Tuesday, August 31, 2004

New York Minute 

Hello Alexa,

It was kind of you to write and say nice things about A Free Man In Preston.

I feel like I’ve been blogging for absolutely ages, but it’s not really that long in the grand scheme of blogs. This is my 97th post. I should do something to mark my 100th post - crack a bottle of champagne against the side of my PC or something.
I still enjoy writing this stuff and hope that it shows.

I took a look at your site and wish you well with it.
It’s incredibly gratifying to get visitors dropping by, and maybe this little plug will send a few over.

I see that you read Belle de Jour. She or he or they has taken a lot of crap over here - I don’t know if you read any of it.
I still have a soft spot for that blog as it’s one of a small handful I read before starting my own.
I think the writing is great. I’m not arsed whether or not it really is written by a London call girl. I quite like the thought of it being written in a staff room by bored and bearded school teachers, puffing on pipes and whiling away dreary lunch breaks. Possibly in Inverness.
Who knows - maybe one day your blog will take off and also be the focus of speculation about it’s authenticity. If you do make stacks of money - either from a book deal or other immoral earnings - please remember to look back and think of me kindly.

Thanks for asking about Terry and Tabatha.
It’s all gone a bit quiet on that front.
From eavesdropping on Stella today, I got the impression that Tabs and Doppelganger Terry still see each other now and again. But it’s nothing serious. Apparently. Yet. I’ll tell Terry when I see him tomorrow. Poor lad is shitting himself.

Anyway, thanks for writing. Good luck and take care of yourself,


Thursday, August 26, 2004

William, It Was Really Nothing 

“How gay are you, Tim?” asked Stella.
“Yes Tim,” added Terry, “just how gay are you?”
Suddenly everybody was looking at me. I’m not used to an audience.
“Come on Tim. Tell us. How gay are you?” spluttered Mike.
The office fell silent.

“Hello? Am I missing something here?” I asked, rabbit-in-the-headlights style.
"He's not done it yet, has he?" said Mike, wiping his mouth.
It felt like the whole building had stopped and was waiting for me to spout, I don’t know, wisdom or something. How unlikely is that?

“Erm. What is this? Well… There was a couple of times when I was seventeen, but nothing since. He was my best friend.”

Hoots of laughter. Oh terrific.

“What Mike means,” explained Terry with less than helpful timing, “is that you’ve not done the gay-o-meter test that’s going round. That's all. Check your inbox.”
“Great. Just great. I’ll do it in a minute.”

I thought what makes somebody gay is whether or not they fancy members of the same sex, but apparently there’s more to it than that. There are other issues to consider, such as whether or not you hire a professional to do DIY tasks, or whether you’d rather be a cat or a dog. Or how important it is to decorate upon moving into a new flat. What, I wonder, if you don’t live in a flat?

Anyway, this morning I was 23% gay. I’ve just done the test again at home, and this time I came out 33% gay, so to speak.
Not in an obsessive way, you understand, but in the interests of research, I did the test again. I answered as before except I began by declaring that I sleep with men - which I don’t, although I did twice in 1983 - and it still thinks I’m only 33% gay, some, erm, 67% less than you might expect.

Whatever. Scientific methodology was probably not foremost in the minds of the experts who produced it.

Maybe I lost points because I don’t own leather trousers, and further more, have never given sex as a present.
Mind you, it’s not something you often see on people’s Amazon wish-lists, is it?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Shake Rattle and Roll 

“It’s superb. You’ve got to see it for yourself to appreciate how well they work together,” said Rex, our millionaire security guard.
I pricked up my ears. ‘Working well together’ is something of an alien concept around here.
“Yeah,” grunted Mike through a golden haze of toast crumbs. “My uncle used to take me when I was a kid.”

“Ferret down the hole,” continued Rex, warming to his theme, “Jack Russell waiting at the other end. One shake and they’re dead. Shake, dead. Shake, dead. Shake, dead.”
“And it’s good grub,” Mike enthused.
“Too bloody right. And all of it free. Shake, dead.”
“They don’t know what hit ‘em.”
“One shake and they’re dead. It’s a joy to watch.”

From Stella’s office, we heard the anguished whimper of an eighties style yuppie witch falling off her running machine.

Rex and Mike scoffed in unison. “They don’t understand. Townies.”

Monday, August 23, 2004


Today I have been mostly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


“I’ll tell you who you never hear anything of anymore.”
Neil was standing on the roof of his car. He was wearing fluorescent yellow swimming trunks with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles written down one side.
“I give up. Who?”
He put his mobile phone to his ear, shouted “1-2-3-Now!” and dived off. He hit the ground with a mighty thwack.
“Oouwwghaa!” he exclaimed.
After a few seconds, when everything had stopped wobbling, he crawled on all fours back onto his roof. He stared at me for a second and said “Chumbawumba.”
“Oh yeah. They sort of disappeared, didn’t they?”

He shouted into his phone again. “That was pretty good. Now let’s try that with a double pike. Ready? 1-2-3-Now!”
This time he wriggled about in the air a bit before landing flat on his back.
His bones made a crunching sound, as if they were made of cornflakes. I grimaced.
“I bought one of their early albums,” I said. “It was terrible. I like that Tubthumping though.”

He dragged himself back onto the car and yelled into his phone.
“Excellent. That was much better. Are you up for a double pike with full twist and cappuccino? Really? Good for you! Ready? 1-2-3-Now!”
To my untrained eye, it looked exactly like the previous dive. But Neil was jubilant. He punched the air in triumph as I passed him his towel. He rubbed bits of tarmac and dirt off himself, then fixed me with a steely glare. I’ve never seen him so fired up before.

“Yes, Chumbawumba.” He said it in a tone that suggested he was imparting great wisdom. “They got knocked down, and they got up again, but they never had anymore hits, did they?”

He shook me very firmly by the litter bin and clambered back onto his car.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


Irony is a fine thing in the hands of an expert such as myself.
When Stella’s at the wheel, however, it comes out all wobbly and wrong. She has taken to calling her team The Boring Bastards, intended as an ironic reference to the evening of bacchanalian pleasure she thinks she enjoyed with us last week.
She says the geeky dullard front we present during office hours is a terribly amusing façade.

I’d be content for this misunderstanding to run it’s natural course, burn itself out.
Terry doesn’t find it so funny though. He’s got a hot date on Saturday, or rather, somebody who Tabatha thinks is Terry has got a hot date. If Terry Mark 2 screws up, then it will be our Terry who will get the flack for it. He phoned in sick today. I told him that it’ll all be over by Christmas. That cheered him up no end.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Careless Whisper 

“Wild boys! Wild boys!”
“Wild boys!”
“Good morning, boss. You look happy.”
Stella skipped round the office. “I never knew you guys were such party animals! Thursday was brilliant!”
“Erm. Yeah. It was a good night,” I mumbled. If I hadn’t already been sat down, I’d have sat down.
Terry looked up from reading the sports pages, interested to see how this was going to pan out.
Even Mike stopped eating for a moment.

“Me and Tabs got absolutely shitfaced! Mind you, we were off our tits before we’d even got on the train!”
“Shitfaced,” I nodded in agreement. “Completely.”
“Then we drank a load more on the train. It’s a miracle we found you at all.”
“Yeah, we wondered if you’d have trouble tracking us down.”
“God! What was that bar we went to that played Duran Duran all night?”
“Don’t forget there was Spandau Ballet as well.”
“Don’t wake me up before you go-go! I love that song.”
“And Kajagoogoo.”
“I’d never have thought you guys would be such good dancers. You act like such nerds in the office.”
“Yeah, well…” we muttered simultaneously.
“You certainly hide your bushels under your lights, you dark horses!”
“Empty vessels make the most noise,” Terry chipped in.
“God yeah, Terry! Tabs was well taken with you!”

Terry, who would have made the Olympic blushing team if it weren‘t for his steroids, turned bright red.
“She showed me some of the texts you sent over the weekend, you horny old goat.”
Terry let out a small squeak and looked ready to combust.
“She can’t wait ‘til Saturday.” And she winked at him knowingly.
“Shitfaced,” he murmured nervously. “Totally shitfaced.”

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Born Slippy 

“Good turn out,” yelled Neil above the din. “What’s the occasion?”
“It’s your leaving do,” I yelled back.
“I see. And where’s he going to?”
“No Neil, it’s your leaving do. To mark the fact that you left our team.”
“Oh right. Very good. Did I? And all these people came out? I’m touched.”
“No, these are just members of the public. Our lot are in that corner eating curry.”
“Curry? I love a good curry. What are we waiting for?”
“You’re buying us all a drink. It’s your round.”

The engineering team (me, Mike and Terry) put in a full turnout, and there was a fair smattering of programmers, apps, helpdesk and admin people too. Diana and her team - Sideshow Bob - were also there. So called because of his resemblance to Sideshow Bob. There wasn’t a trace of Stella all night - the eighties-style yuppie witch, that is, as opposed to the reassuringly Belgian lager.
We started at The Moon Under Water, (a curry and a pint -£4.50, formerly a cinema and once Europe‘s second biggest pub, apparently), moved onto Sinclair‘s Oyster Bar, which I liked very much, and ended up in some awful unlinkworthy bar playing suitably shite eighties chart music. It was crap then, and the passing of time has done little to improve it. It made me wonder how the witch was getting on.
If you were in Manchester on Thursday and saw a sagging middle aged man dressed as Napoleon, then congratulations, that was Neil. I was the bloke picking rice out of his hair. My hair, obviously, not Neil’s. He was wearing a hat.

Buoyed by recent successes in the planning department, I knew exactly when and where we needed to be for the last train home. So why did I allow Mike to persuade me that there was an ‘even better than that’ solution?
I’ll spare you the details, but it involved getting on the wrong train at the wrong station, missing a connection at Salford Crescent - “You don’t want to get stranded there at this time of night” shuddered a number of helpful passengers - then sprinting between platforms at Bolton for the right train, which our kindly conductor had arranged to wait for us.

So why did we sprint? I guess we were just a bit excited, living in the moment. I’ve never had a train held up to wait for me before, and doubt I ever will again.
We must have looked like an older, flabbier version of the Fab Four in A Hard Day’s Night. All that was missing was a horde or two of hysterical teenage girls anxious to tear our clothes off. Maybe next time.

Stella rang in sick on Friday.
Call me a soft get, but I’m feeling a bit guilty about letting her think that we were meeting in Liverpool. It’s not a very nice way to treat someone, yuppie witch or otherwise.
Would you want it to happen to you in your first week in a new job? No, me neither. And we can’t really pass it off as a mistake, because we told her more than once.

Shit. Actions have consequences. Not looking forward to Monday.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime 

“I used to have a boyfriend who could keep it up for hours.” Stella sat on my desk, playing with my balls. “Come on Tim. Show me what you can do.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I mumbled. “I’m out of practice. I‘m not as good as I used to be.”

“Tim, are you coming?” asked Diana, poking her head round the door.
“Just give me a minute,” I said, grateful for the interruption. “Stella wants me to give her a juggling demonstration.”
“Yeah, come on Tim. Give her one,” spat Mike through a mouthful of pastie.
“Cheers Mike,” I said, kicking him in the shins as he squelched into the room. Not that we had much rain today. That’s just how he walks.

“Thanks for rescuing me from the eighties-style yuppie witch,” I said to Diana while I scattered macaroni cheese about my person.
“You owe me one,” she smiled.
“Don’t you bloody start with the double entendres as well,” I said.
“It wasn’t a double entendre.”
“Oh. Right.”
“So what have you got planned for this afternoon?” she asked, plugging the silence.
“Stella wants me to fix her O drive.”
Diana smirked.
“And no, that’s not a euphemism,” I said as I spluttered hot white sauce down the front of my trousers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Smooth Operator 

Stella says she’s going to re-engineer our core processes. I’m not sure how she’ll manage to find a window if these past two days are anything to go by. She’s divided her time more or less equally between chatting to her mates on the phone, flicking through the pages of Cosmopolitan and flirting with the plasterer. Sometimes she did all three at once.

She and Smudge got off to a bad start on Monday. You know how it is. You’re all dressed up for your first day in a new job only to find a big sweaty man in your office, stripped to the waist and listening to Chris bloody Moyles. “It could be worse,” I suggested, “it could’ve actually been Chris Moyles.” I don’t think she heard me. By lunchtime he’d managed to smooth things over, as it were, and they left for the pub together at four o’clock.
She’s spent all of today swapping text messages with him, and then reading them out to her friend Tabatha over the phone. He certainly sounds like a very athletic young man.

On the whiteboard in her office she has drawn a huge migraine of boxes, squiggly arrows, intersecting balloons and a number of buzzword infested statements on the subject of being “goal orientated”. It wouldn’t look out of place in the half time dressing room at Deepdale.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been interpolated before,” I said, “but I’ll try anything once.”

Unfortunately, she’s got wind of Neil’s leaving bash on Thursday and has invited herself and Tabatha along. They like nothing better than to go out and get shit faced, apparently. The good news is that she thinks we’re all meeting in Liverpool.

Monday, August 09, 2004

New Star In The Sky 

Email from Bill Surname to whole company:
9/8/2004 8:05

Please join me in welcoming Stella A to the company. She will be taking over from Neil, who has moved downstairs out of the way.

Stella, as many of you will be aware, joins us from Company Z, having finally seen the error of her ways. She brings with her five years experience as a project manager, most of which were spent making our engineer’s lives a misery, so she is perfectly qualified for her new role.

Please ensure you do all you can.

Bill Surname,
Chief Executive Officer.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


Note to self:
If you really must go for a jog in the middle of a thunder storm, remember to vaseline nipples thoroughly beforehand.
Wet vests chafe.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Beat Surrender 

She stared at where the ceiling used to be.
“It was Neil. I had to bring him down somehow,” I explained, pointing at the cricket bat.
Diana nodded.
“Riiiiight.” She tiptoed through the rubble. “So when does the new boss start?”
“Monday. She’s coming from Company Z.”
“We’re nicking staff from Company Z again? Ha! That’ll teach them, the arrogant…”
“Totally,” I yelped, ducking as she picked up the bat and swung it around her head.
“So is Neil having a leaving do?”
“He’s already left. Technically we’re a bit late for that. Ouch!”
“But he’s only downstairs,” she reasoned. “You should organise something.”
“What are doing next Thursday?”
She landed a hefty whack on my arm. “Manchester?”
“Great,” I said. “I’ll tell Neil and the others. Bloody stop that, will you?”
“Oops! Sorry,” she said. “Just thinking about Company Z makes me so cross.”
“Ouch! Stop it!”
“It wasn’t me that time.”
“Well it wasn’t Ian bloody Botham, was it?”
“Oh yes,” she smiled.
“You’re right. It was me, wasn’t it?”

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Hanging By A Thread 

I could tell that something was different. The engineer’s office was empty. Not just “I must be the first one in” empty, there was more to it than that, or less, if you get my point. Something was missing, wrong, not at all right.
I wandered into Neil my team leader’s office, and it was completely bare.
Where were the pie charts that he’d so carefully coloured in? And what about the framed photos of him with Mickey Mouse and Goofy? The bunting round the window frame; the banjo by the filing cabinet; the Slipknot outfit on the hanger behind the door: all gone. Just six sad blobs of blu-tack on the wall where his gigantic “You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” poster used to be. It was eerie.

“Bloody hell,” I said to the abandoned room, “I turn my back for five minutes and they sack the poor sod.”
“Not sacked,” Neil whispered into my ear, “just moving downstairs to manage the Help Desk.”
“Jesus! You scared the shit out of me!”
He dangled on the end of a rope suspended from the ceiling, a bit like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. He was wearing a deer stalker’s outfit, puffing on a pipe and wearing a monocle, or would have been wearing a monocle if it weren’t swinging in the air beneath him. He resembled one of those mobiles you’d hang in a nursery if you wanted to encourage in your babies an early interest in Sherlock Holmes.
“I say,” he said, “you couldn’t lend a chap a hand, could you? I appear to be stuck.”

“It won’t be the same without you, boss,” I gasped after ten minutes of belting him with the cricket bat I’d found in his wardrobe.
When he eventually came crashing down to the floor, bringing half the ceiling with him in a vast white cloud, looking like a suicide flour bomber, he merely said “Marvellous Tim! If there’s anything else you need, you know where to find me. Pip pip!” and toddled off to look for the stairs.

I stood catching my breath for a few minutes, surveying the damage. Then I said good morning to Mike and Terry as they took off their jackets and switched on their PCs, shook the plaster out of my hair, dusted myself down a bit and wandered off to make us all a brew.

Monday, August 02, 2004

One Day I'll Fly Away 

“Are you going to do it then, or what?”
“Don’t rush me. I’m not ready.”
“But you keep looking all set to do it, and then you don’t.”
“I can do this. I’m just composing myself.”
“You’re very beautiful, by the way.”
“Thank you. My name’s George, if you were wondering.”
“Like the Beatle? Very good.”
“Yeah, hilarious.”
“I’m Tim. But you have lost your nerve, haven’t you? You’ve bottled it.”

Silence. All you could hear were the birds singing and the insects humming. Then after a few moments, he or she (I’ve no idea which) said, “So what’s that you’re reading?”
"It’s Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s incredible. I’d recommend it to anyone who can read.”
“That excludes me then. Thanks a lot.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to… It’s just a really excellent book, and I only ever seem to read books when I’m on holiday, so...”
“Yes. I’ve noticed you around these past few days. You’re not from round here, are you?”
“No. A friend has lent us this house while they’re on holiday. It’s really peaceful, isn’t it?”

Silence again, a lovely, easy silence, except for the singing and humming, which was wonderful too. Even in the shade it was hot. The sun sneaked round the trees and burned my feet while I wasn’t looking.

“George,” I offered, “if you’d like me to give you a lift…”
“I can manage perfectly well, thank you,” he or she replied, a little indignantly. “This is what I do.”
“Suit yourself.” And I carried on reading.
George crawled down the page, onto my arm - “That tickles!”, “Sorry!” - onto the arm rest, under the arm rest and out of sight. Ten minutes later I saw him or her descending the chair leg and slowly and very deliberately boarding a blade of grass.
“Sorry to go on about this, but you’d have been much quicker flying,” I said, but when I looked, George was gone.
“George? George? Where did you go?”

Girlfriend came out with two more cold beers. “Who’s George? Who are you talking to?”
“Oh, nobody. Well, you know, just someone I met on holiday.”

She looked around, but saw only swallows and swifts, finches, blackbirds, butterflies - tens maybe hundreds of butterflies feasting on resplendent buddleia, bees and wasps, ladybirds, tiny flying creatures too numerous to name, too bloody annoying to contemplate, the only signs of life for mile upon mile of this most breathtaking countryside.
There was a rustle from the clematis clinging to the walls of the crumbling old house. Maybe it was the walls that clung to the clematis. Who can say? Two house martins scurried out and chased each other across the unblemished sky, playful as children, agile as lovers.
Girlfriend patted me on the head, pecked me on the cheek, muttered something about imaginary friends under her breath, and with a book in one hand and a beer in the other, climbed back up to her tree house to sleep the day away.

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