danger and flap its feathers. It worked. Not immediately, but soon; except there was a flaw in my plan: as much as he kept flapping his feathers, he refused to get airborne. Either he was still dazed and confused about how to do that – not surprising, after the knockout he’d endured – or he was just plain scared. Really, the acid test would be to chuck him up in the air and see what happened next.
Preparing the little fella for his maiden voyage, I knew that if this first flight went wrong, he’d be done for. Although he’d only be a couple of feet off the ground, the fall down to Earth, onto concrete, would be enough to damage his confidence enough that he’d never fly again – or worse it’d kill him. So I took him over to the grass first for a pre-test-flight-flight and threw him off my hand as close to the ground as I could manage. Much to my delight – and I’m sure his, even if he wasn’t quite aware of it – his wings flapped enough so that he landed on the lawn softly. It was time, I decided. Time for the real test – there was only so much you could practice the big thing after all.
I didn’t see any point in doing things by halves, so, convincing myself that he was ready for it, I wandered back onto the concrete porch and chucked little fella up into the air, hard enough that there was no way he’d be able to hang on. What followed was a magical demonstration of just how incredible nature is. In that maiden voyage was hope, danger, determination and plain old daring. Off he went into the air a few feet above me, like some clever toy with whirring parts…then he landed on my shoulder, his little eyes looking at me: That was terrifying! I don’t think I’m ready for the big one yet!
Much as it hadn’t exactly been impressive, there were positives to be taken from how the maiden voyage had gone. For example, almost as soon as he’d got airborne he’d not floundered. There had been no moment when it looked like he might fall like a stone, other than perhaps the barest of split-seconds on the way up. Also, the way he’d landed hovered for a brief moment, perfectly still in the air, had shown he was more capable than he’d ever known. But most importantly of all, his landing on my shoulder had been very deliberate. You could just tell he’d spotted it and aimed for it, meaning that his brain was working, telling him what he ought to do next.
This process was repeated several times. Each time the exact same thing happened in more or less the same way. It was then that I knew we could go on like this all day; it was time for him to make it on his own, time for me to leave him to his own devices – whatever happened next would happen sometime over the course of the next few hours. Either he’d be OK or he’d fall to the ground next time he took to the air and be eaten by a cat.
I wanted to leave him somewhere which was a good half-way house between a challenge and a thing of comfort – a place where he’d be safe enough but also a place where he couldn’t stay forever. I decided the bush nearest the bird table would be a good bet, but my attempts to cast him away kept failing. He’d either land on my shoulder or fly towards the bush or bird table and then panic and return to me. On the last time, I stepped back so as he was headed my way he had no choice but to turn around and make for the bush. But he bottled it and landed on the slanted top of the bird table, looking very awkward and like a man who’d been put on top of a church spire while drunk, only to wake up there on the morning of his wedding completely petrified.
I took him off and we tried again. This time he went straight to the bush and landed where I’d intended on some good branches that were ideal for balancing on when balancing was difficult due to a massive blow to the head. And that was where I left him, not looking back.
I told my parents not to tell me if they saw him fall to the ground or get eaten by a cat and went back to my computer. Later, after my parents had walked Jojo, dad told me that as Jojo had stepped outside they’d seen the bird take full flight, aiming like a bullet for the conifers on the other side of the garden. I was happy. I felt I had done my bit. I felt like I’d done something worthwhile and that somewhere out there was a tiny bird with a chance that might have not had one otherwise.
The terrifying opinion of (do the sinister music in your head, now)…du-du-duuuuuuuu: Mum!
The first time I sent a manuscript to a publisher, I didn’t know what to think. I’d heard the horror stories all right: the months of waiting — if I was one of the lucky ones — ending in that excruciating form rejection letter. Or worse, form rejection slip.
It hurt, that first one, although not in the way you might immediately think. Rather than it reducing me to tears it just sort of…stunned me. I held it for a good minute before I realised that I was chuffed they had written back at all. After that, in the days that followed, the real painful emotional sucker-punch came. Not fast and disabling but in slow-motion. Once it had sunk in that the publisher had cast their eyes over my submission and decided it wasn’t worthy, I didn’t feel anything, if I remember rightly. Soon after that I managed to get off the track of thinking about it. And there it was: my induction into the demoralising — but essential — world of traditional publishing.
That happened more than once. My first book was rejected by 10 publishers, I think, and the subsequent 2 were rejected by about…I’ve lost count, but probably something like 25 in all. Not massive numbers by any means, but all those No’s certainly add up…
But this, all this — everything combined, in truth — was in many ways less terrifying than my ultimate test: when my Mum first asked to read my work. Fortunately this didn’t happen for around 3 years. So by the time she did finally sit down to cast her iron gaze over my manuscript — a memoir about my time BMX riding which came as close as it comes to getting published by not one byt 2 publishers… — I was reasonably confident that it wasn’t total crap. Not sure, no-way-no-how, but at least able to load it up on my computer and invite her to sit down before it without having an actual fit.
I left the room and let Mum read in peace. Half an hour later I returned.
The first sign that Mum hadn’t really enjoyed it was…her face, accompanied by her whole body. Yes, her whole body. My mum is very expressive, very honest, and she doesn’t muck about. I love these traits.
At the time, though, I was having trouble loving these traits…and it didn’t get much better when she opened her mouth to express what she felt.
I won’t go into detail here, but the point is that she thought it was OK, but didn’t really ‘get it’. She could see what I was trying to do, but wasn’t sure it worked. I kidded myself that this was a miscommunication thing — the same miscommunication, weridly, that befell all lucky publishers who happened to read my work — and took away from the experience that a) I had work to do on my writing, there was no denying it and 2) It would be a long time until I would let my Mum read any of my work again…
For years, it remained this way. Me writing various novels — all of which were hopeless, bar one, which was semi-hopeless — and her not asking to read them. There was nothing bitter about this scenario, and no love lost. Over the years I grew to understand that actually, my writing wasn’t that bad, and, more importantly, that everyone has different tastes. This was what my dear Mum had tried to convey to me — and that was nice. It made me think that perhaps I could only get better. Maybe, just maybe, one day Mum would read something of mine which was more her thing. Something which she could fully get.
During the writing of The Number 3 Mystery Book, Mum started asking about what I was up to. Dad too. My first instinct was to be cagey and vague — a technique which puberty had promised me would never get old. It didn’t work. By this time I was a full-time freelance writer, and so my Mum and Dad had got it into their heads that this must mean I now had half a clue.
I did my best to throw them off the scent and did a fine job, even after the book had gone live on Amazon. And it wasn’t like my Mum could actually download my book. She didn’t have a Kindle, and her and the computer only came face-to-face on rare occasions. Rarer than funerals and we haven’t been to one of them in years.
Then Mum came home a few days ago and said “you’ll never guess what your father’s got me”.
Panicked, I said: precisely nothing. Before I could open my mouth to spout forth some genius excuse, Mum said: “A Kindle! I’ll be able to download your book now!”
And I said: “Yes Mum, I suppose you will…”
The verdict? So far so good, so I must have done something write!
But maybe I shouldn’t get too excited…she has got about 150 pages to go…
My bedroom is not the tidiest. I’m resisting the idea of calling it messy because to me, at least, it’s not (when pushed I prefer the term casually-less-than-meticulous). Yes, I lose things from time to time, but I also find a fair few things as well. For example, just the other day I discovered five pound coins in an old pair of jeans lurking next to my bed! Now, as anyone with a truly unruly messy room knows, you just don’t go finding such things in a truly messy room.
My room is also one of the last great enchanting places in our house. The rest of it has been made modern, and new, and space-age – the bath-room – but my room remains untouched and thus a bit of a gem.
This is the way a personal space should be, less it becomes invaded!
Which it doesn’t. I hate to sound like a petulant teenager but nobody comes in my room without my knowing about it (apart from my mother, who occasionally drops vague hints which hint at a dark fascination with secretly exploring the four corners of my room when I am not in it…)
Anyway, last night as I entered my room in the early hours I was really-ready-for-bed. Usually I read before I got to bed – all sat upright like some boring bearded, serious-faced dork – but this was the kind of really-ready-for-bed where I knew that I wanted to close my eyes and crawl under the covers right away.
Except I couldn’t. Because as I was closing one of my windows, I discovered, oh horror of horrors, a strange being in my room…
Whatever this thing was, it was dark and small and round. In the dim light it was hard to make out much more than that, but what I could tell from its shape and dimension was that it could be neither a moth or some other strange form of insect.
Now I was all of a conundrum. An age-old one of man-wondering which I knew would not go away. I wanted to chuck myself into bed and say goodbye to the day, but at the same time my curiosity was lunging about all over the place, wanting to be satisfied.
So, after a tumultuous couple of minutes which had me all in a rage with various inanimate objects my room possesses – some magazines that were doing no harm, and a CD cover which had no CD in it and seemed to know all too well that I would be annoyed by this – I decided I was going to have to turn the light on.
Which I did. Once it was on I prowled over to the curtain and pulled it carefully up. My tiredness, combined with the fact I had been watching a particularly poor horror film on Channel 5 just moments before – one where completely ridiculous things can and do happen – meant that I wasn’t completely sure what would happen once I saw the thing. It might have moved, I thought, or worse…it might leap off the wall and go straight for my face!
It did not go straight for my face. It did not do anything but sit there. Sitting isn’t the right word, though. It was more stuck to the wall using the power of suction. I suppose you could say it was Stucking.
The invading alien thing was, in reality, a snail.
Immediately the thing had my full and whole respect. Putting myself into the small mind of a desperate, cold snail for a moment – you could argue that all snails are desperate, what with their always having to deal with being either stuck inside crappy shell with holes or assaulted by children with a penchant for salt, but let’s not go there – I could tell that had I been the snail I’d have never been bothered with climbing the enormous brick wall of the house. Even if I’d have managed to get to the height of, say, a door, I reckon I’d have given up eventually. Heights aren’t my thing anyway, so I can only imagine that if I was all cold and shivering – do snails shiver? – I’d prefer to fall crashing to the ground and get pecked to death by a blackbird than risk going any higher and getting stranded and then not be able to get back down…
So I couldn’t very well just evict it – sorry, him or her – now, could I? Not after all that hard work! What…it must have taken days or maybe even weeks to get to my window!
I decided to go and brush my teeth and ponder it while doing so. Pondering and teeth-brushing go hand in hand, I have always found.
But when I returned to my room I found myself even more confused about what to do…the thoughts of woe for the snail and his or her achievement had morphed into dozens of other emotional challenges which I could barely comprehend: at the top of the list was the worry about the snail’s obvious physical strengths. This wasn’t just any snail, after all, so who knew how fast it could move during the night while I was asleep!?
I am no good at calculating, but some quick rough calculations – just for the sake of it, to go through the motions, so to speak – told me that anything could happen during the night.
Two horrible possibilities struck me, each as awful as the other: 1) I could wake up and find the snail not where it had been…but somewhere else…and 2) I could wake up with the snail inside my mouth, choking me to death! A bit far-fetched, yes – there was nothing even remotely vicious about the snail’s demeanour or personality – but possible…very possible…
And so it was decided, there and then, with me now in a bad sleep-deprived mood, that I had no choice but to evict the snail under the grounds of protecting my personal safety. Sorry, pal, I told him or her, but this is the way it has to be. Forgive me.
The next battle of will’s was the most severe so far: how to get the snail off the wall.
I am not good with spiders. I am not good with worms, snakes, flying ants – I particularly despise the erratic nature of flying ants – or millipedes. I am good with moths. But a snail is nothing like a moth. And so I was terrified.
Haunted with wide-awake visions of how to get the snail off the wall without me a) pulling so hard that I might fall flying backwards and let go of the snail and end up with it falling through the air and onto my face with a horrible Slap! and b) not pulling hard enough and instead crushing my fingers through its shell and then being left with a shell-less snail still stuck solidly to the wall but now dying a slow and miserable death and making me feel tremendously guilty, I stepped closer to the wall and readied my hands. There was a big moment where, like a golfer lining up his shot, I looked at the snail from all angles, so as to prepare myself readily, and then I went for it. Carefully, but with a showing-who’s-boss mentality which even a snail couldn’t fail to recognise, I latched myself into the appropriate hold on the shell and pulled.
Then I spent a good five minutes grunting and shifting backwards and forwards in what quickly became a vain attempt to win the battle.
Several minutes after those initial five minutes, I noticed something horrifying. Although I had come closer to easing the little fella – or fella-et – off the wall, it was also worryingly evident that the snail wasn’t going anywhere without the wall it was attached to. I could see the paint moving with it, and this may or may not be my imagination, but I was sure I could sense his or her growing determination…
Then I won the battle and the snail came away and it was all over. I opened the window, placed the snail on the window-sill outside and bid him or her farewell.
I hate tents and, from a philosophical standpoint, it’s completely unjustified considering their natural sheltering and welcoming nature. It’s not tents’ fault that I am so utterly hopeless. In fact, if anything tents should be commended; even the most basic tent has been designed in such a way as to take full advantage of my weak points. Not to mention that people have surely been saved from the jaws of bears by tents (or at least blind / lazy / lame ones).
Really it’s my parents fault that I am so utterly hopeless at this kind of a practical thing – that’s not me being callous and mean, it’s just pure biological fact. By being in the same place in time as they were, and going on that first date, and eventually mating as they did – now I’ve written that I wish I hadn’t… – they produced a being who can happily paint pictures and write pages and pages of text, but a being who also folds psychologically and breaks out in a sweat whenever a tent needs to be erected.
I’m sweating right now just typing it as a word!
When I’m in one of my simple, primitive, classic, tent-hating moods – as I was the last time I went camping, just several months ago, and as I always am – it’s like any logic I was born with completely leaves me. Every wrong move, no matter how small, only makes it worse.
But this pandemonium is nothing compared to the feeling of doom which grows inside me when someone who is good at putting tents up is nearby, monitoring my progress, moving around their tent laughing and joking like this is all one funny game. On the last occasion this horrible yearly ritual took place, there were a gang of these type of individuals and I was in the middle of the camping area. Surrounded. Without hope. Every time I made the mistake of looking up – which I made repeatedly, like anyone who seeks solace from looking at the terrible-mess-of-a-tent-thing before them – I saw yet another sodding tent pop up nearby.
And it was around the fifth occasion I’d stopped to ponder what the hell I was going to do that the inevitable happened: the guy in the tent nearest me appeared, asking if I needed any help…
It’s because of all this that today, with another alarming tent-erecting-scenario just around the corner, I decided to assert myself. At the forefront of my mind was one sentence: you cannot allow yourself to fold like last time, Chris. And so out in my back-garden I went with my £10 Waitrose tent. Out to erect it on my own. This time, dear reader, I was going to break it.
I was going to harness the secret and become one with the tent.
On my own, and in the relative safety of the garden where there was nobody to belittle me, I was quickly away. Away putting my tent up inside out, it was true, but nevertheless I was making progress, having cut out the obligatory stand-around-and-panic-for-a-bit-while-hoping-it-rains-so-much-camping-is-impossible routine that usually made up around 30% of my tent-skills-arsenal.
Did I manage it? Yes. Of course I did, I went out to break it, don’t you know! It didn’t go smoothly by any means, and there were several times when I honestly considered throwing in the towel, but the point is I made it. I think I may even have come close to understanding how to do it again, actually.
You’re walking down the street thinking about not very much at all. Would you look at that, you’ve arrived at this blog and now, thanks to 2nd person point-of-view, the power of the imagination and just a few well-positioned words, you’ve not got a care in the world. Brilliant!
But getting back to your imagination…
You smile, because you can’t remember the last time you had nothing on your mind like this. It is blissful. Quite frankly, with instant gratifying peace-of-mind like that, you wonder why you ever bothered looking at any other blog rather than this one. (OK, so I’m pushing it, but you can’t blame me. I didn’t make you click on this!)
Quickly, though, things are anything but blissful — I know, I can be cruel — because by pondering how your mind can be so empty you’ve inadvertently gone and filled it up! Very foolish, you really will never learn, will you? Now, your mind is a very different place and you don’t like it. You try to get back to the nothingness you were enjoying before — back when money didn’t exist and washing didn’t need to be done and your dog didn’t suddenly decide to do a poo on the street when you’d forgotten to bring a bag, again… — but it’s pointless. You may as well think darker, sinister thoughts about your boss, or something. Go on, you have permission. Nobody will blame you.
This is when the big swinging arm first invades your personal space. For a moment it’s not attached to anything, or anyone, it’s just some huge intrusive force that’s out to get you. But in seconds this fades. You realise that it’s actually attached to the fool who is walking slowly in front of you, and whenever you try and walk around this space invader — shuffling sideways in short, sharp bursts, aiming to catch him or her off-guard — he or she shifts with you. All the time, the big swinging arm pendulums back and forth a lot like the trunk of a really annoying elephant. An elephant wearing shoes and well trained in the art of walking only on two legs, if we’re being precise.
You have no choice but to follow. To follow and follow and follow. You could cross over the road, of course, but no, you can’t do that either…everywhere you look now are people with big swinging arms out to get you! They’ll stop at nothing! It’s as if the human race has moved on without you into another phase. One where if you’re not swinging one arm back and forth wildly, you really stand out as being a bit of a gimp.
So, to fit in, you start swinging your arm a bit. It feels very strange at first and you’re quite self-concious about looking like a total moron-dufuss, but nevermind that, you go with it. It’s not your choice to make. You hope that the assailant still right in front of you — listening to acclaimed yet horrendous Aussie band Savage Garden, no less, if your ears tell you correctly — will eventually start to notice this, that he or she will accept you as one of them and allow you to pass.
But he or she doesn’t, and it’s not surprising, because awful as Savage Garden are, their bigger tunes are miraculously quite addictive. The next time you look behind you there’s a very angry person staring right in your face, and you say: “I can explain…”
Then you think: I shouldn’t have mixed my drinks last night. And when you look down at your right shoe you see that someone else should have brought a bag, too…
I am round — a perfect circle. (Well, most of the time. But when I’m not I get away with it, just — you can manage that when you’re the envy of every hungry human-being in the room.)
I come in a pack of four or six.
I am simple, I am pure, I am made of quality basic ingredients with no fancy business.
Nothing can touch me. I go with bacon, egg, jam — anything.
I am the ideal, diverse snack…
…accompanied with butter I am nothing less than legend.
What am I?
Why, I’m a crumpet, of cours, but you knew that already, and I know you.
I should associate my first crumpet-eating experience with the same land-mark in time assigned to other special occasions, but I don’t. For that I feel shame, just as I should do, but I’m sure that over the years I have more than made up for it. Hopefully, the Crumpet Overlord forgives me.
I’ve always championed crumpets. I don’t care what anyone says. Even when, aged 12, other children started saying things about them. Bad things. Malicious things. Things they had no right to say. Clearly they had no first-hand experience with them: how dare they insult my beloved crumpets like that!
No matter what others say, I’ll always stand up for my crumpety friends.
Long live crumpets, that’s what I say.
The very first novel I ever wrote was called The Fear Anomaly (I still really like that name and have the original floppy-disks in a box in my room). One day in 2005 I decided I wanted to write a novel. I just decided it. That was how it was. I still remember the look on my then-girlfriend’s face; the way it spelled out A novel? You cannot be serious…
That wasn’t just how it was. Even I’m not that spontaneous. There’s no way I just decided it — there surely has to be much more to it. But truthfully, looking back, I struggle with working out how it all started, or even locating the moment when spending my evenings alone in a room — something very abstract for me at the time, seeing as BMX was very much my life — struck me as a good idea. That may be because looking back through the last few years is painful, but it may also be down to it being so complex. I don’t know where to start.
A good place to start would be with the computer.
I didn’t own a computer; at the time I had no real need for one. If I wanted to check my emails I went to the Turkish coffee shop / poor-excuse-for-an-internet-cafe down the street, and if I wanted to write something…well, that was probably why my girlfriend had looked at me so strangely: I wasn’t a writer back then. Maybe in my head, but certainly not on paper. In fact, as embarrassing as it is to admit it, I hadn’t written so much as a short story in years. So you could say that my idea of writing a thriller in the style of Robert Ludlum — The Bourne Identity — was somewhat…hm, I believe ‘ambitious’ is the word.
So, the computer.
I was in luck. As it happened, a friend of mine — Klaus, one of the the owners of the BMX company We The People, in fact — had a computer just lying around doing nothing. Not the best computer by any means, and that’s being generous: this puppy was a huge old-school Apple Mac. A massive box of a thing with only a floppy-disk drive and the kind of weight and bulk which made it hard to handle on your own. Getting it back to my apartment was a feat in itself; I transported it on a kind of upright wagon normally assigned for shifting boxes, and by the time I got it up the first flight of stairs I was starting to regret it.
The newness of writing in those first few weeks was fantastic, free and easy in a way which now makes me frustratingly jealous. With no real experience of writing — other than a magazine article I’d written for a BMX magazine a few years earlier — I had total freedom to immerse myself in my idea. Unaware of the many hundreds of rules I was breaking — sometimes even inventing new rules to break: is that Hemingway I hear turning in his grave? — the pages came quick and easy. Unsurprisingly, the quality of the writing reflected that. Within around a month, I’d written something like 200 pages. Horrific a bastard love-child as The Fear Anomaly was, writing it taught me a vital lesson: get your ideas down quickly — nothing beats the energy and exuberance of going for it full-throttle.
Weirdly, when I now try and recall what the novel was about, nothing much springs to mind. That may just be because I have a famously appalling memory, or it may be more down to the ridiculously complex nature of the plot. A techno-thriller based in Germany — surprised? — and covering political grounds which entwined with an all-action adventure story, it was Ludlum meets Grisham meets…well, everything. One thing I do remember about that book is the ideas. The pages were crammed full of them, leaving little room for that alien thing called ‘character development’.
4 months into my ‘career’ as an aspiring novelist, my girlfriend started to get the idea that this ‘fad’ was a little more permanent than she’d first thought. Rather than my writing being confined to my room — I lived 5 minutes away with just one flat-mate — it had now extended its ever-intensifying reach into various other parts of my life: the rare moments of peace and quiet at my job as a dish-washer as I sat in the lock-less toilet and made notes on my mobile phone, and, much to my girlfriend’s irritation, the late evenings when I stayed over at her place. When she went to bed, I stayed up late into the night to write in my pad. Then, the following day, I’d transcribe the frantic-scribbled notes down onto my computer. And repeat. I kept going until I had around 400 pages.
I didn’t ever finish writing that book — things got in the way, and besides, at around 500 pages into it I realised, much to my horror, that I was only half-way through… — but you know what? I couldn’t care less. Maybe The Fear Anomaly was never meant to be written. Maybe it was just practise, and its process was the really important part. Sometimes, it’s not about completing a piece of work, it’s about going through the motions, learning, making mistakes. I made plenty of mistakes with that book, and with the next one after, but I made it eventually, and I’m sure I’d never have got there unless I’d written that first novel.
1 Drop by a supermarket near where you used to live; you have no intention of buying anything, no, this is purely for pleasure. Any supermarket, it doesn’t matter which; drive several hundred miles if you have to, because the pay-off is always worth it. After a short wander around you’re sure to come across at least one horrible person you went to school with, stacking the shelves or miserably performing some other such menial task. They’re stuck there looking into a grim abyss of future employment…but you’re not. Cause for celebration indeed! Pat yourself on the back and leave with your head held high!
2 If you live in a shared house, embrace your cruel side and hide something from one of your house-mates. Make it something they could have easily misplaced themselves, and something important they just can’t live without – I suggest a mobile phone or MP3 player or umbrella, if they’re one of those highly irritating people who insist on taking one with them when it’s only raining lightly – and then stand back and snigger inside as they drive themselves slowly mad looking for said possession!
3 Another hiding-related one that’s a sure-fire winner: using all the intellect you can muster, hide a box of your favourite chocolates somewhere, and write a series of clues on pieces of paper to help you find it. Put them in lots of obvious places, but make sure the box of chocolates is much more difficult to find, so that when you do eventually locate it, you’ll be overcome by a wave of almost paralyzing joy. Then proceed to get absolutely hammered and smashed out of your mind (or, if mind-altering drugs are your kind of thing, the best of luck — personally I wouldn’t touch them). Soon, while crawling around in a drunken stupor, you’ll stumble across one of the clues, which will lead you to another clue…and…yes! before long you’ll find the box of chocolates you never knew were there! Disclaimer: Chris Pink and his blog cpink should not be held responsible if anyone decides to get so hammered that they actually do kill themselves.
When you’re on a really extreme diet (if you really must ask why this is the case, see the Sometimes people hear about how Chris got ill page, but be warned it gets pretty heavy), you grow to enjoy the relatively decent food you are allowed to eat in the same way that someone who has been locked up in a rat-infested hell-hole cell would look around the worst, most cockroach-ridden apartment building anyone has ever seen and say: “you know, this is better than I was expecting. I think I’ll take it.”
Cottage cheese: I’ll take it.
Brown rice: it could be worse
Ryvita, dry as bones themselves: yes please!
Basically, you take whatever you can get your hands on, and if you do happen to come across some kind of unbelievable almost-too-good-to-be-true-gem – such as low sugar, to-die-for 80% cocoa dark chocolate with mint pieces – you appreciate it in a way which is hard to describe to someone who can eat whatever they like.
I love chocolate, you know. Or maybe you don’t. It’s not something I think I’ve ever talked about on this blog (though anyone who knows me in the real world would be hard-pressed to avoid the fact). But I do. My all-time favourite chocolate bars are as follows:
1) The Wispa: velvety and smooth, for all I know the seemingly utopian Wispa is probably made in hideous working conditions in Papau New Guinea by sex slaves allergic to chocolate. I hope not, but considering the evil machine of commerce and its liking for unfairness and montary rape-age, I have to keep an open mind.
2) The Double-Decker: the hermaphrodite of the chocolate world, the Double Decker, for the shamefully un-educated, is a combination of nougat, chocolate, and a small factory’s worth of nasty chemicals. This is why I love the Double Decker: it’s packed full of horrific stuff yet it tastes fantastic! Credit where credit is due.
3) The Crunchie (I hope you appreciate how harrowing it was trying to remember myself back through time to before I knew what one of these tasted like! Re-imagining it now, I always knew there was something missing): this one is a lady-boy through and through. Wrapped up all shiny and smiling, the Crunchie wants you to believe it’s just a chocolate bar like any other. This is how it attracts the unknowing into its powerful grasp! Then, when you take that very first bite of it, you look at its foil wrapping and say “hang on a minute…you’re not at all what you first seemed, are you?” Obviously this is where the lady-boy comparison ends abruptly, because if I was to get into the equivalent life situation – which I suppose would be finding out in a very intimate way that this was not a beautiful woman after all…something which could never happen, I assure you now! – I’d never, ever go near any tall or remotely masculine woman ever again.
How we got from chocolate to lady-boys so fast I will never know, but there you go, that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Not that I eat any of my favourite chocolate bars any more, of course, I’m on a strict diet! I mean it, I haven’t eaten one of my favourites in around 8 months. So let this be proof in writing, to anyone wondering whether they can really give up something they adore: you can. It won’t be easy – it’ll be horrendous actually, if I’m honest – but it is possible.
But who cares, right? None of that matters when you have Cottage Cheese…
I’ve often wondered if animals are capable of being embarrassed in the same way human beings are. My feeling is this: If they’re capable of being angry, upset, confused and expectant, as well as devastated when they don’t get their biscuits – totally understandable when you consider that that’s all they have to look forward to – is it so hard to believe they share this emotion with us? I don’t think so. When I tell you that I’m fairly sure my dog knows exactly what embarrassment is, I expect some of you reading this might say: “yeah, right, he’s projecting his own feelings onto his pet. Classic. Everyone knows dogs don’t see the world in the same way we do.” Well, I can assure you that this is not the case – it runs much deeper than that, actually. I’ve given this a lot of thought, you see. Although our dog, Jojo, has a wider than dog-average range of expressions – and I believe after amassing over 12 years of dog-keeping behaviour I should know enough about this subject to be an authority on it – I’m well aware that her up-and-down and side-to-side eye-brow motions, though convincingly human-like, don’t actually signify embarrassment.
No, Jojo’s embarrassment can be seen in an entirely different way. The first time I noticed it, and the first time she noticed that I noticed it, it went like this…
We’d had Jojo for just a few days. As anyone who has welcomed a new dog into their home will know, the first week is by far the hardest. No matter what the breed of dog is, and how much experience you possess, there’s a lot to adjust to. But in the case of welcoming a Greyhound into your house, it’s much more involved than that.
Without insulting the intelligence of everyone reading this post, allow me, if you will, to point out a few things about Greyhounds. Things which will make sense when you read them, but right now you may well not know.
1) They’re racing dogs, of course. This means that, for many of them, life up until being newly homed consisted of living with other Greyhounds in prison-like kennels (and I mean that quite literally. I’ve seen these and it looks as if the designer modelled them on the very same cells that prisoners on Death Row are held in). This means that aside from being fed and walked they rarely come into human contact, and although friendly enough, they still harbour a noticeable distrust of all humans – something which takes a while to break down.
2) Put a Greyhound on a racing track and they’ll fly. They know sand, gates and speed. Put them in a home, however, and…it’s a very different story. Confronted by a baffling array of alien domestic appliances, electrical equipment and that most feared of all things, the TV, a usually confident Greyhound will be reduced to a whimpering, gibbering mess. The combined sum of it simply blows his or her mind. This adds to their anxiety, as does the floor underneath their claws which is made of anything but sand. Unless you live in a very odd beach-themed house. In which case that’s perfect for your Greyhound, just don’t expect them to not charge around at 40 miles per hour.
So, like I said, we’d had Jojo for a few days. As stressful times in her life went, I assume this must have been second only to the time she first saw her own reflection and thought Well that can’t be right…should my legs be that long and skinny? It looks like they might snap! (OK, so I’m taking artistic license with Greyhound perception and intelligence here – as most are aware, apparently only dolphins and chimps are capable of recognising their own reflections. So please don’t email to tell me that I am factually incorrect, as sometimes people like to do…)
Every night and every morning, Jojo howled and wailed. Why am I trapped in some weird place which doesn’t make any sense to my limited intelligence? she must have been thinking.
Then on the fourth day, while she was lying down, I caught her looking at me funny…looking at me for just a second, then looking down glumly, and repeat. As was her evening routine, and no doubt a tactic to avoid all human contact, she was inside her open iron cage – lovingly supplied with her to make her feel “more at home” – and lying in that very specific way that only Greyhounds do. To be able to picture the way she was lying, all you need do is imagine a very muscular miniature horse lying down on its front with its head bolt-upright and one paw tucked underneath its front. And now I think you see what I mean, right? This posture gives the Greyhound an air of unrivalled class and elegance which is hard to not admire.
But for the life of me I couldn’t work out what that funny look was about…what was it about that look in Jojo’s beady chestnut eyes which didn’t make add up? It would be a number of hours until I would see inside Jojo’s relatively complex psyche and finally work it out for myself…
The next evening was not fun. With little alternative other than jumping up and grabbing the back door key and using her well-honed clawed-paws to turn it in the lock herself – I like to think she pondered this before admitting that she had no other option but Plan B – Jojo delivered an enormous poo onto the lounge carpet. Not just a mound or haphazard heap of poo, either, but one of those victorious standing-upright meer-kat of a poo’s which looked like it had been born out of intense concentration and some serious planning (it was situated exactly in the middle of the room, as if Jojo was trying to say: “I’m really sorry I had to do a massive poo on your beige carpet, but look, I did at least try and make some kind of an art-form out of it.”). This was the first thing that I saw when I came down in the morning. Well, the first thing I saw after I walked in and saw her chewing on something hard and brown…
Things were difficult that day. There was tension in the air, and perhaps Jojo was thinking she was doomed. It was the weekend, and Jojo seemed to sense this too. I had no idea what her weekends had consisted of before, but from the looks of her face – set in a very glum expression of Why me?– they had been something. Being in our house, by contrast, appeared to be a severe let-down. Which is only natural, I suppose. Before she might have been running around with a load of other dogs, feeling like one of the gang, and now she was here with a load of odd pink creatures, in a place which contained magical devices which were nothing less than other-worldy and completely baffling. It must have been a very scary time indeed.
It was that evening when Jojo gave me the look again – a look that, after giving it some real consideration, I could associate with the way a tramp had stared at me once when I accidentally kicked over his cup and spilled five 20 pence pieces out onto the street. This time it came as less of a shock and I was prepared for it, but it was still nothing less than alarming…
What was it about that look?
What was troubling Jojo?
This was when it struck me. The knowledge of it was instant, but it took a while for my brain to process it, to make it all make sense: the guarded posture…the way her forlorn eyes looked down between her paws…the way that whenever I looked down between her legs – or front arms, as I prefer to think of them – she stared at me with that look as if to tell me to back off, to not come any closer.
Jojo was staring down at the dark black crevice of her cleavage and she didn’t like me looking at it. That was what was wrong!
Of course, to begin with, I, probably like you, thought the notion that a dog could be embarrassed about her on-display-cleavage was completely crazy. So my immediate instinct was to take a step forward and crouch down at Jojo’s level. To test my theory. If she reacted even more strongly to this then I was sure I’d be proven right (it crossed my mind that Jojo might well interpret this as me perving on her surprisingly ample muscle-cleavage, but I didn’t worry too much. It wasn’t like she was going to tell anyone, was it?).
I took a step forward, carefully, so as not to alarm her. And just to make sure I didn’t come across as some kind of Greyhound pervert I looked the other way, carefully, and only moved my eyes slowly to her once I was sure she was not alarmed.
When Jojo and I met eyes, there was an understanding. A contract forged between man and bitch, and it went like this: you don’t look at my musclular tits, she seemed to say with her big troubled eyes, and we can move on, OK?
I told her OK, and to this day I avoid looking at her head-on when she is lying down. You have to give a bitch her dignity.
And that, dear reader, is how I know for sure that dogs can be embarrassed.
I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but sometime or another, bathrooms evolved into something else. And with it came toilet seats that could not be slammed however hard you tried! And believe me when I say I tried. When my parents got their new space-age bathroom, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to do the impossible. (And no, for your information I wasn’t bored. Trying to do the impossible is just really addictive, especially when you’re as stubborn about it as I am.)
This is what I am talking about:
Back when toilets used to be really simple things with no gimmicks, fitted with lids that you had to carefully shut yourself , life was easy, wasn’t it? You went to the toilet and opened the lid, and when you were done with your business you closed it again how you wanted to, fast or slow (unless you were one of those people who didn’t bother. Shame, shame on YOU!) If you’re too young to remember what that golden age of bathroom simplicity was like, I feel sorry for you, I really do. But this post is not about dwelling on that tragedy, oh no. This post is about the curse of the anti-slam lid.
Now, it’s completely different. You don’t control your luxury toilet-seat, it controls you.
Yeah, that’s right, the luxury toilet-seat has developed its own consciosness. I always knew it was a matter of time…
For those who still possess regular non-space-age ‘normal’ bathrooms, allow me to elaborate on what you are (supposedly) missing out on:
1) The levitating toilet with anti-slam lid: no, it’s not actually levitating — disappointing, I know, don’t worry about it, I fell into that trap too — it just looks like it is. In fact, it’s attached to the wall with empty space beneath its bottom and the bathroom floor. This allows for easy cleaning and, if you’re a space-age-bathroom-junkie, is the kind of thing which can bring you almost to orgasm just by looking at it. It’s that good.
2) The luxury heated towel-rail: and please, if you’re thinking it’s just warm then get that out of your head right now. It’s so much more than that…it’s really hot and…well, it’s just hot. I know, I know, just try and contain yourself!
There’s more, of course, oh so much more, but I haven’t got time to get into that.
Now, it’s time to talk about the curse of the anti-slam toilet-lid, as I said before.
It started innocently like this:
To begin with I loved the anti-slam lid. In those first few days of our new incredible toilet being installed, my life changed in a number o intriguing and fascinating ways. Such as:
1) I now had something fun to do before AND after I went for a wee / poo!
2) I now had a challenge every time I went upstairs! (To try and get it to slam and make a noise.)
3) I now lived in the future, unlike my pathetic non-space-age friends. Ha!
In other words, life was fantastic. And that’s something I never thought I’d say years ago. How, back then, could I ever have know that a toilet seat would give me so much joy?
Then things changed…and it wasn’t good…
Because every time I went anywhere that wasn’t our bathroom, the urge to slam the lid would come to me. Now, this might sound amusing, but let me tell you that amusement is anything but the word when you slam the non-anit-slam lid so hard that you wake everyone in the house — including a 5 day old baby — up.
And it didn’t just happen once. It happened MULTIPLE TIMES EVERY WEEK. Soon, it turned into a curse that I could not escape.
And nothing worked. No matter how hard I tried to train myself into remembering that not all toilet seats had the anti-slam capability, I just could not do it.
By this point I was avoiding our new space-age-bathroom. Just walking up the stairs and passing the bathroom door gave me the creeps…
…It was almost as if the toilet seat was calling me in some sickening sultry manner: “I’m here, Chris, don’t you want to try and slam me? I bet you do…”
I’d like to say I got over it quickly, but the truth is darker: it took months for me to stop slamming toilet seats and waking babies and their parents up. I’m pretty much there now, but it’s been a testing few months.
So, people, take heed of my warning. Let us go forth into the space-age era, but let us also know about the consequences.
Disclaimer: it’s been so long since I had sex I can barely believe I am writing this article. There should really be a misinformation law against it, and who knows, in some countries there probably is. But fortunately I live in the UK where misinformation from national newspapers is completely legal.
So, what are you about to read? Well, it’s my guide on how to have safe sex of course. (It’s a few years out of date like I said, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue: the problems I’ve covered are ones that I’m certain man and woman have been having since ancient times. Thinking about it, it must have been horrible experiencing the following issues as a cave-man or woman. Imagine the torture of having to get up off the floor mid cave-sex every five seconds so you could scrawl a diagram on the wall. Unthinkable. Not to mention a real mood-killer!)
- Choose an acceptable surface: spontaneous let’s-go-at-it-right-now-or-seriously-my-genitals-might-actually-explode! sex is all good and well, but beware: you pay the price of doing so in skin. Is it worth it? Probably. Almost certainly. Like I said I can’t remember. Even if I could remember I bet I’d lie to myself and make it out to be far better than it was. Right now I’m not sure which sounds better…anyway, back to it. Acceptable surfaces include a) soft surfaces like beds, obviously. If that surprises you then perhaps you need to tame down your animalistic ways. b) smooth surfaces which allow effortless gliding motions, due to their almost total lack of friction. c) hay. I know, I know, it’s rough and goes against all the known laws of anything, but somehow it’s so rough that it’s…soft? Don’t ask me why, as I’d be the last person able to tell you. And the level of softness depends on the amount of clothing you’re wearing, I should have said. You can tell someone who made the horrendous mistake of stripping off completely on raw hay. That’ll be the person who returns to work scratching every inch of themselves for the rest of all time, then.
- Make sure there are no weapons – or, just as importantly, potential weapons – lying around: you know what it’s like…or maybe you don’t. Let’s be honest, I can’t be the only one not having sex, can I? But never mind that, there’s no need to get depressed, let’s just assume you do. Now then, you’ll have seen the film classic Basic Instinct, right? Good (and if you haven’t, please my friend, sort it out!), so that means you’ll be well aware of what damage an ice-pick or other similar sharp object can inflict when delivered to the skull. But hang on a minute…let’s not overlook things. What about that biro next to the bed? Like I said before, the potential lethal weapons…YES, that fat pink utterly innocent biro which looks really un-weapon-like, you’ve guessed it, it’s anything but innocent! Who knows where that might end up in the throws of passion, and no, I’m not just talking about in your eye…
- If at all possible, check the area you are planning to have sex in before-hand to make sure that there’s nothing semi-interesting lying around which might appear in your partner’s field of vision during the intimate act: this, if you really must question my logic, is your ultimate ENEMY, and now I will demonstrate why: If you can, imagine yourself in the tricky mid-throws of sex. That dangerous middle-ground when every little thing you do matters and the slightest lapse in concentration can result in…du-du-du…not pleasing your partner and totally, excuse the pun, screwing up the orgiastic equilibrium! Now, picture the scene so we can see what happens next: you’ve been a wally, haven’t you? Yes, you have. You really shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve only gone and left a bloomin’ Stephen Fry book on the bed! Worse, it’s back cover side up and Stephen Fry’s irritating hyper intelligent smiling face is gawking at you as you try and concentrate…and that’s when your girlfriend sees it and says, “hey, is that a good book?”Basically, at this moment it feels like you’ve just died.“It’s alright” you say, doing your damndest to not look at Stephen Fry, not look at Stephen Fry… “Please babe, I’m trying to concentrate.”It’s at this point when the horrific thing you’d dreaded all along happens: she reaches over and grabs the book and opens it, a smile on her face. “Can I borrow it?” she asks.“Yes, you can!” you say, “but sweetheart?”At this point you try not to make the mistake of shutting your eyes. You know that if you do all you will see is Stephen Fry…“Yes?”“Can we please not talk about it now?”And you fail. You shut your eyes. There, in your mind, is Stephen Fry with your girlfriend’s breasts!“We can’t not do a lot now,” says your girlfriend. And that’s when she stops smiling. Not just her face: her wholebody.See what I mean? You really have to play by the rules.
I’ve literally just experienced yet another tense spider-versus-man encounter – this one happened in the bathroom and was one of those ones that comes out of nowhere – so, while the memory is still fresh in my memory, I want to record it here.
I say I want to record it here…I don’t. Very much I don’t. What right-minded spider-fearer could possibly want that? But that’s beside the point: I need to record it here. Writing about these traumatic events always helps relieve some of the mounting pressure and, most importantly, it spreads the word that the paranoid should feel free to unleash their woes onto the page. That may well result in making yet more people paranoid — and turning just regular paranoid people into super paranoid people — but is that my fault? No, blame it on the spiders and their horrible erratic nature!
It began like I said and as these tense-encounters so often alarmingly do: one moment I was in a reasonable mood, standing in front of the bathroom mirror concentrating on putting tooth-paste onto my tooth-brush – I have written so much in the last week that now there is only a tiny part of my brain that is wordless and able to cope with such things, so it’s not surprising I have a serious constipation face on as I do this – and the next I was leaping back as two sinister forces to be reckoned with dropped down from out of nowhere! The fear diminished slightly as I realised it was actually only a single very small spider – just one sinister force to be reckoned with, then – but quickly ramped-up again when I realised that this was not just any spider…
At first all I knew was that there was something different about it, but standing four feet away from the mirror it was hard to tell exactly what. Then, upon slowly moving bravely towards it, it dawned on me that this was one of those terrible double-body-spider-things that have absolutely no place existing in the realm of human beings. You know the kind? I don’t know the name, but bear with me: I’m talking about them big bulbous ones that make enormous fancy webs and usually inhabit sheds and are even hardy and skilled enough to deal with living outside. The black and white spotted ones with the head bit and the cone-shaped bottom bit and the intelligence. Basically the worst kind of spider you can have drop down in front of you – worse than those floor-dwelling big fanged ones you get, in a way, just because at least they’re not clever enough to be able to drop down out of nowhere. In fact, I doubt they can even spin a web. That makes them look pretty pathetic now I stop and think about it, which will go some way to easing my illogical fear next time I bump into one.
Anyway, to get back to the point, this spider which had taken over the bathroom was a miniature version of a big bulbous shed-dwelling fancy web-spinning one!
I calmed myself down. Think Chris, I told myself, looking down at how enormous my body was compared to the tiny opponent before me. You’re massive, you’re a human being and you’ve got the advantage in every way imaginable. You laugh in the face of insects and spiders!
Then I said, “that’s the way it should work…but why doesn’t it? Why!”
I calmed myself again and reminded myself who was boss here. But more than anything I tried to not think about the growing conundrum in my mind: should I kill it? What if I leave it and it grows into a huge bulbous thing and then that drops down out of nowhere?
I calmed myself yet again, this time closing my eyes. Then I opened them again, scared it was on me.
It wasn’t, it was still just loitering in front of the mirror.
I decided to just focus on the task in hand: brushing my teeth. I had come this far – I had tooth-paste on my brush, I was in front of the mirror, I was prepared for teeth-brushing – and I would not back down now.
It began very jerkily. The main problem was that every time I tried to spit, the spider would start dropping down again towards the tap. I could blow on it slightly, and this seemed to give it a mini kick up the bum and make it scurry upwards with some degree of spidery desperation, but there was always that feeling that if I took my eyes off it for too long it would…do something. And that’s not just my paranoia talking, by the way: after several minutes it had already demonstrated quite clearly that it was more than capable of dropping down at speed and swinging about a bit. Was it too much to assume it had powerful jumping abilities?
I thought not.
Thus stage two began.
And it was going fine until my opponent changed tactics: quickly it was becoming obvious that he was wise to my game, and every time I blew in his direction he just span around a bit and held on tight to his thread. A sense of foreboding came over me, along with the threat of a challenge.
If I was going to complete my full routine here at the sink I was going to have to change my strategy, too, and get even more competitive against my foe!
I’d love to say that I showed the spider who was in charge here. That, very carefully, I took the thread off the mirror with my finger and delivered him to the outside world quickly and calmly.
Did I heck!
Instead, I opted for a much safer option: sharing the mirror with my nemesis; dodging the spider and moving my head wildly to the left every time he got closer to me.
This was where things got really difficult. It appeared this spider was not a fan of sharing…
The hardest thing was doing my head-dodge thing and not splattering tooth-paste on the floor or all over me. It had already happened three times – I had only just noticed – and there was no way I was going to give the little fella (or fellaret) even more to laugh at and go and tell his or her spidery buddies.
“Hey, guess what?” he’d say, “had a really funny encounter with one of those crazy-massive strange creature things.”
He would nod, however spiders do that. I’m probably being presumptuous to assume they nod. He’d probably just wave his leg a bit and go: “Yeah…you should have seen it. It was pathetic. Especially when I swung about and dropped down extra-fast.”
“I Know…wow, I’m glad I was born whatever I am. What am I?”
At this, the first spider would change the subject to weaving a web or something and say: “don’t start again with that existential debate.”
I could go on but you get the idea. They’re intelligent beings, you know. You can never underestimate them spiders!
Anyway, to get back to the point once more, there I was doing my head-dodge-thing.
This next final part took all my brain power up. And there wasn’t much left to start with, so you could say I struggled.
But I got there, slowly but surely I got there. There was a moment when the spider dropped right down almost to tap level and I was overcome with the red mist and thought All I would have to do is spin that baby and you’d be dead-DEAD-DEAD! but in the end I decided against it. I was bigger than that. Quite literally in every way imaginable.
This story does not have a happy ending. Why? Because no sooner had I finally finished with the towel than I had turned around to discover that the spider thing had…gone…
Excerpt taken from the INCIDENT REPORT of Professor Bill McScrewballs
The world is a changing place. We all know this and you can’t really miss it: the glaciers have all but disappeared, the once proud ‘world’s biggest lake’ (Lake Chad) has completely dried up, oil is still being mined and the Dodo is never coming back. More prominent than both of these things (to the general public, at least), is that long-time hit-soap Neighbours has been shifted over to Channel 5 and the price of fuel keeps rising up and up ‘for no good reason’. Thankfully, at least Neighbours keeps running steady. So much for the price of Oil.
I want to talk about progress. Since we have now done all but enough to finish this planet off, and we now want to start to talk about the possibility of saving it (but only talk, why do anything pro-active?), talking about progress and reproducing (not in that order, of course) are two of the few things that there is left to do. And so, it got me thinking…
Progress is all around us. It’s occurring day in, day out, sometimes going somewhere, often going nowhere: now the world is full of combinations, perversions, bastardizations of things. And just the other day I saw the progress monster take a step one too far.
It is because of this that I thought I would add to the list with my own “progressive” inventions. I’m not sure how much commercial appeal they will have, but I’m certain they’d be beneficial to at least a few thousand people.
THE LOVERS SUICIDE GUN
I consider this to be the unbeatable solution to the depressed and woeful lovers’ quintessential problem: how to die instantly and truly together.
If you will, and you can handle it, put yourself in the mind-set of a pair of wannabe suicide lovers for just a moment. There? Good. Now, as you can see, it is not as simple a procedure, this killing-yourselves-together-thing, as you might first think. For example: both of you want to die together (such is the romance of it all, as literature loves to describe). But there’s more: both of you don’t want to be the one left with guilt, with that gun in your hand after having pulled the trigger that first time and killing your soul mate.
So ask yourself: what if the initial attempt at killing said soul-mate goes wrong? What if they are left alive and screaming “Idiot!” and you only have those two bullets on you – in that case you would have to shoot yourself and your lover, again, at the same time the second time, potentially resulting in two embarrassingly not quite dead people. You aren’t at all experienced at this remember, so it could very well go wrong this second time also. You’d look pretty stupid in court trying to explain how you messed that one up, right?
And more: What if the initial shot did do the trick, but you can’t shoot yourself because of some unforeseen problem, or someone walks in, or your conscience – what you believed you had under your control, being particularly suicidal – rears its ugly head and says NOOOOO, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING!!!!?
You guessed it…..
…‘The Lovers Suicide Gun’ would fix all that! Not only would it take the pressure of being the cursed ‘one who pulls the trigger’ but it would absolve the responsibility of having to complete the job on yourself, or look at the bloody aftermath that is a dead body. One shot, all over, all gone. Perfect.
A brief description of the product, so you don’t miss out on any of the details: a double-ended
pistol-style gun shooting in opposing directions, one towards lover, one towards user, with one trigger that fires these two shots at precisely the same time.
Yes, this is one of my favourites.
Obviously, as anyone would, I kept the idea quiet while I ironed out the imperfections – I’d heard plenty of stories of the very best ideas being ripped off, and I didn’t want that for my beloved invention.
…I bought a safe to store the documents in, created a secret language (this took some time) with which to correspond with myself and confuse anyone who might try and steal my idea, and checked the apartment for bugs. After the apartment had been thoroughly turned upside-down in search of bugs and remote government listening devices, I checked the phone: thankfully the line appeared to be safe, but I could not be 100% sure. The line had always been crackly, so I now assumed either I had actually been the target of government surveillance for some time, or the line was just bad. With safety in mind I ripped it out, and this would be the beginning of my zero-tolerance attitude to taking chances which might hamper my ideas success.
I wanted to mount my winning campaign and bring my idea to the masses at once. I was getting impatient.
Haste almost took me, then someone suggested I take ‘a step back and evaluate my idea before attempting to harpoon a striking position in the market-place’. Great advice indeed.
It was a close-call, but I did so – It was good advice. I waited and refined my idea, getting all the details right.
Unfortunately it didn’t go quite as well as I had imagined.
After I had been rejected from the infamous ‘Dragons’ Den’ TV show for wannabe inventors (“Not the right thing for the style of family programme we produce,” they said, “best of luck in the future”), I fired the campaign up a notch. I began to get serious with more drawings and even more plans, knowing it was simply a matter of time until it all went off and the world embraced what could only be described as one of the greatest ideas ever.
I drew up a business plan, consulted several other inventors, but all the while being cagy about what I had up my sleeve.
I just knew it. This thing was going to be…BIG.
Preparation was key.
Two years later I was fluent in ‘Conwadgalism’ (the name means nothing, but that’s the beauty of it!) and the vision was perfect. Then something truly bizarre happened: when I researched again to make sure that no-one had patented a similar invention (I had prepared myself for the worst), I was shocked and astounded to discover that, in fact, NO-ONE had thought up anything of the
sort! It was unbelievable, unthinkable, ridiculous but true. Somehow, my incredible invention had slipped through the net!
On my mission went.
I had a fine custom suit made (using money I had obtained from selling unnecessary teeth and one Kidney to the Japanese Mafia), then booked a meeting with the bank manager, careful to not ruin the surprise on our first meeting. All I had told him up until this point was that I had something fantastic to show him, and that he would be blown-away by it.
On the way to the meeting to secure my funds for world-domination, It went without saying that I presumed other people would fall over themselves to produce the ‘Bill McScrewballs Patented Lovers’ Suicide Gun’. I already could see it, clear as day: the presentation on QVC (shown at least 50 times a day, due to sell-out success). The casual interview on Richard and Judy, uncovering my sensitive side and ending in me being swamped with media exposure, way too much to initially cope with. Not to mention the awards and acclaim and fables, the masses of invitations shutting down the Post Office for days, if not weeks at a time (who knows? I may even need my own Post Office). The stuff of legends. ‘Dragons Den’ (that Scottish bloke especially), the lot of ‘em were going to be kissing my arse. It was their loss and they would be sorry.
In the car-park, half an hour early for my appointment, I went through all my material once more (I’d been wrapped up in learning ‘Conwadgalism’ and the notes had slipped by the way-side). I hadn’t seen some of the notes in a year and a half, and it was both an exhilirating and terrifying time. While not all of the five months of unpaid leave I had taken off work – to write the notes – had been a complete waste, there were definitely hidden turds which were now floating on the top. These were mainly trivial commercial quirks which had nothing to do with the brilliance and genius of the idea itself – sales and marketing rubbish that I would soon hire an accountant to sort out. I would not busy myself with such unnecessary things!
Sadly, the meeting didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Within ten seconds of me showing him my expansive drawings the bank manager decided that it was too much of a risk, and called for security to escort me off the premises as fast as possible.
No matter. I didn’t need the bank. I would simply go it alone now: the hall-mark of any infamous inventor.
I made my own market research. With its impressive numbers of yearly suicides, Scandinavia was my main target country – with Japan following a close second.
I got myself an internet site. I had the text painstakingly translated into Swedish, Danish and Nordish. I almost forgot that leaflets needed to be printed, but once I remembered I leapt into action. Of course I went about this in a big way – I had 100,000 printed…and then I had them laminated.
After all, people on the brink of suicide want to be able to read their leaflet when it comes through the door. They do not need yet more pressure.
Then I heard back from the inventors I had contacted before.
Sadly, they also had a few negative things to say. I took this on the chin of course – jealousy comes in all forms.
The main gripe the inventors had was that my device was ‘single use’ and ‘too niche’. Three said it was ‘just very odd’ and several asked me to never contact them ever again.
It was sad: what I saw as the beginning of a revolution in making suicide as easy and comfortable as possible – a necessary step forward mankind could not do without – others saw as ‘an unprofitable and over-expensive device which there would be limited appeal for in the mainstream and would only be used once at best, and which is actually illegal, if you didn’t know. Is this some kind of a sick joke?’
These so-called ‘inventors’ clearly hadn’t heard of Scandinavia!
That was when the letters began to arrive – and it was about time: two months earlier I had assaulted the entire length and breadth of England with my 100,000 leaflets, containing information regarding my incredible idea and asking them if they were interested. After receiving some twenty or so letters from various private companies rejecting the idea: for example ‘Is this a joke? This is a macabre and useless device. PLEASE stop emailing us’ and ‘We like the Lovers Suicide Gun but feel that it would not fit in well in our current products range, we are sorry’ I hit rock-bottom and experienced a brief depression. I drank too much, but came to my senses eventually and realised that I had come much too far to go back now.
The Gun simply had to be made. It not being made would be a terrible mis-justice. I could not allow that to happen!
Now I was stronger. Ready to take anyone on. I would not be held back: defeat was a word I no longer knew.
Not that you should be surprised about any of that: so is the determination and might of the true pioneer.
And it was now that intense action was called for, because there was no time was to waste.
Next, I spent all my life savings on getting the gun patented over the internet, and a certificate
arrived shortly after; and with that, finally, I felt proud to say that the idea was in the final stages of
Research and Development.
By the year 2018 – approximately, depending on the court-cases which have been filed against me – this must-have product should be available world-wide.
Oh, it feels GREAT to say that!
Continued from before…not to insult your intelligence, dear reader, but I wouldn’t want someone to start here and miss out on Part 1.
Okay, now I feel quite anxious. And used, don’t forget used…
Today, for the second day running, I awoke to find myself on the alien side of the bed. Tucked in neatly, in the same way as I was in Adventures of a horny ghost.
You might, I suppose, put this down to:
- Repetition. My brain, in its boredom, remembered the previous night’s shenanigans and decided to re-enact them just for the hell of it. This I can find understandable: imagine being a brain and being all bored and alone at night and trapped in a useless body that has been paralysed by various defence mechanisms so that it won’t move more than just a bit (the only brains which fall into the exception are those fortunate enough to have grown-up within the body of someone who is a sleepwalker. In sleepwalkers, the cognitive function which keeps the body inanimate in bed, for safety, is disabled, allowing the person to get up and walk about while still technically asleep). Alright, so being the brain you’re in charge of all this, yes, but that’s not the point – now you want to change your mind and make your body dance or play Twister or something and you can’t. Going through the process of waking your body up is just too complicated and it’s late, you’ve got a lot to think about, can you be bothered? No. Better just to make use of the small number of possibilities contained within this bed. You don’t worry too much. You’re a brain trapped in a watery sack in a skull: this comes as no great surprise.
- The ghost in my room having read my blog post – the one where I mocked the ghost and made it quite clear that he or she had gone too far – and now it’s pissed-off. It’s one of those vengeful spirits that is the essence of someone who, when alive, was one of those people who find humour in everything which is wrong about the world. Now, it’s going to keep putting me on the other side of the bed for the rest of my life, just because it can…and that? That’s a frightening prospect: what might it lead to? What might it – sorry he or she, just in case you’re reading this – do once doing this has become the norm? I might be in real trouble here. Don’t expect a Part 3.
- Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just one of those unexpected things which happens to billions of people every single day (or those, at least, who have a bed big enough to be able to sleep on the wrong side of, which cuts the figures down by seveal billion at least, me thinks). Relax Chris, you’re being paranoid! You only woke up on the wrong side of the bed again, you didn’t wake up with your penis turned inside-out!
Except you’re wrong. Not because I did wake up with my penis turned inside-out — that was the first thing i checked — it does mean something. Why else did my left arm really ache when I woke up and understood the gravity of the situation? It may just be my imagination running away with me, but if you ask me, this can only mean one thing: my ghost is actually the spirit of a dead-body-building-fitness-fanatic who is now continuing his or her life’s work: making people ridiculously muscular in their sleep.
I wouldn’t mind this if it wasn’t for the fact that it can’t seem to be arsed with exercising my legs at all. If I’m not careful I’ll end up looking really ridiculous!
So thanks, ghost. Now, thanks to you, I may well have to do intense leg exercise for the rest of my life just to keep up with your sordid ghostly ambitions. I wouldn’t mind this either if it wasn’t for my M.E.
And I bet you knew all about that, right? Having read my blog…
Not to self: do not write a Part 3.
Tonight I will sleep with post-it notes in various places: on my forehead, in my bed, on my ceiling. In these post-it notes I will kindly ask the ghost to consider giving my left arm a break for one night and b) ask my ghost to please, if he or she must, exercise also my right arm.
I will also be translating the writing into Braille, just in case the ghost is blind. And I’ll hope that it doesn’t think I am mocking him or her — or it, just in case it’s an actual demon — and being condescending. And I will hope it — sorry, this dead-body-building-fitness-fanatic human spirit / demon– isn’t illiterate and can read basic English.
I would explain what condescending means just in case it can’t but I have a feeling that if I do that I might come across as being just the opposite. When it looks in its ghostly dictionary and finds out what condescending means, of course.
I think I better leave it at that before I get in any more trouble.
Please ghost man / woman / demon / spirit, if you’re reading this, there’s a man down the street who could do with his arms exercising, why not see if he appreciates your services?
And don’t go getting any ideas about turning his penis inside-out so it looks like a tropical flower or demonstration in blood-stained Origami. I know for a fact he has a wife and although they both have the kind of faces which say “we’ve stopped having sex, we have children now, what’s the point?” I think he’d appreciate keeping it.
Today, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I don’t mean I woke up in a mood after one of my classic tormenting nightmares where even inanimate objects have learned to be sarcastic – and in mine they know how to really take the piss, I can tell you – I mean quite literally woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And I’ll tell you something: it really freaked me out.
Now, this may sound like nothing much to worry about, but believe me when I say it is.
See, since I was a small boy and bestowed with the right to decide which side of the bed to sleep on, I have chosen the left-hand side of the bed (standing in front of the bed and looking at it, I mean). For years I believed the reason for this to be insignificant or arbitrary, but recently I discovered that actually there’s a lot of logic and sense in it (which makes a nice change for me). What I found out was that I always tend to sleep on the side nearest the door – it’s a security thing, conditioning, probably, from my many years of being a notorious petty criminal always needing to be on the run. Not really. The most criminal I have ever been is stealing a handful of penny sweets. Come to think if it that wasn’t even off the shop itself, but through a third party who sold the penny sweets at double price (it was a good earner when your regular customers were sugar-addicted children with no morals. I wished I had thought of it). No, actually I have no idea why I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, but what I do know is that if my house ever sets on fire then I will be in a winning position to run straight to the door, open it and instantly become a smoking hot human kebab. So if I were you I wouldn’t follow my lead, you’re best off sticking to the right. Much better to jump out the window – you’ll break both your legs at once and need six months off work, but on the bright side, at least you’ll still have your looks — and everyone knows that crutches get the ladies. And besides that, 6 months is a long time. Imagine the possibilities…
Another bizarre thing about the way I woke up – which further increased my freak-out-age – was the way that, when I opened my eyes and realised where I was, I was so neatly positioned. To me, this is utterly unexplainable. I am still completely and utterly baffled. If someone had said to me a few days ago, “guess what Chris, in a few days you’ll wake up on the other side of the bed for the first time in a way which defies all known explanation,” I’d have said “yeah right!” Then, after a long drawn-out conversation where they’d promised me they weren’t joking, I’d have said to this person: “okay weird much-too-sure-mind-reader-person…but if that’s true then I’ll definitely wake up like it was a struggle getting there, with the covers everywhere and me in some weird position, like a murder victim.”
Not true my friend….
…In fact, I awoke as if someone had tucked me in the night before. Which means the only logical conclusion I can come to is as follows: a really kind ghost who has been living in my bedroom for years and is sick of watching me sleep on the same side of the bed took it upon him or herself to pick me up and move me and tuck me in.
Great. My room is haunted. That’s a nice thought to have as I go to sleep tonight…
And yes, the first thing I did after I realised I had been tucked-in by a ghost was check my pants were on straight and…check I had pants on at all.
This is another old story, but one that I remember was much fun to write. Don’t expect perfect grammar. But do expect a bit of entertainment. OK, I do on the odd occasion actually get off my computer and leave the house. I’ll be doing that now.
Story’s from an inept journalist
Chapter 1: Darren the ‘Tree Man”
By David Bandypants
You may have heard of ‘B.I.I.D’ (‘Body Integrity Identity Disorder’), an extremely rare ‘disorder’ which has recently gained exposure in the media after an age of being shrouded in secrecy.
Sufferers of ‘B.I.I.D’ say they are driven, by what they can only call a ‘base instinct’, to rid themselves of their perfectly good limb(s), or ability to move, or sometimes even eye-sight. As yet barely researched and classified as a disorder, experts have disagreed, since its general recognition, as to the validity of the condition, and thus what is ethically correct to do about it: if the ‘disorder’ is even a disorder or a treatable condition at all, or whether these people are purely besieged by a tortuous mental illness, and therefore should not be considered eligible for amputation. Because of the fact that many surgeons refuse to operate, or even accept the condition as legitimate, many sufferers are ‘forced’ to perform these ‘essential’ operations themselves, resulting in varying degrees of success and in some cases, death.
Now meet Darren James Wood’s, a 25 year old man from Dundee, in Scotland. Darren, however, is no ordinary Scotsman.
After a meeting consisting of over 100 of the worlds top experts – including authorities on many of the worlds strangest disorders, phobias, and unexplained neurological conditions – Darren was diagnosed, on June 19th 1990, with ‘Copy-Cat Tree Syndrome’ (or CCTS for short). According to Dr William Sothering, head of Canada’s ‘Research of Science and Metaphysics Division,’ one of the few ‘experts’ able to comment on the subject (of which no official experts are known to exist, the ‘syndrome’ is thought to be so new) Darren’s condition: “makes B.I.I.D look like the common cold by comparison.”
As it stood, at that moment in time, Darren was the sole and exclusive sufferer of the condition –no other similar case could be found to exist in recorded history anywhere in the world. Dr Harold McArthur of Oxford University – one of the 100 experts at the aforementioned meeting in April 1990 – put it like this: “It appears that the sufferer(s) don’t just want to look like trees, they truly believe they are trees themselves. Darren has us all perplexed – he’s kind of like the real Frankenstein’s monster of the science-freak-show world right now, he is just so abnormal. We would appreciate it if you kept that part off the record, and please do not include my name or the university’s location in this statement, I would like to keep my job.”
Speaking out for the first time in interview, Darren said: “Until I fell and bumped my head I absolutely hated trees. After the accident that all changed. After it, I couldn’t get them out of my head, they invaded my every thought. That was when I knew it….I was a tree. It was suddenly all so obvious…”
What makes Darren’s case even more intriguing is the contrast between who he had become and who he once was.
At the age of nine, Darren developed ‘Fear of trees’, known in scientific circles as Dendrophobia, an intense and debilitating hatred of trees (and a dislike of general shrubbery, including bushes and weeds – not considered serious at the time, as most people intensely disliked weeds, and to be honest not much has changed on that score).
Darren continues: “It was sod’s law. My mum owned a bonsai tree shop, so of course I never bloody well went in there. Just the sight of a tree, even a small one, would make me instantly want to throw up. When I was 10, I got in some trouble with the pigs (police) for attacking a Cherry tree at the end of the road with a motorcyle long chain. After that day I didn’t eat Cherry’s anymore neither. The next week, balls to the restraining order, I went back and finished the job with a chainsaw good and proper – ever since the accident I haven’t been able to forgive myself for what I did. It feels like I have murdered a brother.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it.
A walk with his mother and father, on what was an otherwise ordinary winter day in December 1976, turned into a sap-blood-bath when a freak gust of wind threw a branch in Darren’s way, disturbing him to the point of extreme violence.
“He just freaked out – it was out and out insanity,” said Mr. Woods, a 56 year old carpenter of 25 years. “He started attacking every branch there was, and there was a lot of course what with it being a wood – snapping them, shouting at them, ripping them into pieces and then eating them. We were at our wits end after that one. It took 8 years for the trees which Darren obliterated to gain any kind of footing again, and when they did he returned with a chainsaw and tore the shi* out of them all over again. There are only so many times you can give someone packets of seeds as an apology before it starts to get embarrassing.”
The next few years were frequently plagued with similar incidents, but In 1987 it came to a head, an eruption which not even his family could have foreseen: Darren was imprisoned for three years after he burnt down his mother’s shop and, in the same night, went on a rampage through Dundee, systematically breaking into every single property he could find where his father’s carpentry had been installed, destroying the wooden structures – one of which was an alter in a church – until there was nothing but wood-chippings left. Mr Woods, who is now retired but still works on wood in his spare time, commented further on this difficult time: “After that I had to give up the idea that Darren might one day take over the family business.”
Events then took an even stranger turn. Before the accident that changed everything, after his release and sitting in his orchard in York two years ago – with his girlfriend Tammy, a tree-hugger and self-proclaimed ‘tree telepathist’ – Darren summed up his prison experience like this: “Apparently there are two kinds of people that cons (convicts) really don’t like: one is paedophiles, the other is tree / shrubbery haters. You know you’re in trouble when your only friends are child molesters.”
One of Darren’s prison ‘friends’, George Witheringham, originally from Portsmouth high-street, presently living in Birwood Road, Weston Super Mare, explains how he saw the incident unfold all that time ago:
“I ended up inside with Darren because I was on the run from death threats and had to sell smack (cocaine) to make ends meet. He was my only friend. I don’t remember much about that day apart from that there were a few members of Greenpeace who had been transferred to the prison that week and had taken an instant disliking to what Darren had done in the past – and his general attitude of course – especially to a Cherry tree, I think, which was quite an infamous incident. One of the big guys from Greenpeace had him by the arms, another bloke – I think he used to work for The National Trust – started punching him in the face and saying “this is for the trees!” Darren managed to get free but then he fell and bumped his head. The thing was, ater he got up it was like he was another person. Darren had really changed…”
It was only when Darren started requesting to see American History X – empathising with what Edward Norton’s character ‘Derek’ goes through on his road to reform – and showing a worryingly high interest in painting trees on the walls of his cell that psychologists began to suspect that Darren had suffered a severe brain malfunction which might be affecting his phobia in an even more peculiar way than normal. According to Psychologist Gillian Armsworthy, Darren spent, “Every waking moment and sometimes even during sleep, painting pictures of ‘fantasy’ trees of all shapes and sizes. Considering his phobia we thought it wise to transfer him into supervised medical care straight away. He was scaring the other inmates, even the big ones.”
Darren was transferred at once: the brain scans showed that he had a small amount of non-fatal bleeding but was otherwise okay. Well, as okay as Darren could be. He finished the remainder of his sentence under medical and police supervision in an undisclosed hospital location.
DAYS OF FREEDOM
By the time Darren was released his ‘condition’ had accelerated greatly. He was still obsessed with American History X, and was now not only producing up to 50 ‘paintings’ a day of what he called ‘like looking in a mirror’, but making rubbings of local tree bark and framing them. According to Sherry Finwood of ‘Love That Tree!’ magazine, Darren expressed interest in becoming a contributor and suggested, in his letters, that readers “get free bark rubbings as a kind of gift from me. I want to put something back, to apologize to my real tree family which I mocked for all too long. I see this as going some way to making it up to them.”
Darren swore an oath that he would never touch a chainsaw again.
He was considered mentally stable – he showed no signs of dangerous behaviour, if anything quite the opposite – and moved in with his mother, Jillian Woods, who had by then forgiven him. Just. Talking presently, two years after the final incident in Darren’s life, Jillian recalled how that first week was: “Darren spent the first half of the week trying to convince me to let him work in my new shop, but due to insurance reasons, my gut feeling, and the advice of the FBI and ‘Recovering Criminal Minds and Systematic Tendencies Division’ I had to stay firm and say no – they said it was possible he might have a tree…sorry, re-lapse. He looked devastated that he couldn’t work with his trees, like a boy who’d just had his balloon popped.”
But Jillian could never have suspected what she might find when she came home that Friday night and entered the bathroom:
“I was utterly dumbfounded” she said, commenting on the tree tattoos which she caught Darren etching into himself with a home-made knitting-needle tattoo gun, “He looked like an oak tree which had sprouted legs and could, well…..walk.”
Jillian at once sought the advice of medical professionals, who informed her that nothing could be done, since Darren was over the age of 18 and: “could legally look like an Oak tree if he wanted to and didn’t harm anybody else in the process.”
As the weeks and months went by, Darren covered more and more of his body with the home-made tattoos – starting with his chest, then moving onto his arms and finally, his legs – until, after five months, and to the devastation of Jillian, “not one piece of my Darren was left free of either what looked like a root, or bark. Darren was never very gifted at art – his face looked more like it had been splattered with dog shit than bark, if I’m being honest.”
It was a winter Sunday in 1989. Six months had passed since Darren had moved back home. He had spent the majority of this time inside the house putting the finishing touches to his tattoos – his body was now, as he proclaimed, ‘full-tree’ and his face was by this point unrecognisable from beyond several feet; when he wasn’t inside doing this he would venture out into the local wood, where, according to Jillian Woods, he would “spend many hours just standing with all the other trees, or as he put it ‘being at one with them and feeling what they feel, how they are.'”
Jillian talked distressingly about how Darren asked her to accept his new persona and
visit him in the woods, where he said he was ‘born to be’: “I was busy with work – which I have to admit did benefit from Darren acting strange – and happy to leave him to it, but he insisted that I ‘see him as he is supposed to be seen’. I finally decided to take a day off and do it just to shut him up. When I got there I couldn’t find him anywhere, of course: I had to call him on his mobile phone in the end – it turned out he was standing right next to me! He really did look like a proper man-sized oak tree. Darren was naked, it was really quite terrifying. I had to start taking him
seriously then. It’s not right seeing your son naked like that, all made-up like a tree…”
It seemed that finally Darren was becoming accepted.
Over the coming weeks Jillian and Darren became closer, with Jillian making repeated trips to the woods with packed lunches and non-paper based toilet paper. Darren admitted at this point to sending letters to his father, urging him to give up his career as a carpenter and thus ‘destroyer of the trees worlds.’ No response came.
Almost over-night at this point, Darren became an international celebrity. The local gossipers stopped their joking. Tourists began to flock to the woods to witness what people were now calling ‘The Dundee Tree Man Phenomenon’. Eventually, Darren made the cover of ‘Time’, ‘The Daily Mirror’ and ‘The Sun.’ Such was the success of Darren’s evolution into the trunk of a tree that the following year ‘See the Tree Man!’ tours started up – thousands of people from all over the world hoping to catch even a glimpse of the elusive ‘Tree Man.’ The increasing lengths that Darren was by then going to, including self-implanting real tree-roots into various parts of his body in order to ‘feel more tree,’ were by this point making walking a particularly amazing, difficult and impressive activity. The small commercial boom that had flooded Dundee with wealth soon fell flat on its face though – the tour guides just could not find Darren anymore.
Subsequently, the tourists wanted their money back.
On the fourteenth of August 1998, Darren – mocked by the unevenness of his half human / half tree lifestyle, and switching between days attempting to ‘help’ in the shop and spending nights in the forest – became overtaken with the idea of completing ‘his life’s work.’ He then decided to move full-time into the forest, for good.
Jillian comments on helping him move out: “He just took a shovel, said he would keep all his stuff in a hole in the ground. I remember it being sad, but for the right reasons. I always expected he might one day leave and never return, but part of me thought he might do it to have a family. Still, it was what he said he wanted. The last time I saw him he looked more like a tree than a tree did. He said he now wanted to ‘put down his roots and enter the final stage’ and that was the last time I saw him before I heard about what had happened.”
The legacy of ‘The Tree Man’ is shrouded in dispute: some say his death was the result of a fanatical stalker obsessed with Oak tree bark, while philosophers and researchers of the meaning behind ‘The Tree Man’s’ mythology – on which a radio series was produced and film rights acquired – argue that it was self inflicted: a statement pointing towards the recent deforestation that had begun in the close proximity to where his body was found, one which ‘aimed to show the world that trees have feelings too.’
Despite his frequent writings, often left on leaves in the forest, Darren attracted little attention from the literary community.
One fact is not disputed, but many conspiracy theories have been born of it. On the 14th September, 2001, three years after Darren Woods had put down roots in the Hirshee woods of Dundee never to be seen again, his body was found buried in undergrowth – half root, half flesh.
Now, after much talk, one opinion – suppressed because of its raw honesty and radical style – has begun to tower above all others, and is gaining weight and supporters all the time.
The new book, written by the psychologist Gillian Armsworthy: ‘A Tree Man’s Legacy: The Incredible Life and Times of Darren Wood’s,’ considers a new and more terrifying possibility – that another force may have been at work, one ‘as far away from revolutionary means and purposes as can be thought humanely possible, but nevertheless equally as devastating and born of man.’
Nobody really understood what the hell that meant.
In the book, where Ms Armworthy narrates the becomings and complexities of her own friendship with ‘The Tree Man’ himself, and his many intriguing facets, Ms Armsworthy dares to suggest her radical perspective with no less than full-force; blaming ‘The Tree Man’s’ death not only on modern man – but naming and shaming the exact cause of his demise. The following is an extract from ‘A Tree Man’s legacy: The Incredible Life and Times of Darren Wood’s,’ now a major international best-seller and motion-picture that is set to break box-office stats and out-do ‘Harry Potter’.
‘Do not believe what has been said of ‘The Tree Man’s’ death, for it is of no depth of truth whatsoever. While I believe that his death was not directly caused by man’s interference – and certainly not by a crazed stalker obsessed with Oak trees (as he was caught several weeks previous to ‘The Tree Man’s’ death, while in the process of having sex with one) – I do believe that man must be held accountable for its actions.
With the kind help of Dundee Council and Police I have managed to obtain files pertaining to the find of ‘The Tree Man’s’ body on that fateful day. My aim is to cast the shadow of lies away with this, and to finally allow Darren Wood’s, aka ‘The Tree Man’ to rest in piece where he may.
According to an unedited on-site report from Mr. Victor Davies, a Policeman on duty that day: ‘Even with saws it took four Policemen over two hours to cut through half of the roots which connected this weird tree man to the forest floor. The other half were severed using a chainsaw, and we all had a good laugh about what Darren would have said to that.’
‘A dog-walker found him at 7:30am There were no bullet wounds, bite marks, slashings or lacerations of the skin as from knives or any other sharp weapon. His skull – what looked like a coconut wrapped in thick snakes of leathery roots – was fully intact. It appeared he was distressed when he died. No blunt instrument had been used here on the head either. We began to remove the roots and moss. Moss had grown over most of his back and chest and legs. Getting it off was hard work. A flame-thrower would have been very handy. You would normally expect to find blood at a crime-scene such as this. With the ‘Tree Man’ we only found wood-chippings.’ ‘The men were tired of hacking at the roots with police equipment, I can tell you. It was obvious we needed a gardener with some quality sheers, or a minor miracle. The next best thing was a bloke named Dave Green, a carpet fitter from a nearby village who did me hall carpet. He at least had some tools. When Dave arrived he had a tool-box with him. He straight away got to work on the body, treating it like a giant roll of heavy carpet. He had a special carpet cutting knife but even that was useless on all the
moss and stuff. In the end he took out a circular saw and got to work. In half an hour all
the roots were off and Dave was extremely tired, but giddy with excitement.’
“Ah, bloody hell you know what did it don’t you? You know what killed him now don’t you?” Was what he said.
I said ‘No’. To me it just looked like a big furry mess.
Dave pointed at the freaks ‘branches’ – I couldn’t see a bloody thing. He pulled me closer, which was uncomfortable, but I did as he said. Had to have something to write here didn’t I Jane?
“Now ya see, don’t ya!” he said again.
It was getting embarrassing. I pulled out my reading glasses. Dave wanted me to look closer still. I didn’t see.
“Now you can’t miss it” he exclaimed. I looked again. It seemed that actually I could. Dave walked over to a tree and started head-butting it. He had me worried for a second. Several of the officers were pointing at Darren’s chest and ‘face’, they appeared to have found something of interest. I wanted a coffee.
“Now you get it don’t you?” he said.
I went up to him and said, “What the hell are you on about Dave, why don’t you just spell it out for me so I can finish this bloody report and go and catch some real criminals!”
And he did. In capital letters: W-O-O-D-P-E-C-K-E-R-S-K-I-L-L-E-D-H-I-M-!
A year after ‘The Tree Man’s’ death, two weeks after the opening of ‘The Tree Man Legacy’s’, directed by David Fincher of ‘Fight Club’ fame – which shattered box-office records on its opening weekend – the court case surrounding the mystery of Darren Wood’s demise came to an end, after making headlines across the world.
Speaking directly after the surprise guilty verdict, a rare occurrence for a Judge, but telling of the effect of ‘The Legacy,’ Judge Herbert Winnameyer said: “It is good that closure can be found for ‘The Tree Man’s’ legacy and his tree-obsessed wife, and son ‘Redwood’ who hid out with him during those final days.”
It turned out it was like this: a Mr. Humphry Leggard of Sheffield appeared to be so obsessed with killing ‘The Tree Man’ that he imported 500 especially bred ‘killer woodpecker’s’ – from Brazil – to attack Mr Wood’s in his ‘home turf.’ We see the life-sentence as a fitting punishment for the 29,345 peck-marks which were eventually identified on Darren’s body.”
Oh my God, babies! Babies are brilliant. I absolutely love them but I’ve had mixed experiences with the little blighters. Okay, this is ‘Yasmin and Babies’ in a nutshell.
They’re fascinating, as you yourself have discovered in your lovely post on your friend’s wee one, but they can reduce you to a state of terror when you hold them and they start wailing. I was so excited about meeting my friends boy back in February, I thought I’m good with babies, this will be nice – but at 6 weeks old, his head still needed supporting and I was trying not to suffocate him with my long hair as I sat down to cradle him; so he could sense my awkwardness. And literally twenty seconds later it was game over. Screamed himself puce until I finally conceded defeat and handed him back. I was like ‘Sorry I broke your baby.’ It was awful. I was gutted. Rejected! And it made me wince that it took him forever to stop crying after that.
But my friend Pamela has a son, Alex, who I adore and have carried all over the place since he was an infant, who when he was about a year old set off around the house with his dad behind him to find out where I’d got to when I’d vanished for a nap one day, and when he found me, he demanded to be hoisted on the bed so he could curl up with me for a cuddle. That was really lovely.
My favourite kinds of babies are the ones that let you cuddle them lots and are slightly chubby, smell slightly milky and just nuzzle into you. Like a big, purry cat minus the fur and tail. I met a baby called William once at a party and he was gorgeous. He just curled into my chest and smiled a lot. A very contented little man. I held him for ages when I was talking to his parents. The next day, when I woke up, my biceps were so sore and I didn’t understand why, and I was weirdly impressed when I realised it was because of him! He weighed a ton but was such a sweetheart I couldn’t hand him back:
My worst baby experience. I’m not even sure I should share this, but with you having confessed in fantastic detail to being 10 seconds away from having a pretty excruciating ‘ trouser accident’ on a German flight, I figure I’ll survive. And don’t judge me lol!
When I was 15, I spent 3 months in Pakistan with my mum and brother. It was an unforgettable experience for many reasons – being chased down a road by a gang of men on a motorbike for giving them the finger, falling so madly in love I gave myself a fever, and going 3 days without sleep at a wedding as I was so utterly wired. And also for meeting the ugliest baby I’d ever seen in my life!
I know everyone says all babies are beautiful. Well, that’s rubbish! This was the scabbiest, blotchiest, crankiest, angriest naked little baby ever. He was comically ugly and I know it’s mean to say all that. I put my hand up and admit it!! Think of a tiny Jabba The Hut (he was fat!) blended with a Sontaran – see here: https://dailypop.wordpress.com/tag/david-tennant-catherine-tate-sontaran-doctor-who/
And that might give you some idea. Seriously. The poor boy was minging.
Even my demure, dignified mum was smirking when she was telling me off for the stuff I was saying. But the baby got it’s revenge and the last laugh. After observing him for a while, curiosity got the better of me, I picked him up to have a closer look at him. When I told him to his red little face he was ugly – he responded accordingly and did a big, massive wee all over me!! Yes, I totally deserved that. I was lucky he didn’t do a giant, baby poo! Even I laughed at the time as did all my relations. It was hilarious!
Moral of the tale, don’t tell ugly babies they’re ugly! They really don’t like it. I was suitably chastised. I don’t think I picked up a baby for a long time after that.
Babies rock; they don’t do much but eat, sleep, smile, cry, wee and poo but they’re hypnotic to observe, enchanting little miracles (until they hit two) and wield an amazing amount of power nonetheless : ) And yes, to the eyes of their parents at least ( she says grudgingly), all babies are indeed beautiful.
Imagine a job interview like this:
“So, (insert your name here, reader), I’m ready for you now, if you’d like to come with me.”
Together you and this hypothetical man, or woman, walk down a corridor. It’s a corridor that although out of the way is clearly paid a lot of attention. This attention-to-detail is very promising. Who knows? This could be your potential place of work! You’re glad you pulled that manky paper out of the bin in the park after all – the paper with INTRIGUING JOB OPPORTUNITY AVAILABLE NOW circled in marker-pen – even if it did have dog poo on it.
You both sit down. Just so there’s no gender confusion, let’s say the person who is about to interview you is a woman. A woman in her late forties who still has looks very much on her side, and who clearly pays as much attention to herself as the cleaners of this place pay to the corridors, the rooms, even the far-away corners where no cob-webs lurk.
You have a good feeling about this interview. You can’t say why, but for some bizarre reason it feels like it might just change your life.
“Okay,” says the woman, in that elongated way which tells you that she’s buying her time and in no rush. She smiles at you. “Did the receptionist point out all the details?”
The woman’s eyebrows raise slightly and she slowly opens her mouth. “Sorry,” she says, “head all over the place. What I mean to say is the unusual nature of the job. The hours and the pay, that kind of thing.”
You think back to when you came in and remember the receptionist and how she made a special effort to come out from behind the desk. Unlike other job interviews you’ve recently been to, there was nobody else in the waiting room when you arrived this time: zero competition. It didn’t strike you as particularly strange at the time, but thinking about it again, the way the receptionist speed-talked through the ‘unusual’ characteristics of the job does. When it happened you just put it down to her being busy, but now you can’t help but wonder if that was what it was.
Either way, you still have a good feeling about this job, and when you look at the woman, who is waiting anxiously for your answer, you only feel it more.
“She mentioned it very quickly,” you say.
“Good, good, fantastic,” says the woman, and she passes you a form and looks at you, nodding slowly. “The contract?”
“The contract,” you say, slightly taken aback. “…What about it?”
The woman’s mouth behaves like it should be laughing, but no sound comes out. It’s one of those bizarre moments which makes you question everything you have said and everything you are about to. “Well,” she says, “you’d like the job, wouldn’t you?”
“Like it?” You’re about to say: “yes,” when you stop yourself. Something is wrong here. It’s the dream scenario you’ve been wishing would just bloody happen for months, but now it’s here, it’s soiled somehow.
Soon you decide it’s probably just you. Watching too many films, again. Relax!
“You would like the job?” the woman says again. It may just be you inventing this in your head, but now you look at her, don’t you think she looks slightly…worried?
You’re now holding the contract. In fact, your hand is poised to sign it, your fingers putting just the right amount of pressure on the pen to drop it onto the paper. You do not how this happened but it scares you, for some reason. At this point, all the oddities add up and you find yourself almost leaping back from the table.
The woman says: “Is everything alright Mr/Mrs (insert your name here)?”
You nod but say nothing as you collect your thoughts. Then you sit back down – you were standing by the door as if she was brandishing a machete dripping with blood – and smile and say “could we just get a few things clear before I sign? If that’s okay?”
“Yes…yes…clear a few things up…”
No, you were not mistaken. The woman is worried. She’s staring down into her lap and is more than a bit wobbly. She looks up and way before you expected her to, she speaks and has undergone a complete transformation: she’s absolutely fine and not shaken at all. “That’s fine,” she says, calmly. “Then you can start straight away if you like.”
Told you it was a great day. It’s all turning around!
“That sounds fantastic,” you say, it just comes out of your mouth. “So, the first thing is the hours…the receptionist said something about I’ll be working some weekends?”
The woman puts her hands together, elbows on the desk. She clears her throat and, with one hand, corrects the stray hairs on her forehead. “Yes…that’s correct…more than likely quite a few weekends.”
You’re the kind of person who likes a bit of clarity. You’re fun and you’re great to have a laugh with, but when it comes to things like work and money and hours and things, you do prefer to know the exact details. You blame it on your father or mother (this can be up to you). “Right,” you say, “and when you say quite a few weekends you mean…”
In that exaggerated, over-the-top way that is so blunt it immediately creates an awkward silence for the seconds after, she says, “quite a few!”
The awkward silence comes.
And you say, “right!” but toning it down a bit so that slowly, but not too slowly, you’ll be able to transition the normality back into this situation. “So you mean a couple every month? I’m sure I can handle that.”
The woman makes scales with her hands. All of a sudden she seems very interested in sorting out the papers on her desk. “I should definitely think so!” she says, “that is a certainty!”
Those two words, definitely and certainty, ring massive, looming – horrifying, you might say, if you’re of the dramatic nature – alarm bells. This woman, pleasant as she seems, needs to know that yes you’re willing to work hard, but it can’t all be one way. Best to establish these things at the beginning and get off on the right foot.
So you begin: “when you say definitely a couple of weekends a month, do you mean just Saturday’s? I’m sure I can manage two, three at a push, I just want to be completely clear on that if you don’t mind.”
“Completely clear on that…yes…” the woman says, gazing up at the ceiling. She turns to look at you and shuts her eyes slowly, and the way she’s smiling like that again can’t disguise the way she just swallowed, or the way her fingers are looking for things to do.
One minute later, not much has changed. In fact, worryingly, you now notice you are leaning over the desk, towards her, in the way that always happens in romantic movies where two people who should have realised they were in love with each other seemingly hours ago — like you and a million other people did — are now just about to.
As her eyes open you jump back and she jumps back. You realise that the way you were just leaning forward may have been misinterpreted.
(Insert the level of cleavage this woman has here, please.)
The next few seconds are not much fun. You both sit there, and when you do finally work out what to say next, she speaks at the same time.
There is another awkward silence where you wish you had never decided to go jogging in that park. Why does jogging always turn out to be a bad idea, either emotionally or physically?
“Can I be totally honest with you?” says the woman.
“Yes please,” you say, as the relief of the words hit you.
“Right…yes…of course,” says the woman, and gets up. She turns around and looks out of the window (insert your own personal preference for what she’s looking at here. If you’re a man or woman-loving-woman, you may wish to strip her of her clothes, but don’t let me put that image in your head. I’d hate to do that). “I’m sorry for being so cryptic. It’s just I’ve interviewed a few people for the job and for some reason it never seems to pan out.”
You feel bad now. Shouldn’t you have noticed this before? Perhaps you have an apology to make.
“No, I’m sorry,” you say, “maybe I’m being a bit paranoid. I suppose that’s a bit silly really. Let’s sit down and discuss it.”
This should be when the woman turns around, but she doesn’t. You wonder, then, if she even heard you. You don’t have a tendency to mumble under pressure, don’t you?
One way to not actually ask if she heard it is to say just what you said before, but in a new order and all full of sympathy. “I suppose we all get a bit paranoid sometimes,” you say, “I know I do. I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m a pretty open (insert gender here). And I have been looking for a job for a—”
“Wonderful!” The woman spins on one foot. Her eyes are a bit red, but not like she’s been crying. Instead, this is the kind of face someone wears when they were very close. “Great! So you’d be open to hearing about it? For a minute there I was sure I’d scared you off.”
This makes you want to laugh, genuinely. You, scared off? That’s not like you at all. Now, you rewind time. Inside your mind, you go back to when you came in and alter everything you thought about the receptionist, and all the tiny negative things you picked up on about this woman. Now you are ready to begin again.
As the woman sits down slowly, lowering herself into the chair like it’s a seat-of-nails, you say, “I’m definitely open to hearing about it. I’m sorry if that’s the impression you got. Please, tell me all about the job.”
The woman’s lips quiver. She breathes what appears to be an enormous sigh of relief. You feel like giving her a big old hug. There-there, you’d tell her, it’s all fine. Whatever problems you have in your personal life it’ll all be alright. It’s the world’s biggest most cruelest lie ever, of course, but right at this moment it’d be completely acceptable. After all, everyone does it, right?
So she begins.
You’ll be working both Saturday’s and Sunday’s. Oh, and some evenings too. Overtime will be common. And some bank holidays. And probably early at times. Often it’ll be very unexpected. You’ll think you’re about to have a free day and then suddenly it’ll be an impossibility and you’ll have to call your friend and cancel.
You nod. It’s a lot of work – far more than you ever imagined, yes – but you’ve been looking for a challenge for a while, haven’t you? And that Thai Chi…you weren’t really cut out for it anyway. And yeah, Yoga sounds fun, but can you really be arsed? Unlikely. This sounds much more interesting: something for you to really get your teeth into.
She goes on, telling you about how much self-improvement it will bring you. The job, she says, is a very demanding one but it’s something that will do incredible things for you. You assume it’s some kind of admin job, or processing papers for some very good reason which only a fool would turn down. At the root of it is probably some kind of charity-aid thing. Yes, that’s it: you’ll be helping orphans in a developing country, or saving kids from kidnapping, or elderly people from being alone at Christmas.
This woman sitting in front of you? She’s basically Gandi.
“This all sounds really fantastic,” you say. The woman’s eyes light up. Sharply, so you jump a bit, her hands leap up off the table to cover her mouth. Her head shakes.
“Oh,” she says, “that is wonderful. So wonderful. Gosh…I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”
Now onto the specifics: you will need to be organised, fastidious, meticulous with your spelling and grammar, and willing to go over the same work over-and-over-again until it’s as good as it can be. That means looking at the same text for years at a time, too. No problem! You got great English marks at school, and it’s always been in your nature to pay close attention to things which others tend to miss.
You go to speak but she puts her hand up to silence you. Then she says sorry, not that you mind – oh, she’s such a nice woman – and continues.
There will be rejection. Masses of it.
No sweat, you think, I’m sure I’m old enough to handle a few No’s.
She says there will be the following: 1) lots of criticising of your work, to make it better. Lots of feeling like it’s never good enough. 2) Many moments when you think you are finished for the day, or night, or day-and-night, and then, out of nowhere, a slew of work appears. 3) Moments when you honestly wonder why you are bothering, followed by times when you think that you’ve made a dreadful mistake. There will be other times, of course, when you are just so proud of what you’ve achieved. You probably won’t tell anyone about it, but you’ll hint at it, and that will be enough.
To all these things, you smile and say, “I’m sure I can handle it.”
The woman is already up out of her seat and in a flash she’s hugging and thanking you. Looking in her eyes there’s something…else which you can’t put your finger on, and this is accompanied by a moment when you wonder, just for the smallest moment, if she’s about to suddenly put her hands down your pants (if you’re imagining this from a straight man’s perspective) or up your skirt (if you are a gay woman. Please, no emails to say I directed you into thinking this. It’s your imagination!).
She does none of these things. She just stands up again, apologises for her extreme show of excitement, and sits back down behind the desk.
What an angel.
There’s just one thing you absolutely must ask her before you sign that contract. It’s essential, and as much as you hate to do this – and are also sure it’s a ridiculous question – you have to. It’s just the way it is.
“Forgive me for having to say this,” you begin, “but can I ask about the money? I suspect it’ll be more than enough, considering everything the job’ll entail and all the hours and stuff, but I’m sure you understand I had to ask.”
The woman has a pager in her pocket and it has just bleeped telling her her dad, who has been very sick for some time, has just passed away. This is why she is frozen, staring at you, with one single tear running down her face. That’s all in your mind, but is that so crazy? After all, it’s the only thing that can possibly explain the slow-but-always-growing-gasping-turning-to-wailing sound that is coming out of her mouth.
“Are you alright?” you say.
“Hey…er, would you like me to get someone?”
Still nothing. This is a bit scary…
It’s time to make an executive decision (you’re either a person who’s good at doing this, or you’re not. I’ll let you decide, and you can even lie if you want to. How good is that?)
As you stand up and walk backwards to the door, you keep expecting her to snap out of it. She doesn’t, and she’s in the worst kind of frozen…the trance-like kind where you’re worried if you touch her you’ll only make it worse. She’ll have a fit or something. God, this is one of those horrendous rare-illnesses TV documentary makers absolutely live for!
One last check as you open the door and leave the room. By now the wailing sound has subsided. Now she just sits there. You need to act FAST.
You run down the corridor. You’re flat-footed, so it’s not a good look, but this isn’t a time to be worrying about looks (if you were. But again you can pretend you weren’t. I’m never going to know and neither is anyone else, right).
You’re drawn to the receptionist, even though you could stop and knock on a door, or just run through an open one and tell someone who is busily working. Although the receptionist is at the end of a corridor that feels miles long, you’d rather tell her, seeing as she obviously knows a fair bit about the job, even if she wasn’t letting on. This just feels like the right thing to do.
The receptionist, thankfully, isn’t on the phone when you get there. She’s just leafing through a magazine. There’s a tiny flash of jealousy as you reach her desk, but you bury it quickly.
“Oh,” she says, “it’s you,” and in your panic you feel like this is somehow a bad thing. You calm down and stop and catch your breathe and think She must have been a bit off like that because I came running down the corridor, it’s understandable. Plus everyone knows receptionists don’t run, so she’s probably jealous. Jealous of a flat-foot, wow that’s tragic…
The woman, you remind yourself, What if she’s toppled off her chair and banged her head?! And I was the last person to see her alive!
“You’ve got to hurry,” you say, the panic returning full-force. “The woman who’s interviewing me has had some kind of a breakdown. I mean a serious one. Like on TV.”
The receptionist doesn’t look surprised to hear this. “Go on,” she says, still flicking through the magazine. “I’m listening.”
You need to be more forceful.
“She’s just sitting there…” you say, “she won’t say a thing or move or anything…I think something must be really wrong.”
“I really am listening,” she says. “Please, don’t let me stop you.”
This very serious, not-in-any-way-funny comment is greeted with a laugh which she does not disguise in any way.
“Did you just hear me?” you say, “I said she’s had a bloody breakdown or something. Christ, call an ambulance or something, or at least go and see her. We can’t just leave her like this.”
The receptionist is now giggling. She stops eventually, but not until you’re almost at the corridor again, looking to find someone else who isn’t an absolute idiot. “I’m sorry,” she says, “she does that from time to time.”
You shout, “does what?” and not just because you’re a few metres away. “Are you telling me this has happened before or what?”
The receptionist tilts her head and there, now. She’s got the message alright.
You meet her in the middle of the room.
“You asked her,” says the receptionist. “Didn’t you.”
“I asked her…” you think back. You asked her a lot. Your brain is a big confusing mess as you try and work out how one of your seemingly innocent questions could possibly have triggered a cataclysmic reaction. Oh no-no-NO, you think, your head in your hands now, tears moments away. I’m an awful person, this is punishment for flicking a bogey at Jimmy Watkins’s head in English class when I was eight years old. I always knew this would happen…what have I said?
And, as if she read your thoughts just by holding your wrists, the receptionist says: “don’t worry, it won’t be the first time.”
“It won’t be?”
“No. As soon as people ask about the money, and she doesn’t answer, this tends to happen. But mind you after the number of people who have applied for the job…”
It takes you a while to arrange in your head the right thing to say. “…What do you mean the number of people who have applied for the job…and the money, what about the money?”
The receptionist gasps. She releases your wrists and steps back. “I need a new job, I tell you. The same thing every time…bless you, you still haven’t worked it out, have you?”
Any ability to feel shameful of being a complete moron has vanished now. You just need to know the answer. “What the hell are you on about,” you say, “what is this place?”
“It’s the place where dreams are made, it’s all in the small print.”
From now on you will always read the small print – even if there is dog mess on it you will wipe it off first before applying for a job.
“Tell me what’s in the small print right now,” you demand, “before I do something I might one day regret. Although right now I can’t imagine that would be any time soon…”
As if you’re a young child who has just wet himself, she says very kindly: “the fact that there’s barely any money, of course. Not that you should be that surprised, after all, that’s what it’s like being a writer.”
WARNING:this story has swearing in it. If you don’t appreciate swearing much then I suggest you do not read it. Please don’t email me or leave comments explaining your displeasure at the swearing in this article. They will be deleted without being read. On the other hand, if you want to tell me how rubbish you think it is, go ahead. I wrote it a long time ago and it’s been barely edited, deliberately, so that it remains a record of how I used to write.
Shakes On A Plane
The following is true. I really wish it wasn’t…
In my daily life, the gross story I’m about to force upon you always comes (or should I say, is driven) out when I least hope and expect it, and people (sick, sick people) always seem to like it much more than they should. Most are repulsed by it, which, oddly, is also why they seem to love to hear about it over and over again and tell all their friends.
Wait a minute, I suppose that’s not that odd after all. Disgust seems to be universal in my experience. Laughter is one thing; If there was ever anything that could truly transcend lingual boundaries it would be laughter born from disgust.
I cringe every time one of my good friends forces me to tell the story, but I know that if I don’t tell it, they will, and somehow that is much, much worse. In the end I would rather be in control of its disgusting destiny.
That’s how embarrassing it is.
The last time I told it to a group of people was at a wedding reception, of all places. Everyone was laughing to begin with, but by the end of my little speech, before the horrifying climax, no-one who had been paying attention was anything less than shocked. Thanks friends for that. JV knows who he is. One day I just hope I can return the favour, though I seriously doubt I will ever be that lucky.
Firstly, Imagine you’re one poor sod amongst the innocent group of poor sod’s about to hear my story. By this point in time, with all the jeering coming from my good friends, it is far too late for me to back out. By now, most (disturbed) people who have heard the story before are excited to see the reaction of those who haven’t, and the people who haven’t heard the story are usually asking how bad it could be. See? Impossible to back out.
Strap yourself in now.
I had an early flight back to the UK, one of those hideous ones where you have to get up at 4am and be at the airport, checked in, by 6.
In the mornings and late at night, I tend to get hungry. Because of the extortionate price of airport food I have always vowed never to pay into this sordid, money-grabbing world, so the night before I flew, I decided I would feed myself good and proper. That way I wouldn’t need to eat at the airport, or during the flight.
So that night before the flight I ate: A LOT. It started with a nice big Chinese, followed by some chocolate, and some cake, and cups of tea. And I didn’t sleep. What would be the point? I was going to be away for a week anyway; the fridge needed emptying in any case. For the hell of it I ate a pizza.
Originally I planned on hitting the sack around 11:30pm but when midnight rolled around It really didn’t seem worth it. I knew there was going to be at least four or so hours in the early morning where I wouldn’t be able to get food (and really, how appealing are home-made sweaty sandwiches, all squished up in the top of a ruck-sack?) so I continued my eating mission right up until 3am, an hour before leaving, just to make sure.
My stomach was tardis-like. I say like because around 2am I began to reach my max-weight limit. Germanwings already charged an inhumane amount of money for over-weight luggage, so I sure as hell didn’t want to incur the same penalty with my fatty stomach. No way in hell would they class that as ‘sporting equipment’ either. Not unless you can call ‘eating as much as humanely possible’ a sport.
I got the train, feeling a little bogged down but altogether okay. Check-in went like clock-work. At 7:05a.m I boarded the plane with however many other people. Not Just a few, but packed, as early flights often are, and with people who had paid over the odds for terrible airport food. So, I admit it. I was more than a little smug I hadn’t spent a thing. The glorious food I had eaten just hours before was going to see me through this with ease. No way was I getting stung on the flight!
Once on the plane, naturally, being a red-blooded male, I chose a decent looking woman to sit next to, not that I ever intended on cracking on to her, I had a girlfriend. It was to be purely a relationship of convenience. My preference would have been a window seat but if it meant I got to sit next to a couple of decent-looking women rather than a) an annoying snoring fat man or b) the obnoxious teenager with awful loud music or c) the person who really wanted to talk, or worst of all, d) the scared-shitless vomit-risk first-time-flyer, I was fine with that.
The three of us sat in the middle of the plane as the stewardesses ran through the safety procedure. Being a realist, the whole time I laughed at the absurdity of doors leading to outer-space miles from the ground. I just could never understand how you could include the words emergency doors and safety procedure in the same sentence without expecting a plane full of people to erupt into laughter.
The plane gathered speed to take flight. The two girls sat next to me were talking in German, and keeping it very quietly to themselves. I settled back into my seat and enjoyed the flight as best I could.
Some time later I opened my eyes: It appeared I had woken up at the precise moment that everyone else had nodded of. The conversation was mainly gone in the rows around me, including the two girls who were by now fast asleep. At either end of the plane it was a different story. People were moving. Wow-e. I can tell you, the toilets were getting a workout: I mean a real workout. The queue was three people at the front and two at the back. You know what it’s like on planes, it’s all about timing. As it goes, 25 minutes into a one hour flight seems to be prime-time for toddlers, too. The ones a few rows ahead on the left had somehow bought themselves a place in both queues by the power of being toddlers alone, even though they were still seated! Daddy had his hand up to the queuing people at the front and the people at the back alternately. Other potential queue-ees, still in their seats, were smiling and saying they could go ahead of them. As you can plainly see, I never stood a chance.
I remained seated and kept an eye on the queues. Six at the front, toddlers included (or seven, if daddy needed to go, too) and five at the back.
Around 35 minutes in I was quite literally bottom heavy and yet more people had cottoned onto the toilet-queue bidding idea. Various hands had been going up since the toddlers had come out. All of my bids went unnoticed though. It appeared you had to know someone to earn your place in a queue. It just wasn’t worth standing up and waiting either. There were perpetually four or five people fidgeting in the gang-way. So I decided I would just wait it out where I was. Always had before and it’d been fine.
What could happen in one hour?
Just minutes later I was feeling the burn for a wee, bad; it felt like the tip of my penis was being sporadically and unpredictably held to a candle flame. Then the food trolleys started getting pushed down the aisle from the front and the back, the blonde hostess, coming towards me, smiling away, the smiley man-hostess with freakishly big eyelashes closing in a few rows behind. My toilet-dash route was now blocked of at both ends. Worse, just at the same moment that a space had opened up in the queue at the front, some cheeky bitch had snuck into the bog at the back. It was like everyone was in on it.
I was suddenly feeling quite bad and regretting eating all that food the night before…
Remember at school, in chemistry, when someone would drop a bit of hydrochloric acid or whatever into something and cause a hilarious reaction? Something similar had started happening inside my stomach as the food-cart got wheeled away. And it was not hilarious.
And that was just the half of it.
We had been circling the same part of London repeatedly for a while. This hadn’t passed me by, I’d just been sweating too much, feeling sick too much, feeling bottom heavy too much to take much notice. The girls next to me where staring out the window, as were approximately half the passengers.
A clunking noise came from below the floor; it sounded like a gear-stick refusing to lock in.
A call came over the pa:
‘All passengers please remain seated. Due to a small technical problem, the expected landing time will be later than first thought.”
It didn’t sound small to me.
Why aren’t there giant clocks on air-crafts? Why the hell did someone not think that it would be a good idea? A giant count-down clock perhaps, one which warns you that your in-toilet time is about to expire. For good.
And what the hell that call over the pa was about was all too obvious as the clunking, gear-stick noise came again. That God-forsaken-learner-driver sound.
‘No, you cannot go to the toilet sir, please sit down,’ said the blonde hostess to the smart business-man at the front of the plane. The aircraft began to bank suddenly. We were making another turn, another London-loop. People were beginning to panic about the clunking noise. Someone remarked that we had been airborne now for 45 minutes…
It was getting both a) stuffy and b) wiffy in there…
The business-man tried again to go to the toilet and was again refused point blank. To my absolute horror, the toddlers, who before had had all-access, were being refused toilet entry at the rear of the plane as well. One pair of them, a boy and a girl, were crying. My ass dove itself into the seat and pushed. At the same time the seat pushed back and between it there was almost…
The clunking noise turned into a juddering, locking-in wince. Finally! The plane shook slightly again, and another call came over the pa. For a second there was a huge wave of relief inside me. I was going to make it after all.
‘Ok,’ said the pilot, clearly sounding happier. ‘There were some technical problems but we are now approaching Stansted Airport. We would kindly ask you all to remain seated for the next ten minutes’
Technical, again? Ten minutes?
That was a Big Ask. I shut my eyes. If the toddlers could wait and hold it in, I could wait too. After all, I was a grown-man!
It was at this precise moment when the contractions started. Right at that moment I wanted to throttle the man sitting in front of me who was pissing about with his stupid personal air-flow thing, one of those things in the ceiling above every seat. His wasn’t working, and mine probably wasn’t either. Not that I could risk moving forward now to try, not with the contractions becoming closer by the second.
This foetus was very, very pissed off. Talk about kicking.
I made some quick calculations, taking into consideration my fragile, high-risk state (still needed a wee bad….as well as a you know what) and the speed at which I guessed I could safely move. From the middle of the plane to the toilet at the back was around twenty five feet. To the front, a stomach-churning forty or so…
Desperation plays cruel tricks on the anally disadvantaged.
As the next contraction came (now down to around a two minute gap between each), the sick-bag in the front became too tempting to resist. I put my hand on it for comfort, just for comfort. It was the only thing I could do.
It was at this point that the girls next to me started looking at me funny. Really funny. But not saying a word. I might have apologized, I may have attempted some German – it’s hard to remember.
The next contraction was brutal.
I began to sit up, sit down, sit up, sit down—couldn’t decide what the bloody hell to do next. I did this over and over again, as the girl nearest me whispered to her friend and looked at me with very worried eyes. I began to Clutch more and more on the sick-bag of hope.
In its own special way, the foetus screamed: ‘I need to come out!’
I sucked and I sucked. My A-hole felt like it was about to come up through my stomach, my chest, my mouth. Then the contractions stopped and I began to shiver.
It was the longest ten minutes of my life. My butt gripped the seat again as the plane landed. Those bastard keep-seatbelts-fastened lights were still all on, so I wasn’t out of the woods yet. A big long row of them on each side of the aisle. I ran through the snatching-my-coat-and-laptop out of the over-head compartment routine. Tried to stay calm and breath properly.
‘Umm, there will be a short delay of around ten to twelve minutes as we pull into the bay, which is at the moment occupied by a previous landed flight. Please remain seated and keep your seat-belts fastened until the lights on the over-head…’
‘No,’ I muttered, ‘bloody no minutes!’
Ten to twelve minutes? If I didn’t make an executive decision very soon, I wouldn’t be able to wait ten to twelve seconds!
As far as I could see I had two almost equally horrendous options: shit myself and piss myself in my seat, or shit and piss myself running as fast as I could past a plane-full of people.
At that point, the contractions hit ground-zero. I had just a few seconds to decide…
In those few seconds I bobbed up and down like some kind of deranged yoyo. The girl next to me wasn’t giggling or whispering anymore: the pair of them just stared at me, stunned. God only knows what must have been going through her mind, everyone elses mind, what with the terrorist attacks all over the news just days weeks. I knew that if a hostess got to me before I reached the safety of the toilet, it would be game over.
So I decided.
In one swift motion I pulled myself up, covered my backside with my hand, ripped the sick-bag from the back of the seat – if worst came to worst at least I could squat in the gang-way, and that would be marginally better than actually shitting on the floor of the gang-way – and ran for my life.
I ‘ran’ as fast my arse would let me.
Only I was wrong: It wasn’t 25 feet to the toilet, it was 250. That was what my brain was
telling me. Everyone on both sides of the aisle was staring at me as I waddled along, both my hands wrapped around my bum.
Then I realised the horror: Jesus, in my panic I had dropped the bloody bag!
This was when I saw the male hostess guarding the toilet door ahead of me; his slender shoulders now seeming horribly wide. Before he’d looked as queer as queer can be, but now he was something else entirely. Now he was menacing.
‘Look,’ I told him, ‘I’m desperate, you’ve got to let me go.’ I made the mistake of taking my hands away from my bum and was warned not to do it again. ‘It’s not my fault…It’s them…them toddlers!’ I pointed at the toddler nearest me. Of course, he looked as angelic as any toddler, as though he had no idea what a conspiracy was.
The man ignored my pleas and looked past me: ‘Please go back to your seat and remain seated sir, for just another couple of minutes. I am sure you can hold on.’
I wanted to stamp my foot but settled for a small grunt. It was a mistake. ‘You’re not listening to me,’ I told him. ‘This is a major emergency.’ I looked behind me and, for a crazy moment, half-thought I might be able to run back and pick the bag up. Then a contraction came and I was reminded how laughable this was.
‘Please go back, sir,’ said the man.
‘Are you serious? I mean…look at me!’ I span around to show him where my hands were. ‘Look—at—me, idiot, I’m about to shit my pants right here, right now!’
The man shouted something to his colleague and I made my second executive decision.
It all happened so fast I can barely remember what came first. I knew what I had to do. Only one thing was possible, and I had to take a risk, for better or worse (though, thinking about it, what the hell could be worse than not taking the risk? I could already see the headlines: Shit-bomber detained: new chemical bomb threat alert!)
The man shouted something again and refused to move. I tried to shoulder the guy out of the way but he just stood there, believing he was doing the right thing, his fingers round the door handle, his feet jammed either side. At just the right time, I remembered where at least one hand should be.
Something gurgled inside me. ‘If you don’t move right fucking now,’ I said, now standing back a bit and completely dedicated to stopping all hell from breaking loose, ‘I’m going to spray shit all over you.’
Somehow, impossibly, I made it. Coming out of the toilet to the sight of a hundred or so horrifed holding-their-noses onlookers wasn’t much fun, but I didn’t care. The main thing was, I had not shat my pants.
Most people have been a victim of crime: mugging, robbery, pick-pocketing, identity theft, fraud, abuse, bullying or harassment, enough so that nowadays it is stranger if you haven’t, rather than if you have. This was crossing my mind in the supermarket last week, penguin-stepping towards the check-out. There was no reason for it to present itself then that I could see—it was just a long queue, and my mind seemed to deal with this by working various things out. So, lots of time to think. The other two queues to my right were equally formidable and slow—if anything growing, not depleting in length. People were sighing and complaining as if it would be quicker and easier to go out and hunt the food than wait in line for ten minutes, retrieve it from packaging and simply press a button. It was quiet in places, loud in others, and vacant of humour almost entirely throughout, like any queue traditionally should be. Kind of like a dis-jointed festival of seething rage smothered by an apparent layer of calm and maturity, interrupted in spats by people hypothesizing loudly over why there were not enough staff, and too many people shopping for mid-day. And then there came a voice from over my shoulder, a quiet little mousy one. But noises came over your shoulder all the time when you were in a supermarket queue, and so I near enough ignored it and continued penguin-stepping.
I am a guilty ‘headphone’ consumer. They go on when I leave the house—The Kinks if I’m feeling happy, maybe Joni Mitchell or some really old Neil Young if I feel that the world is currently falling apart more than it is usually, and I need to hear something which makes me think of nature, woods, and anything but the Bush administration—and they stay on when I do my daily things: taking the ‘Bahn’ for instance, or waiting at a cashpoint
Because of this obnoxious trait of mine, the mousy voice over my shoulder was so quiet that I barely recognized it as a ‘voice’ this first time.
I continued to pay it no attention—a harsh reality of queuing anywhere that I, and I hope other people are at least occasionally ashamed of. It wasn’t my hearing that alerted me to interact with it the second time either (I was only hearing Hendrix, consumer noise grumbling in the background), it was a nudge in my back which put two-and-two together and got me to eventually turn around. I pulled an earphone out and accepted it was unavoidable, expecting it to be someone wanting to get past in a hurry, or someone carrying a big spear with which to impale would-be food upon. Part of me doubted that it was a polite person, but I thought it would be nice to hope so all the same—most people, England, France, Germany, Spain or wherever, do not consider essential words like ‘Excuse me’ a part of this traditionally intrusive routine. In the queue there are other rules, the problem is that people make these up as they go along, and everyone has a slightly different set: these they keep to themselves, and these they will only abide by.
When I finally turned all the way round—I say finally, guilt made it seem longer than it actually was: just 10 seconds or so—there was a young woman standing there, looking at me like we new each other intimately: she had lovely curly shoulder length hair and a plain face set with green dazzling eyes that horded all colour away from the lanes of the queues. She was smiling at me and waving a carton of milk about in the air joyously, and there was something about her that I didn’t get until someone, from the next queue, shouted something loud and indirect—causing another person to react with hostility—which then caused the girl to turn and stare at queues two and three blankly.
She then floated back to me, unoffended by whatever was happening, and said again: ‘Ich habe nur eine!’ I have only one! She was the happiest one of the lot of them, despite the fact that the girl was really a woman, and she was mentally disabled. Possibly because my cousin has ‘Down’s Syndrome’ I recognized this fact more or less Immediately—though the woman gave little away to make her disability obvious, and was barely any different than you or I: apart from being exceedingly happy, of course, and waving her milk, and looking at each and every person she saw as if they were Mother or Father Christmas. It crossed my mind then that the world must be in awfully dire straits for happiness to be seen as an out and out disability. Even Neil Young or Joni Mitchell would have a hard time correcting that.
Growing up I had experiences which the other children could not have had. At Christmas, on visits to my cousins, I saw my auntie deal with this wonderfully, amazingly. Everyone thought – and thinks – of Timothy as a little ball of energy, and that was who he was, not ‘retarded’, as I heard other’s refer to disabled people, mentally disabled people, or merely those in wheelchairs, including those with brilliant minds.
Another thing which saddened me was how, to these people, it apparently didn’t matter what other traits or significant qualities these people possessed, either, they simply did not count. In school they were stuck with the name ‘retards’ and when I began working in the adult word—where I believed it would be far different, because we had learned good and bad, and more than that we were ‘adults’—the opinion was much the same, but supposedly all the more funnier: the jokes cruder and more seriously warped, the thought behind this nastiness more complex and organized in its construction, and, in result, even more unacceptable than it ever was and is.
Back in the queue: it pained me to see the woman made fun of, but it was also no shock. The situation I was witnessing was common without doubt. On the outside it was a joke, but if you looked deeper into the man’s eyes—the man who was ‘joking’ about what was happening with the sweet curly haired woman behind me—you could see he had no regret, and considered himself justified with pathological certainty. He would go home and be good old ‘Hans’ or good old ‘Alexander’. When the morning would come, a brand new day, and the sun pierced his world free, he would feel no pang of shame for all of this—the show. Life would still go on in this unjustifiable direction. Supermarkets would remain lawless, with those with power praying on those with less.
The man looked like a bank manager—to generalize enormously. He was smartly dressed in generic suit attire, fifty-ish, and on the verge of losing his looks in an imminent flesh-slide if he kept using his muscles to smile at un-smileable things like this. He stood there clutching his one item, full of grin, and other people followed like sheep and developed a rhythm around him—a shy, concave body language of ‘isn’t this fun?’ to his positive brashness: some smiled at him in agreement; others, who did not fall into part of this clique, were embarrassed by what they were witnessing but unwilling to step in, and remained stony-faced, turning the other way: they simply did not know how to react, or how to deal with acknowledging their reaction —just like the sweet woman didn’t understand the concept of queuing: the difference between three items and thirty.
I studied the man and tried to be indifferent and non-judgemental, but it was hard, and in part I failed quite miserably. This was why: he stank of pride, as if he had nothing to feel ashamed of at all. As time had wore on and we’d penguin-stepped twice more, his movements had taken on more physicality, and he’d collected support which had outnumbered the fingers on both my hands. He was shifting air with his hands to say ‘I don’t believe this!’ using them like sign-language that you didn’t have to learn to understand. He was clearly on some kind of quest to make his point deeply felt, to make other people join him. My opinion, and several other peoples clearly differed from this, but either way, horribly, the numbers were more or less equally split. A head-count may have only done more to disturb the equilibrium, of which was in a fragile enough state as it was. And the queue was barely moving, which allowed all this a perfect stage with no interruptions. So the audience grew, encompassing more than the queue lanes. This was when it grew to sicken me.
The ‘joke’ was this, and obvious to all: the sweet woman kept waving her milk around at me—me only—and then occasionally motioning towards the woman in front of me. Every so often, when it was deathly silent apart from the man, she would punctuate her question by sticking her arm high in the air as if she were an eager pupil in a class-room. Then she would motion her milk, and try to make eye contact with the other people in the queue in front of me.
She caught the eye of the woman before me. This woman had a trolley with all kinds of goods, obviously she was going to need a while to get through. The sweet woman was suggesting—more through her actions than her words, and her warm smile and green eyes—that she go ahead of us and jump the queue, since she only had one item, just one item. To me it made perfect sense, it wasn’t even worthy of debate, certainly not politics. She had one item and I had ten. The woman in front of me had three times as much as everyone in our que combined, and everyone else in our queue—bar someone who had literally just joined it—was somewhere in-between. It would affect no-one, it would simply be no problem.
The sweet woman kept asking me, especially, and I found myself consulting the trolley woman before me when she somehow hadn’t twigged what was going on, feeling deeply embarrassed, mortified even, that I had to defer the decision even further—please, can we just let her through? I didn’t know what I might say if the woman in front complained, or opposed what seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Simply humane. But she did not oppose, and she appeared friendly enough. Her smile almost blinded me when she opened her mouth to speak—the sun-tan salon had marked her and would never let her go. She began to wince, but it wasn’t what you might call a smile, and she was the only person apart from me who seemed to give a damn. The sweet woman shot her hand up again and asked her thing with great conviction, but ina tone that was wonderfully courteous, and without an ounce of impatience. Before the trolley woman could respond, though, the bank manager man in the next queue took it upon himself to qualify this with his answer, as if he had a right over everyone else, being in the precise middle of the next queue: ‘Nein’ he said, ‘Sie durfen nicht vor gehen’ (No, you may not go before). He grinned profusely, began to mock, to point, not at the sweet woman though, or at me or the woman ahead, just point and laugh, as if he were counting the stock in the shop.
I turned to the sweet woman again and smiled at her. I wanted to hold her hand and hug her, let her down gently. To explain to her—delicately but honestly, and without being patronizing—what was really going on behind her veil, why these people were acting like this, like no good animals, why no-one was saying anything and pretending as if it was not a crime. The man was at the centre of it but his insulation—he had gained one or two supporters, who were copying his lame tricks—allowed him to attack in this way with disturbing ease, a way which could not be seen to be wrong. He smiled and repeated what had gone before, but he was not talking at the sweet woman anymore, or waving anonymously conducting his disciples like he had been, because the woman ahead of me had piped up to her defence and was not taking any more crap. She did not like his pointing, and now we had her on our side.
The sweet woman came closer to me and waved the milk, right in my face. I wanted to slam a few heads together there and then and just get her on through. At this point the both of us began to listen to the unfolding conversation / war, even as I did my best to blend the noise of the words out, for fear she would begin to know what they meant, to cry. I know she understood the topic, because she stopped waving her milk, and fell silent. Just like all the rest of them. The bank manager man was brave, or stupid, and kept on. The sun-tan trolley woman had her hands on her hips, and was waiting to deploy her defence-attack full-force. But the man in queue two had an answer for everything, and a new question for every new answer the woman gave. And he aped her stance. His newest pathetic manoeuvre was to ram this point down the entire checkouts’ throats’, forcing every person in the vicinity to give thought to his plight, and thus take their side accordingly, as no good animals tend to do: that if the sweet girl could go ahead in our queue, then why couldn’t he? In response to this the trolley woman smiled politely—but made it clear that she would not be made the fool of—and said, in German, ‘Sie verstehen wirklich nicht,oder?’ (She understands nothing, or? or You understand nthing, or? Owing to the complexities of the German language, this could have been aimed at me or the woman, though you can guess what my assumption was).
The man’s face did a flesh slide until he removed his hands from his hips like the woman, then his features skulked back up. It seemed like the war was won. I thought he would apologize but eventually, when he did look up again, he breathed out, and said with conviction ‘oder?’ In other words, “you think I care?”
I was half disappointed the trolley woman hadn’t gouged his eyes out.
Thinking about it, the trolley woman had probably done the right thing, all she could have done. It was a question, a point, and a pre-cursor to what came then into my head: maybe the man simply did not understand that the woman was disabled? That disabled people are not ‘thick’; that their minds simply did not learn certain information as their body progressed ordinarily like everyone else’s, meaning that they were as intelligent as anyone, but lacked those important fragments which we all take for granted, which make it all make sense. Maybe he thought she was just another queue jumper or cheeky person? It occurred to me that I had taken exactly the same tone with one of these people before, possibly not so vocally, but that hardly seemed of relevance. That person had simply been an arse-hole, I reminded myself. So I gave my mind some respite. It seemed at least possible: a misunderstanding might have occurred, maybe.
Then the show seemed to end, or become more private. The man had realized that he was on a losing front, and was now conducting not a lecture, but a private view. The sweet woman now looked like she was about to cry. To make it worse—though I am sure the intent was innocent and well-meaning—a woman in queue three, who had to jump up just to get her face seen from where we were, was calling to the sweet woman, and this was plying her with confusion, not helping. It was the equivalent of a veteran driver flashing a learner to exit a sharp turn, but without looking to see how it might affect the situation which would then follow. From this, I knew, there could only be sadness: I shouted to the jumping woman that it was Okay, then I told the sweet woman it would be fine, that we were letting her through. I gave the man the evil eye, he was still muttering his mantra, still grinning, and lots of head shaking seemed to flare up at once from his posse. The woman ahead of me smiled and made way, as did the woman before her who was putting her stuff on the conveyor belt, with no resistance. The sweet woman looked at me and it may have been a ‘thanks’. I like to think so. Then she disappeared to the till, thanking everyone with unwavering strength—like we all had played a part in saving her life at sea. The bank-manager man in queue two then turned to someone on his side and said, quietly: ‘warum nicht, lass der behinderter durch erst!’ (why not, let the disabled through first!). Then I got it; he understood alright. The man was also simply an arse-hole after all.
Pet Ode is a story I wrote 5 or 6 years ago. I thought I’d lost it when my last computer crashed and died, then came across it by accident. It’s longer than the other stories here at 15 pages, but has something sweet about it, I think.
I deliberately haven’t even spell-checked it, so if there are spelling mistakes and typos galore, sorry! I could have ran a spell-check I suppose, but I knew that if I did I’d find myself changing it and making it more like how I write now. So this, here, gives you an idea of the rubbish I was churning out back then, ha!
It starts here:
When I was a child, everybody in our village was a ‘kind’ of person. There were many categories one could fall into, and these circulated the village loop on foot, or by car, and were almost always nameless: instead of by name, these people were referred to either by way of address, or by proximity to someone with a known name or outstanding physical feature (e.g, lives next to the man with one leg / the woman with huge hair): the pensioner kind, the mum with babies kind, the slow old man / old woman kind, the boy- racer kind, the man-who-always-drinks-and-drives-but-never-gets-caught-kind. In all the categories there were many people, and some in particular were over-flowing, but the one which interested me the most growing up, were the kind with dogs. The ‘dog people’ kind.
But we weren’t in this category, so we couldn’t have a dog. I took this statement literally for many years, believing that it was not open to discussion, or review—it was a matter of simple fact, and decided by a person of unparalleled miserable-ness, unfair-ness and spite, probably a former teacher, I reckoned. On my way back from school I would watch all the people who owned dogs—great dogs they were—walk around the village showing them off, and wonder what it exactly was that allowed them access to this exclusive club and not us. I often asked my parents this very question but answers were seldom forthcoming, and when they came the excuses sounded cheap and elaborately made-up. After a time, though, I got the impression they wanted a dog as much as I wanted one, my dad maybe even more so—not that he ever let on.
Perhaps the existence of the exclusive dog-gene, the thing that one must be in possession of to be able to have a dog, was possible after all? One day a discussion appeared out of fresh air about ‘getting pets’, and my heart began to thump, my breathing quadrupled, and then I heard the word ‘animals’—plural. Birds, not dogs. I wanted to cry, and barely restrained myself. There was suddenly talk of buying cages, seed, and where to get a cage from and how big it ought to be. Then there was the squabbling: where it should go and what the birds would be called who would have to live in it. I should have guessed the discussion was concerning budgies and not dogs. I felt even more like a child than I was, and I was 8, and kept going over this stupid unfair rule, which we were all cursed by and could never escape as long as rules were rules. I kicked myself; I walked of ‘in a huff’ as my mother used to say and ran up the stairs in a flood of tears, and refused to come down. In the corner of my bedroom was where I stayed for some time, refusing to enter into any of it. If a person was not allowed one dog, there could be no way they could have two, I reminded myself feeling smaller and stupider still. I had been the victim of my own violent want to get a dog again, and this bloody bird thing had been my consequential unravelling. None of it was fair: more than ever I wanted a dog like the dog people were allowed to have, and it just made it more painful to purposely ignore that fact.
Being 8, everything could change in an instant and become the polar opposite—unlike the adult world it didn’t need approval to do this, or require intense explanation. After a day to think about ‘getting pets’ the crying subsided and I began to come around. Suddenly birds were great, birds were exciting, budgies were the new ‘dogs’. The fact that we were getting two only doubled my emotions, which were overwhelming in the first place—now they was close to tearing my little heart apart with joy. This was because I had never had a pet, we had never had pets, and NOW we were going too. As soon as I had recovered from my debilitating dog-want obsession I ocussed all my energies on the budgie’s, on our budgie’s. It was the start of a brand new era.
Who needs a dog when you can have birdies? You could find something special and unique with all the birds in the pet-shop, if you looked hard enough: with parrots it was easy—they had different beaks, different markings, different ways to stand and walk and squawk, and to duck and bop their heads—with the budgie’s it took time, effort and a wild imagination which only me and my younger brother Matthew seemed to possess. The yellow ones were yellow, all the same eye-stinging yellow, and only one was much different in stature: he looked like a squashed lemon with a beak protruding from it. The blue ones were all more or less the same baby-blue colour, had the same markings—possibly they were related—and the fact that they all stood in a line and nattered to one another did nothing to help differentiate them as they moved about the perch. Then there was one on the floor of the great big cage, and this one stood out. Because she was an outcast, and she appeared to be blind drunk. Maybe this was what attracted me and my brother to her (we would later learn it was a ‘her’): she had suffered from similar misgivings—in that she was ostracized from sitting on the perch—as that of the dog-gene-rule that had dogged us for so long. At first I thought she had been cast to the nether-regions of the cage out of hostility, as the others did not talk to her, or look at her, or even acknowledge she was there, but then I saw that she actually kind of liked it down there, and seemed to hold her own quite well. Dad bought her almost straight away because he saw something in her too, he said. We decided to name her ‘blue-bell’.
We had ‘Blue-bell’ for a measly two months, and during that period she spent her time mostly unwisely, learning to fly (I had assumed she could do this, being that she was unmistakably a bird) by bashing into every single thing in sight in the living room, and some that only she could see, and attempting whirl-wind like spins without warning or ability.
The first time we let her out It was as if Blue-bell was out of her cage for the first time in her life, which, quite possibly she was. The lamps seemed a favourite target, but then nothing was out of bounds if it was in the living room and looked like something else, something confrontational. The doors she did not like, door handles especially, but the windows confused her the most, and she made the same attempt over and over again: mistaking a tiny sliver of window between the curtains for what seemed to her to be an enormous expanse of wide open space. As time went on, probably bruised from her excursions and fights with the colossal evil window, she decided to keep to her cage, and nothing short of a miracle could coax her out. I would take her out sometimes, entirely against her will, and let her peck my fingers—the only thing she seemed to be good at. Once or twice she looked up at me, but it was a chore to maintain eye-contact with her, as she didn’t take to people, and clearly hated hands. Not only had we chosen the only budgie in that damn cage that couldn’t fly, we’d chosen one who could barely see and hated the human race without indifference or end. It seemed obvious now why ‘Blue-bell’ had become an outcast in her own kingdom, and looking back I can only assume the others had tried their best to warn us off her by standing in their neat little line and crapping on her head.
I came down one morning to check on her, in more of a panic than usual—as if she might have grown a brain overnight and learned how to pick the cage’s simple lock. She wasn’t resting on her perch like usual, which caused a flurry of excitement and made me think she actually might have escaped! For a second I felt proud: we had bought a lock-picking budgie! Then I looked down, because it was to be my turn to clean her crap out later and I wanted to know what I’d be in for, how much time to allow. This was when I saw her, on her back amongst a scattering of ‘Trill’ which she had stubbornly refused to eat (nothing new), legs up in the air, claws open and stiff. ‘Blue-bell’ had had enough, though I couldn’t really blame her for giving up if she really hated people, and hands, as much as she made out. We’d bought a suicidal budgie—the last of the rare talents that I was expecting had come true. It was only a shame that when she did expose her talent, after so many days of being in that cage, it turned out to be an utterly useless one.
My dad didn’t seem surprised at all, but did his best to act horribly shocked. I wondered if he knew of ‘Blue-bell’s’ ‘plan’ and had deliberately not told me, thinking I’d try and intervene. At this moment I wondered what else I did not know about the world, and what other secrets the adults around me were hiding. I was relieved when I found out it was a heart-attack that had stunned her—not her deliberate choice of starvation as first suspected. Mum broke it to me, and dad nodded ernestly. This did nothing to stop the immediate crying and morning, but by the next week it was much better than it would have been otherwise. I could relax now, knowing that we had done our best by the foul bird, and she had done her utmost in return, which was really all that you could expect for 15 lousy quid.
The funeral was quick and kept prayers to a minimum. ‘Blue-bell’ wasn’t the praying kind, I told myself. She was never one to hang around and contemplate, as her attacks on the lamp-shades and lights, scratched wall-paper, glass, had often showed. We covered the grave, tried to celebrate her short life (ignoring the negatives which seemed to dominate above all else) and went on with our own lives as best we could. Three weeks later there was a new discussion.
We would get a better bird!
When we arrived, and explained what had become of ‘Blue-bell’, the man in the pet-shop seemed about as surprised as my dad had looked on the morning of her death. The pet shop owner was a terrible liar, but conversely a good salesman—he only lied to children, apparently, and Dad was the one doing the buying. He took us over to the cages where the birds were, where our first cursed bird had been, and instantly introduced us to a new one on the perch. Being on the perch was what clinched it, for me, anyway. I didn’t want a wobbling budgie that stood out anymore, or favoured politics over natural order, I wanted one who liked hands and could see, even if they didn’t have the will to be a revolutionary in their own kingdom.
I’m not sure if we would have bought her if it wasn’t for her colour, which was a kind of glowing yellow, much lighter and more arresting than any of the others. The owner even said you could ‘see her from space’, though I can’t say how he had ascertained that, as the man looked very much born of Earth. He then took the bird out and we voiced our concerns regarding ‘Blue-bell’s’ shortfalls, asking if this one might have them, or variations of a more hidden virtue: could she fly? Was she healthy? Was she young? Did she like humans or resent them? And by far the most important of all, could she actually see? I was stuck on the last one. I would not leave the shop until the owner had admitted she could, and he’d promised that she would at least attempt to fly.The owner had not lied. If anything he had been economical with the truth.
‘Sally’ was perfect, as budgie’s went, and she could be held, and stroked—cats didn’t like being petted as much as ‘Sally’ did. She was never grumpy, wanted to be picked up and said so, often, and could fly in a relative straight line without the aid of a violent three minute warm up and cushions used as potential crash-mats. Instead of attempting to obliterate the lights she would hover over them—in thought—and calmly land on them, and sit. The biggest problem with ‘Sally’, in fact, was not getting her out of her cage, and getting her up there, it was getting her to come down. What ‘Blue-bell’ lacked in brain-power and sight, ‘Sally’ more than made up for in savvy and intellect, which sometimes had a less than positive effect when trying to encourage her back down. She would stay up there—usually on the lamp-shades on the wall-mounted lights—for as long as she wanted, and this was always a little while. This aside, the only other offence ‘Sally’ ever committed in her life was dropping poo on the sofa, or occasionally on the floor.
I was pretty sure we had found the best budgie in the whole wide world. There were probably others out there with some skills which ‘Sally’ possessed, but there could not be many who had the whole bag and looked that healthy and that good, with such a finely polished, pointy, regal beak. Finally, after much ‘training’, ‘Sally’ started responding to our pleas for her to come down. This obedience put the icing on the cake. Now she was more than perfect: almost too good to be true.
Then she went and died too. This left me and my brother (Natalie didn’t take to the birds like us two) in a state of cabbage-like shock and crying for many days—no-one had seen sign that coming, we’d expected at least another 50 to 60 years, a death from an age of relentless flying and petting. ‘Sally’ went next to ‘Blue-bell’ in the garden, behind the barbecue, and had a slightly elongated funeral to recognize her many good qualities.
Following that we steered clear of birds. There was no talk of animals in the house for a long time after, and everybody seemed just fine with that as I remember.
A few years after ‘Sally’ had kicked it we toyed with the idea of getting a pet again, but mum was working as, of course, was dad. No-one so much as mentioned getting a budgie. Me and my brother and sister were at school and doing what kids did, and had got used to a pet-less life. After school my brother kicked a football about and I would ride my bike, paint pictures, do kids stuff. Things were being revealed to me as life went on, things to do with what my mum and dad had said years before about needing time for pets. Mostly it seemed to do with not having it in large amounts—and a lot of time we did have was lambasted with my sister Natalie trying to learn to play the violin, a hobby she would soon give up—and wanting more, but not having the time to get it. The idea of having a ‘pet’ eventually lost its importance and magic. We had not been ‘dog people’ long enough by this point that it seemed like my whole dog obsession thing had never even existed in the first place.
Until one day my Dad brought it all back, and I thought he was joking, but it was no joke. After coming home from work one day he went straight into the kitchen wearing a big smile—a ‘just won the lottery’ smile—and closed the door. Us three children were outside, waiting for the result of the intense conversation which was starting to penetrate our ears through the closed door. Even my sister was excited about the sound. I knew then that it could not be regarding a Budgie. A small part of me dared to wish that it might just be a—
The door opened. My dad was standing there, his smile unwavering, and mum was tutting behind him, as if he’d bought her an expensive dress she wanted, but he could never afford. Dad looked like all the dog people’s children had to look when they were told they were getting a new dog, a better dog. I shut my eyes and didn’t dare to speak.
‘Shall we get a dog?’ he asked, barely able to turn-down his smile.
He knew I knew he knew the answer to this, but he said it with such surprise in his voice that I couldn’t help but think that if I said ‘yes’ fast enough, my hopes and dreams would come true. I knew what I wanted to say but saying it was another matter.
Dad said: ‘well Chris, if you don’t want to then we don’t have to—‘
‘I do!’ I shouted, I had to pinch myself, twice, I had to jump in the air.
‘What kind then?’ said Mum.
‘A Golden Retriever!’ said Natalie. I’d never seen her so excited about an animal—I was worried she was getting even more excited than me. Could that even be possible?
‘Yes!’ Matthew agreed.
‘Can I think about it?’ I asked, apparently the only person capable of real-patience at this point. At my answer, my Dad was now the one too stunned to speak. Then I began to think about it, and finally the fact that we were ‘getting’ a dog began to sink in.
We were getting a dog!
I didn’t mind that plans had been made, that the secret meeting in the kitchen had actually come about after months of talking, debating, and careful planning. I didn’t ask why I had been partially left out of it, or why we suddenly belonged to the ‘dog people’ club. How our genes had changed. The fact that Mum and Dad had been researching dogs secretly for an inconceivable amount of time—and no-one would let on how long this actually was—didn’t matter now, because we, the Pink’s, a family who used to only watch, were in. How we had got there went immediately out of the window. The only thing that mattered to me was having a dog to play with. A dog I could call my own.
It seemed simple enough to me—like buying milk. Go out, buy a dog, bring it home, play with it, walk it, run about with it, let it love you, and love it back. Sneak it into your room at night and let it sleep in your bed. Don’t forget to feed it, of course. But the adults, namely mum and dad—Natalie was also older and wiser than me, so she was in on it too—made it out to be very hard indeed. I thought we would have our new dog by the following Monday, but when it came there was still debate over which kind of dog, how old it should be, pedigree or mongrel (what was the difference?), bitch or man-dog. A pang of worry began to stab at me, right in my heart: would we ever get a dog if it was going to be this hard? Why we couldn’t just go to the pet shop where the birds came from was anyone’s guess. I was ready to steal a dog if I had to. To die for a dog, almost.
It was such a long time ago now I can barely picture the kennel—or the farm-house—where we found him. It doesn’t appear in my mind clearly, but the warm feeling of how it felt is still there, all the same. I’ll never forget the arrival back home with our little, mini, Shetland-Sheep dog—all small and full of life, of play. Mum and Dad had made the perfect choice as it turned out. We all loved ‘Tom’ from the moment we first set eyes on him.
‘Tom’ was one of five baby man-dogs. I didn’t like to think of the others, the ones we hadn’t picked, as his biological sisters and brothers. I hoped, rather cruelly, that ‘Tom’ didn’t think of them as family too, and worried for a few hours about mummy and daddy dog—if they were crying over losing a son, while we rejoiced about our brand new dog. Mum and Dad assured us his parents were fine with it and I believed them as best I could. Joy outweighed mass sadness.
‘Tom’s’ mother was a fine specimen of a Shetland Sheep-Dog, and the farm-house woman who gave us our baby (I preferred not to say ‘sold’) had said his dad was one of the finest man Sheep-dog’s that she had ever seen, that had ever graced the Earth. ‘Tom’ was a pedigree dog, not a mongrel, not a nobody: in the dog-world he was class-A 200% quality. Of course he had a full and proper name too, which had to be kept, which set him apart. It was the best name ever, too:
Thomas Miles End Enough Flames Pink.
The kind of name which could choke a King. The kind which we would soon proudly boast about to all the other ‘dog people’ in the village. He was small when we got him—only three weeks old—but when he would grow up, Mum and Dad said he would be a mini-lassie. Our mini-lassie. Our dog and no-one else’s, the king of all man-dogs.
Tom’ wasn’t only pedigree on paper, or by history. His name matched his markings: he had a golden coat—like sun-soaked sand—and a striped-white marking which went from the top of his small head down to his long shiny nose. He had super-soft fur, a white little belly, and dainty white paws that he would use to vent his burgeoning curiosity, which grew more intrepid daily. He was a ball of energy during the weekends, but he slept badly at night. It worried me when I thought about what went through his little mind when he was all alone. When he was scared he would wimper incessantly for something—his mum or dad maybe, or sisters or brothers. And he was most scared of lightning. This would turn out to be one of ‘Tom’s’ all-time pet hates.
We fitted a baby gate at the top of the stairs. It had five or six bars that ran vertically and you could barely fit a hand through. One day, a month after having him, a terrific storm ripped trees in two and scattered fencing all around the village like confetti. ‘Tom’ was so scared by the great attack it threw down that when my parents awoke in the middle of the night, the rain battering the breakfast-room skylight downstairs creating a hellish din, even upstairs, they found ‘Tom’ lying on the floor at the end of their bed, just waiting. He was totally silent, completely calm, but his eyes were alight with fear—staring at them, white orbs in the centre. Every time the wind whipped or the lightning forked he would grumble something, a plead. In his panic he had breached even the baby gate: ‘Tom’ had simply squeezed his little body all the way through it, just to be alone, only to be safe with my unknowing sleeping parents.
As we all grew up ‘Tom’ of course grew up too. It took three or four years for his features to come through, for his markings to mature amongst the thick coat of hair that sprang out from all over his body—with his golden main he looked like a proud little lion. In the summer he had to be cut down like a huge walking candy-floss bush, in the winter the coat remained long and stuck to him whenever it rained, making him look less like a handsome little Lion and more like a shivering, drowned rat.
Every day I rushed home from school to play with ‘Tom’—it was often a competition between me and my brother, and mum would ask us to take turns playiny about with him, so as not to confuse his fragile, playful head. We would do many things together, and it wouldn’t matter what time of the day it was, he would want to play even more than me and Maff, which was one hell of a lot.
We assigned him loving nick-names: I devised ‘Skeggars’ and ‘Carpet monster’; the rest of the family usually kept to ‘Tom’ (his real king’s name was slightly too long and impractical to be used at all times). The list was impressively long but ‘Tom’ responded to them all and seemed to know he was not only worthy of being one great man-dog, but a few: ‘fatty’ (because of his enormous coat, which seemed artificial it was so huge and so soft), ‘Tommy’ and my particular all-time favourite, ‘Dogsten’. But ‘Tom’ had to pay a price for all this, for looking so fine, and being born of such wealth.
Every month or so he would have to undergo his most hated expedition, bar a visit up the bum by the vet: Mrs Gledhill would have him for a couple of hours. A dog’s worst enemy, the dog groomer. The Sweeney Todd—from the look in Tom’s frightened eyes—of the dog barber world.
Mrs Gledhill was renowned for her ‘techniques’—she could reputably turn anything, mongrel or mutt, into a work of art—a doggy-jewel. She operated her doggy grooming business from the next village, tucked away in an unassuming little bungalow, from where no dog could perceive of the horrors that might await them. This was where ‘Tom’ went every so often to have a bath, get ‘clipped’ and blow-dried and whatever else she would do to turn a dog’s coat and skin into that of a fluffy teddy bear. His hind-legs would be shaking ten to the dozen on the car ride out of there. When he arrived mum would have to spend ten minutes consoling him, hugging him, resulting in a tug of war to get him through the door, ending in a frenzied scramble against Mrs Gledhill and mum’s will as he was hoisted on top of the grooming table and pinned down by chief Gledhill herself. Of course ‘Tom’ never spoke of the horrors that he witnessed inside the Place—he was worryingly quiet for hours afterwards—not that you would guess it from a distance by how he always looked when he came out. Like a giant hunk of cotton wool, perfectly trimmed at the paws, nose, under-carriage: arctic-white fur so soft and clean that it tickled your skin at just the sight of it. When mum took him out for a walk after he’d been tortured / treated at Mrs Gledhills, processions would form on the street and other dogs could be heard audibly gasping in horror: who’s that dog?
‘Tom’ never commented on the aftermath of a trip to Gledhills but he always seemed pleased enough—and to have forgotten the struggle had ever happened at all. He would keep his chin high and his tail wagging, and be at all times modest on his village parade. All the other dogs could do would be to stand there in awe and watch as the best dog in the village waltzed on by. In our village, ‘Tom’ a legend. I am sure his mummy or daddy would have been very proud of that.
Just to warn you now, in case you Googled “how do I fight a tramp?” and then thought upon landing here Unbelievable, the internet really does have everything, this is just what I’ve been looking for, revenge on that irritating tosser who asks me for change fifteen times a week every week! this article is not a how-to on how to actually fight a tramp with your bare fists. Sorry. What it is, though, is the curious tale of what happened one day when, at the age of just 21, my wits were pitted against a much older man tramp in a scenario sort of like what Quentin Tarantino might have envisaged for one of his films had he grown up in a small village in the South East England.
It should also be noted that neither c-pink the blog, or Chris Pink the author of the blog, endorses or condones tramp fighting, tramp-baiting or general tramp mockery of any description. Unless it’s aimed at the tramp who once pushed him to the very limits of what a 21 year old can endure when late for his lunch-break in a job he doesn’t particularly like. In that case the rules change (and to be honest writing this story does concern me a bit, seeing as many twenty-first-century tramps seem to be in possession of phones which are far superior to my Pay-as-you-go one. Which means the follow up to this here article may well read What happened when a very annoyed, vaguely psychopathic tramp read an article and decided to take revenge on the author, again. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that...although frankly I’d be surprised if it did. Most people only have the patience to type half as many words as that into a Google search).
How To Fight A Man Tramp
When I was 21, the shop I worked in sold cheap but well-made picture frames of all the standard sizes, as well as all the odd little things that you’d usually associate with a well-equipped hardware store. Take the back out, put your photo in, shove it on your shelf – that kind thing. Or if you were looking for a special type of nail for a plaster-board wall, we could usually help you out. By default, it was the kind of store which saw a lot of foot-fall from people walking by to get to the nearby cinema and shops. Most irritatingly of all, we had a sign out the front that said FREE FILM WITH EVERY 1 HOUR PHOTO! so not only did we get a lot of regular customers who wanted films doing, but we got everyone else wandering by, too.
We were the only shop in Cambridge – or any other city – like that, so we did good business every day, and Saturdays the queue stretched out the shop, with the general public testing the patience of our small number of staff to the absolute limit. We also had a mini-lab for processing everything from regular films to APS (which was what had attracted me to the position, what with being an artist with some experience with photography) so most days for me consisted of going between the machine and the framing side, while keeping an eye on the time with the kind of military precision that will slowly wind you so tight that after a while everything you see looks pretty much like a number.
This particular day, it was Helen and I behind the counter, and we were the only two people in the shop. This was in the very early days before the sign arrived and drove many more people our way, just a couple of months after we’d acquired the photographic mini-lab that sat out the front.
Even though on this day we’d had only one interested customer bring her 36 exposure film in, there was still plenty to do where the mini-lab was concerned. A complete nightmare in every way you can possibly imagine ever since we’d got it – and I do mean every way – it constantly went wrong, chewed up the few films we did have, and caused me to be late home more times than I can remember. There were days when I’d be on the phone to the technicians for literally hours as they tried, in vain, to troubleshoot the growing and impressive number of “new” problems which they had never seen before. What had started as a new experience – something that I enjoyed waking up to learn about – was quickly turning into a venture that was losing rather than making us money.
For Helen it was a bit different, but no less stressful. Seeing as I had only been trained on the machine, there wasn’t much for her to do. This may sound like a negative – and I admit I probably did see it as one to begin with – but actually, as time had gone on, it was good that we all had our separate roles. It meant that we had a kind of system: Helen, or whoever was working that day, would run the framing side, and I would stick to looking after the machine. The only times I got pissed off with being on my own on my side were when I badly needed help with something technical, but seeing as the experts usually couldn’t even work out what was going wrong straight away, I had no reason to blame anybody else.
When the two men came in, Helen was at the counter and I think I had a panel off the machine and was swearing and staring into the darkness of the mysterious inside, blindly attempting to fix a problem. Then a voice whispered in my ear: “oy, man tramps!”
I immediately laughed. It was a combination of both Helen’s zany smiling face – anyone who knows Helen Barltrop will know what I mean by that – and the expression she’d used. I can’t explain exactly how it started, but at one point in time we started calling each other man-tramps for a laugh. Actually, looking back at the dynamics of the situation I suppose it may have been some kind of coping mechanism. The stress that machine caused, combined with the general working-in-a-shop atmosphere and things we did to pass the time manifested itself in various different ways. Making derogatory comments at one another which created a smile was one thing which all of us took part in.
The two men wandered around the shop picking things up and looking at them like they were fallen artefacts from outer-space. They were both carrying beer and weren’t shoppers, that much we were certain. I dislike the way people pick on tramps and call them dirty, dodgy and the pinnacle of middle-class paranoia, untrustworthy looking, but if I am being completely honest, these two man tramps were all those things and more. I say that not from first impressions, but because we knew for a fact that one of these men had already been involved in some kind of a bizarre “situation” in our shop before. In classic style, the story differs depending on who is telling, but the ending is always the same: the man threatened one of our assistant’s – who shall remain nameless – with, I believe, some kind of gun (which later turned out to be fake).
Helen and I didn’t know what to do next, and we weren’t sure if they were banned from the shop or not, but there didn’t seem to be much point in chucking them out. They hadn’t taken a giant piss in the corner, so far, and weren’t doing any harm, so we decided instead to settle for the much better alternative of taking the piss out of them at the counter, exchanging childish jokes with one another. We continued this until the bearded man tramp came up to the counter in the style of someone wanting to ask us a question. Helen looked slightly scared and I have to admit he had me wondering about what was coming next. But as the man put his can of beer down in front of us, his mate said something, and the pair of them then walked off and straight out the door.
As soon as they had gone and it was clear they weren’t coming back, I picked the can of beer up and started walking towards the door. “Chris…” Helen said, in her this-is-not-a-joke-I’m-actually-being-really-serious-tone, “what are you going to do with that?”
I looked at it. It was some kind of totally horrible extra-strong cheap crap that tastes almost as good as urine. “Chuck it in the bin, what do you reckon?”
I can’t remember her exact words, but I remember she came out from behind the counter with her hands up and said, “er, no, you’re fucking not.”
“Well why the fuck not?” I said, pointing vaguely in the direction of the man tramps. “He clearly doesn’t want it.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because he left it here?”
That seemed to flummox Helen all-right. With that kind of an answer, she conceded victory and laughed nervously in her signature way. “Well they better not bloody come back, that’s all I’m saying.”
I had my head in a different craply-working part of the machine about fifteen minutes later. “Chris…” said a voice in my ear, “the bloody tramps have bloody well come back!”
I turned around to find two very angry-looking man tramps behind the counter. The second the bearded one opened his mouth, Helen put her hands over her mouth like she did and backed away nervously.
“What have you done with my beer?” he said, and his mate, who was much bigger and more dangerous looking than his less visually appealing friend – and I mean that in terms of attire, not how much he looked like George Clooney –stepped forward and said, “tell him what you’ve done with his beer.”
“I will,” I said, looking right at the bearded one. “I chucked it in the bin. It’s in that one outside if you want it.” I pointed and they looked, turning their heads very slowly back to me.
Behind me, a horrified giggle came out of Helen’s mouth. It was then that I realized how I’d come across. But the thing was, I hadn’t tried to be insulting, it was just he’d asked me matter of factly, and I had answered just the same.
“You’re going to buy him a beer,” said the dangerous one. “Pay him, now.”
“Am I bollocks,” I told them. “You left it here and walked away. I thought you didn’t want it. Like I said it’s in the bin if you want it.”
Those words made them both turn two very vibrant shades of red, like I had uttered words so unthinkable that the only reasonable reply was death by suffocation.
There then followed a ridiculous bargaining session. The dangerous one started off asking for five pounds – which I laughed in their faces at and Helen, I know for a fact as she told me afterwards, definitely wanted to laugh at – saying that for the effort he had had to make to come back here, he was owed interest. I pointed out that although I was no expert on these shockingly awful beers, I knew for a fact that you could buy them each for a price of about thirty-five pence. This they did not like, and that was when they started saying how they were going to beat the shit out of me. That there was two of them and one of me.
I’m not boasting, but after the first few weeks we’d had, a fight with a couple of pumped-up man tramps was the last of my worries. Day by day, hour by hour, the machine had worn me down mentally, to the point where even riding my BMX couldn’t completely vent my frustrations – something that had always worked before. On top of that, by that point in my life I’d crashed on my bike so many times and endured so much agonizing physical pain – including five separated shoulders on both arms, each resulting in a trip to A & E to have it horrifically wrestled back in by three people – that getting punched in the face and kicked about a few times really didn’t bother me.
“We’ll be waiting for you later,” said the dangerous one, and the bearded one said, “when you leave.”
“If you say so,” I said, wondering what kind of moves they might throw at me.
Helen pulled me to one side. “Chris, for fucks sake,” she said, in her really worried voice which I wasn’t sure I had ever heard before. “Let’s just give them the money.”
The two men smiled and nodded, whispering among themselves.
“I can’t,” I said, “I told them we can’t open the till unless somebody buys something.”
“Fuck the till, just give them a couple of quid or something.”
“A couple of quid?” In my mind, I realized Helen had a point. Looking at this situation objectively – the damage they might do running amok in the shop if they didn’t get their own way, etc – it was better to give them something rather than it all spiralling into violence. But the thing was, as much as I could see that, the other part of me was saying how it was just bullshit. We were in the right, they were in the wrong, and really, it was that simple.
“The money!” said the dangerous one, getting himself into a right old man tramp state. If we didn’t come to some arrangement soon it was pretty obvious that they were going to cause us real trouble, and by now I was starting to see Helen’s point and favour the idea of just getting them the hell out the shop.
“I’ll give you a pound.”
“Eighty pee!” said the bearded one, and the dangerous one couldn’t have been too hot on his maths, because he said nothing.
“OK then, forty pee. That’s my last offer.”
The duo considered this option and seemed to find it reasonably appealing.
“Fifty p,” said the bearded one, looking fairly pleased with himself.
“Deal.” I took fifty pence out of my pocket and threw it to him and told him not to come back.
“Bloody hell,” said Helen, as the two men walked out the door shouting abuse. “Chris, you can be a right old bloody idiot sometimes you dick.”
When I arrived at Pinewood Studios, the place where numerous James Bond films were shot and where the mystery of English film history had, over the years, been perfected and reduced to a stunningly efficient formula, it was different to how I expected. Located out in the middle of nowhere, the entrance was – and is – nothing spectacular. No huge photos of famous movie-stars anywhere in sight and no limousines parked up outside waiting to take actors away. From the outside, more than anything it reminded me of a lorry park. In fact, the only give-away that beyond those wide-open gates lied anything of real significance was the small sign out the front and the compact white building to the right of the entrance with a security guard looking out. Soon as Ben and I drove on through, the guard came out to make Ben’s acquaintance, newspaper in hand. From the way he greeted us with a relieved-looking smile – along with the things Ben had told me about the way the place works, the strangely “ghost town” feel it could inspire – it was clear to me that Pinewood Studios was less one thriving giant film-set, and more a place which saw sporadic bouts of intense film-making action.
So there it was. That illusion I’d been carrying around with me for all of thirty years was ruined, but never-mind. It didn’t come as much of a shock, anyway: I’d been on a film-set and seen how films are made and how, when it comes down to it, art distilled is basically just business.
Driving around Pinewood was both strange and familiar, and very, very quiet. Although the place is enormous – a network of guarded anonymous warehouses interwoven by lots of pseudo streets which most of Hollywood’s finest have cruised down at one time or another – you can easily go for hours and not see a thing which would give you the faintest impression that movies are made here. One part of Pinewood, however, is unmistakable, even to the layman, and that is the gigantic green-screen located somewhere near the back of the plot.
Situated huge and looming at the back of a large concrete area, the only feature of which, other than stray rubbish left over from the last filming mission, is a deep square pit in the middle – where the infamous end scene of “Casino Royale” was shot, with the Venetian buildings collapsing into the fury of rising waters – the screen is where all the serious “action” in many of the films you’ve watched originally began life as stress, lots of running about, and long days full of frantic shouting. But forget about the scale of the thing for a moment. It’s the intensity of the green that’s the most impressive thing about it, rather than the size, and after a few seconds you get used to its colossal form and it loses its spectacle, or at least it did with me. I don’t recall how large it is, but its width and height is enough that the area can be flooded completely, allowing for large boats and even helicopters to be imposed against its gargantuan surface.
I was staying for the week; to write and hang out and just for a change of scenery from the four walls I so often found myself stuck in. I’d arrived earlier that morning, and the plan was that Ben was going to work during the day – he runs Sequence Post, one of the UK’s most forward-thinking post-production companies, hence his positioning close to Pinewood – and we’d meet up in the evening: either watching films or going out and about in London. Nothing fancy, just two best mates spending time together – something that rarely happened, what with Ben’s intense schedule and my off / on illness which very often made working (or thinking) next-to impossible.
The first couple of days are hazy in my memory. I know Ben was late home on the first evening, and early up on the second day, and that I spent the second day wandering around the roads near his house, killing time and pondering things. It might sound dull, but it really wasn’t. The area surrounding his rented cottage was the kind of precious, untouched countryside which I was happy to immerse myself in for hours, or days.
The third day, however, was a bummer. Having not seen Ben’s offices just yet – the first visit to Pinewood was just a see-the-sights-and-welcome-up visit – I was anxious to scope out where my friend spent his days editing. But upon waking up I immediately felt different to the day before. Not bad, exactly, but a precursor to it. My left eye was twitching – a sure sign that I was about to be hit with an M.E. Episode at precisely the wrong time.
As we’d agreed, I walked up to Pinewood at mid-day. I had Ben’s mobile number, and could have cancelled, but I wanted to try and work through the growing feeling of unease in my body. Apart from that, I knew the routine, and my M.E. was a predictable kind of a dance once it got started: my thinking was that I’d get the visit done before it had me too bogged down, and that way at least if I ended up in the house for the next few days I could say I’d done something.
I wish I could put this nicely, but I can’t: that day was pretty horrific. First there was the fact that my headache made me even more useless with directions than usual, the corridors becoming dazzlingly complex, my brain unable to assimilate information, and then there was the pretending I was OK. This only lasted so long, of course. Within an hour of arriving – in which time I left Ben’s office, completely blacked-out while walking and opened the cupboard, thinking or not thinking, somehow, that it was the way I’d come in – I had to admit defeat. After another horrible several hours of waiting around for Ben to finish his work for the day – which was not his fault, I should say, just bad timing – we left. That night I remained at home and Ben went out. This was my idea, as I remember it. We were both supposed to be meeting one of Ben’s friends who I vaguely knew, but I’d insisted that it was better he go than the both of us stay at home (and in his defence, he was an excellent mate about it, and if I hadn’t insisted so much he’d have certainly stayed in with me, for all the good it would have done).
Using “days” as some kind of gauge is useless, seeing as I didn’t know what day of the week it was then, so I am hardly likely to work out that fact now. But if I had to bet I’d say it was Thursday when I first saw the stag. It was around three or four in the morning, and I was wide-awake and needing something to do.
Because I’d been lying around the house all day doing absolutely nothing – the kind of nothing where even thinking the most mundane of thoughts seems like too much hassle – when it came to the late evening, my body was craving physical activity. And that’s the cruel thing about M.E. and related conditions such as Fibromyalgia and the like: your body feels too weak to move, a lot like being struck down by the flu really badly, but the mind, somewhere deep within it, still hungers for stimulation, movement, progression. In the last couple of hours my legs had got worse – extremely heavy feeling, especially the thighs – but despite that, I needed to do something else other than lay around feeling like shit, and so I went outside.
Out the front of the cottage was a main road that got a lot of the traffic, but behind the building was an expanse of wide open land with a kind of curved ridge in the distance – like standing inside the middle of a pizza, looking out. It being so early, the light was just starting to glow on the horizon, but I didn’t pick this up until I’d been standing there looking around for a few minutes, what with the sky already being light pink, fading into black way above me. Directly at my eye-level, the ridge obscured the view: a thin line of intense light running along it, making me curious as to what existed on the other side.
My M.E., especially in those days, when it was much more frequent and irritating, makes me forget things, but somehow, even after the day I’d had, and the constant squinting I needed to do to focus and concentrate any energy, I still remembered that Ben had said behind the ridge was a quarry or something. Maybe an accidental lake. With nothing better to do and the prospect of going back inside the ‘prison’ less than tempting, I decided to head out to the ridge to see what I could see. My intention was to go to the ridge, probably see it was too tall and steep for me to climb in my present weak state, walk along the base for a bit, and the return to the cottage once I’d stretched my legs. Or at least that was what I kidded myself. My problem is, and always has been, that I won’t let physical pain stop me from achieving something. It’s the fault of BMX, the conditioning of years and years of dislocated shoulders, concussions and savage slams into harsh concrete: the mentality that says “do it or die trying”. The thing which makes you get up and continue, even when everything you’ve learned about life up until that point tells you just to back away.
I’d only taken a few steps when I saw movement to my left. Instinctively, having known instantly that whatever it was was smaller than me, I stopped and turned my head slowly, while trying to avoid crunching my foot on the short stubbly grass that gave the landscape a yellowish hue. The badger was gone in the next second, weaving its way more elegantly than I expected through the bushes at the far left of the field.
If that badger was watching me “stalk” it from behind those bushes that day, it must have got a good laugh. Seeing the tall pink creature with the shaggy face, I can only assume the badger must have wondered why the creature was hobbling about and ducking down. I suspect, now I think about it with a smile, that it looked at the odd four-walled human construction to its far right and thought “I don’t know what you’re playing at but you’re better off in there, my friend.”
I say that, because I believe that that badger knew a lot more than I did about the other larger creatures which inhabited the area.
There was very little gap between looking away from where the badger had escaped to this next part, where I found my vision running along the ridge and stopping on a strange dark shape. The stag may have seen me first, I don’t know. What I do know is that the moment I set eyes on it it was already in motion, turning sharply and making its way down the other side of the ridge. Having only seen it for a split-second – just long enough for my brain to piece together a kind of ropey line drawing of where the head and small antlers were – and wanting to have my mental image satisfied further, I gave what you might call chase. Though if you’d have seen it in person you’d have called it “what looks like a man running when he’s been shot in the leg”, I expect.
Once I arrived at the ridge and looked back behind me towards the cottage, I realized a fact which both enthralled and scared the piss out of me: the field was much, much bigger than I had originally thought, and while it was both cool and unbelievable that I had covered such a “large” distance while feeling so utterly spaced-out and terrible, it was also fairly unsettling that if the stag made another appearance and came at me then I would have to run at a speed known only to professional 100m sprinters to get away: a feat of endurance which would have tested me tremendously at my peak of running fitness aged 16, let alone after years of battering my knees and now being in the kind of state where getting up a flight of stairs was frequently a serious struggle.
So I had two options: 1) do the sensible thing and go back to the cottage right now with my amazing story, my body intact. Stay away from the ridge. Do not go near the ridge. Do not be a stupid idiot. Or 2) go near the ridge in a big way, scaling it on all fours, until I reached the top and was rewarded with my prize.
I chose option 2, but don’t get too excited. This isn’t that kind of story. Yet.
I’d love to say that I climbed the eight-foot-tall ridge easily. That I scaled it quicker than I expected, having found, from some well of power within me, a new energy that comes to those when they desperately need it. It didn’t happen like that. If anything it was the reverse. Slowly and shambolically, I made my way up the slope, stopping after each step, using my arms to drag my legs up one by one. By the time I got to the top the stag had, of course, gone, though the comical side of me likes to think that he was standing there right up until the very last second, peering over the edge and saying: “come on, you can do it, you can do it, and…” just as I finally made the summit with an epic grunt, “…Ha, I’m gone!”
Standing there, on that summit – and I don’t care what you say about it only being eight-feet-tall, it’s a bloody summit all-right when you put as much effort into a climb as any esteemed mountaineer did, especially one that’s probably going to cripple you for all of the next day – I felt an enormous sense of nothing to do with achievement. My legs hurt, my arse hurt from where I’d fallen awkwardly on a bit of sticky-outy rock – the only bit in the whole ridge it looked like: I blame the badgers – and my chest felt very similar to how it had done 6 months before when I had ended up in A & E with a suspected heart-attack. In other words, no part of me ever wanted to see that ridge ever again, much less the stupid quarry or lake or whatever it was on the other side of it. Which was entirely void of majestic looking stags and stag-ets (?) I might add.
The following morning I was crippled. Not literally, of course, but for all practical purposes. Ben left too early for me to tell him about my epic adventure, but after another full day of lying around zombified with nothing else better to do that construct a mighty impressive adventure story for Ben to be amazed with, he heard about it the second he walked through the door at 6 o’ clock, whether he liked it or not. And from the look on his face to begin with, I suspected not.
“I saw a stag last night, Ben, up on that ridge.”
Ben still gawked at me, his key in the door, his body facing the door but his head looking at me, the eyes all innocent. It’s hard to explain Ben’s gormo-gawk to people who don’t know him – he’s been perfecting it ever since the old sixth-form days when he would spend, I kid you not, as long as 2 hours in front of the bathroom mirror making his fringe into perfect stalactites to wow the ladies with – but, in the nicest possible way, he sort of looks like someone’s just smashed a brick into his head at the exact same time he pissed his pants while standing on a nail. Hopefully that clears that up.
“Ben,” I said, “I saw a stag last night. It was incredible. I could have been killed!”
This time he smiled. I’m not gay or nothing, but Ben’s got a smile and a half! As a long-time friend I feel it’s OK to say that. If you’re reading this Ben, I’m sure you get what I mean, after all, you’re the one who always gives me man-hugs. “You saw a stag on the ridge last night and almost got killed,” he said, looking through me and past me to the TV, as if that might suddenly turn on and give him the answer. “Pinky, you’re nuts.”
“I’m telling you I did,” I said, and all the effort of convincing Ben made me sort of sigh, even though there were few times in the last couple of days – apart from when I discovered some chocolate in his fridge – that I had been so excited.
“I believe you,” Ben said, his brain now functioning just enough for him to be able to walk past me towards the kitchen. Funnily enough, when Ben’s body shuts down at times of extreme surprise or amusement, the one part of him which functions brilliantly is the part which points him in the direction of copious amounts of food. “So where’s the ridge? I have no bloody idea what you’re on about.”
I explained where the ridge was, and the whole adventure very briefly, enhancing the bits that were already mind-bogglingly impressive / exciting, and cutting the bits where I thought I might collapse, because who wants to hear that when they’ve just got home from work?
There then followed a brief conversation where Ben was baffled as to how I had climbed the ridge, and I explained that I had been driven to it by my deep desire to see the stag up close. Ben pointed out the obvious dangers, such as being mauled to death and possibly, if I was really in the wrong place at the right time, being impaled head-first on an antler. I told him not to worry, as I had it all under control.
Ben was highly sceptical, and looking back I understand why.
That evening, finally, I gradually started to feel better. Extra-special pasta by Ben was my reward, and very briefly I thought my taste-buds had taken a turn for the worst, until I realized that no, it was just Ben’s cooking (note: although Ben’s signature dish is over-cooked pasta and has been for the last fifteen years, he is generally a far better cook than me, which I must confess isn’t actually very difficult).
I remember that evening being a particularly good one. For no real reason, really, but isn’t that sometimes just the way? We ate, we drank, we watched a film and talked all the way through it. Ben had been very busy in the week, and what with my feeling rotten I’d not really felt like speaking much. So here, at last, was our chance to catch up properly and talk about things in the way that old great mates do. The only downer about that evening was that it was much too short, seeing as just as I was getting going and feeling more like myself, Ben was tired and ready for bed.
So we hit the sack together and made sweet man love. Not really, but I had to write that. I couldn’t resist it, and I knew Ben would appreciate me acting out his wildest fantasies right here on my blog for all my readers to enjoy for all-time. That’s how well I know Ben, you see.
So no, what really happened was Ben went to bed like a boring git, and I went into my room to sit and ponder what to do for the next twelve or so hours. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep. Now with a sense of energy and desire to live about it, my body wasn’t going to be happy until I gave it what it wanted and deserved. And that was how I ended up going outside again in the very early morning, towards the ridge, with my camera, looking for the stag.
Creeping outside this time was a very different experience. The field looked the same, and the field felt the same when I met it under-foot, but inside I was armed with all kinds of new information, and so soon as I cast my eyes across the vista – along the ridge, where there was no sign of movement – I knew it was going to be much more rewarding. Not only were my legs feeling much more able, but I now had lots more to think about. Even if I didn’t come across any stags or deer, it would still be a worthy outing. The fact that I could enjoy the sensation of being outside in the cool night-time air was, on its own, a thing of beauty and something to cherish.
I was getting my camera out, crouched down on the ground, when I noticed something in front of me, way off in the distance. At first, looking up casually and with the contrast of the light on the horizon confusing my eyes, I thought it was a bird landing or a blur in the top of my vision caused by staring at the small back-lit screen. But when I looked right at the thing – now sensing it was something else, but only after I’d made an initial, jerky movement that was too late to take back – expecting whatever it was to scarper, it didn’t. The stag, in all its beauty, just stood there, huge and amazing against the light green sky behind it.
And it had antlers; not antlers like the stag from the night before – what must have been a juvenile, I now felt confident – but hulking massive antlers like two perfect lightning-bolts that rocketed out of its highly-held head.
Taking that first photo, don’t ask me why, but I was nervous. The night was so still, and the cut of the wind was so sharp across my camera’s lens, that the tiniest sound seemed to travel for miles, and I was sure I would alarm it. Quickly, though, it became abundantly clear that either the stag was completely deaf, or he was just way cool and had far more important things to worry about than being photographed. Which was fair enough. Imagine having antlers like that. It’d be very difficult to not think “do I look cool right now?” wouldn’t it?
It was for all these reasons – the beep of the camera, the weird feeling of invisibility that had come over me, and the overpowering sensation that this was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity – that I took one step forward, and another. Crouched down low, I was half-way across the field and the stag had barely moved. Aside from the odd toss of his head and backwards or forwards step, he remained perfectly still, and that was when he looked straight at me and grunted, very, very loudly.
This next bit is a challenge to write, as explaining how a stag grunt sounds is possibly one of the most difficult writerly feats I have ever attempted. I read somewhere once that the most difficult thing to explain in words is mountains, simply because of their sheer scale and ominous magnitude. I disagree wholeheartedly. To all those who have written about mountains and moaned about it, I suggest they put themselves in a life-or-death, man-versus-stag situation and see how their skills fare.
It scared the crap out of me. Sounded like a single-note concerto of pig grunting, horse neighing, and stereotypical werewolf screaming, all layered over one another and then distilled slightly so the werewolf’s growl doesn’t kill the deep quality of the horse neighing. This was followed by an elegant leap that, at the time, made me fall sideways in bemusement. I had never actually seen a stag do that in real life before, and what struck me as so awesome was the way it looked exactly like a comic book stag from a cartoon I was sure I remembered as a kid. The stag did this leaping, ballet-esque jump three or four times, each one a perfect front legs followed by back legs buck. Then he vanished down the back of the ridge, and that was when I started moving.
Now, looking back, I realize how this idea of pursuing a six or seven foot tall beast with enormous deadly weapons mounted on its head sounds: insane, suicidal, asking for trouble. And perhaps it was all of these things and more – for example, reckless, stupid, moronic, verging on the kind of unhinged behaviour that, when you see it in a film comedy, it just seems unrealistic – but at the time, after two exceedingly boring days, I needed to live. And right now, this chase, this something, was a fuel-injection of living that I couldn’t back away from. Much as I was scared and knew I was being an absolute nut-job idiot, nothing could have stopped me that night from pursuing the stag.
And pursue it I did. At first I made my way crouched and cautious, and then, getting comfortable with the idea, I increased my speed and hoped for the best. My legs were able to handle it, and my camera was readied in case the stag made another appearance, but none of my thoughts were centred on stopping and taking a picture here. The point was, I suppose, that I didn’t want the stag to appear again just yet: no, what I wanted was to scale the ridge and surprise it and get a photo. To see the beast as close-up as I could.
Fear only really came into it when I got to the bottom of the ridge and started climbing. I vividly remember the terror making a brief surge through me as I re-imagined that terrifying sound ring out, but it passed quickly, and with more strength than the night before I was able to make my way up the steep incline in only half the time. Just before I got to the top, I steadied my camera in my shaking hands – so you are afraid…too late now I thought – and corrected the light meter. Then, with a final push and the camera right out in front of me as a kind of half weapon / half shield, I pushed off with my back foot and crested the summit.
The stag was there and he took me by complete surprise, and I dare say he thought the very same thing. Not there right on the top, but half way over the back-side of the ridge, his massive arse facing me, with his head down low chewing some shrubs. For a brief moment, I was sure I’d surprised him so much that his front legs had given way and he’d started to tumble down the steep bank on the other side. But quickly, while also falling backwards a bit like someone on TV at that festival where they roll down-hill chasing a massive piece of cheese, I saw a glimpse of his body turning almost on the spot, and that was when the noise came again.
I was upside down with no idea which direction I was headed in by the time the noise ended, and with my body curled up I miraculously managed to spring out of the roll and into a kind of side-ways stumble as the stag roared again what felt like right in my ear. With less effort than felt right under the circumstances – I almost felt as though I was insulting the stag and making him more angry by getting away with such ease – I managed to get my footing and slide on my back and my bum to whence I’d came. But when I landed I got one hell of a shock: to my right was another large animal, also looking surprised. This one was nowhere near as large as the mega-stag, but still big enough that from a distance of around fifteen feet, I could tell that he or she was almost as tall as I was. You again, I thought, oh shit. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea after all…
The next roar that came from atop the ridge was much more subdued than any that had come before, but oddly it felt much more menacing. That might have been because I was now sprinting as best I could across the field, my legs throbbing with pain, my brain remembering that statistically there was about as much chance of me not getting impaled up the bum as England having an Indian summer, or it might have been because I was being pursued by the smaller deer that I was sure was close behind me. Either way, it was a long way back to the cottage that night, and when I got in the door, I honestly don’t know why, but I was actually laughing.