Monday, January 28, 2008

Pleasant Valley Sunday 

We Sunday eveninged at a secret location in ruralest central Lancs.

Joella and M were mini-breaking in a cottage not much larger than a Volvo, and in exchange for hints and tips on fun things to do in the Forest of Bowland in the cold and rain, we were fed and taken to the pub. I think we got a pretty good deal.
The pub was close enough to make it hardly worth putting shoes on for the walk, and me and Girlfriend drank much more than was sensible for a school night.
After that we listened to music, talked gibberish and drank some more. It was all terrifically agreeable.

We slept in bunk beds which, what with all the swaying inside the room, put me in mind of the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry.
And we were woken by someone next door with the world's loudest vacuum cleaner, who I assume had been hankering for hours to do some cleaning and at seven o'clock decided they'd put it off long enough.
The drive into work took absolutely ages – note to self: don't go and live at a secret location in ruralest central Lancs, unless I want a five hour daily commute – and all day everything has tasted of raspberry sambuca.

I'm afraid I had to wikipedia a list of American States to find the one which didn't contain any of the letters in “George W Bush,” Joella's pub question.
There's only so many times you can say “Ooh! I think it's Hawaii... Oh. Maybe not,” before you start getting on your own nerves.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Running Up That Hill 

I'm a sucker for any view taking in rooftops and church spires. Me and Girlfriend have been wandering around Lancaster a lot lately, and this strikes me as a particularly fine scene.

It was taken outside Lancaster Castle, which according to the HM Prison Service website has an operational capacity of 243, is not presently accepting Life Sentence prisoners and has some restrictions on long term prisoners.
The website fails to mention that there are several great pubs in the immediate vicinity and that the town has a thriving cultural life.

I have a mental image of residents digging their way under those chunky medieval walls to sup a few pints in the John O'Gaunt, maybe catching a band at the Yorkshire House, or perhaps something theatrical and worthy at the Dukes, before returning to their cells unnoticed in time for lights out. Being on the West Coast Main Line, the town also enjoys excellent transport links, so maybe a day out shopping in, say, Liverpool or even London wouldn't be out of the question.

I spotted this in Waterstones, which was uplifting in its own peculiar way. Still going for full price too, fair play to the boy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

King Of Comedy 

I was talking to Terry this afternoon about the Hollywood scriptwriters' strike crisis.
Soon the shortage of imported telly will be having calamitous effects on the British TV schedules and, thus also herewith, Terry's entire way of life. The ramifications are enormous and he's getting jittery.

Neil, my former team leader, who had popped into our office to return some Post It notes he'd borrowed last year - “These are useless to me now. Some idiot's written all over them” - stopped dead in his tracks.
“When the scriptwriters are on their picket lines,” he mused, “does that mean they all walk round carrying placards with nothing written on them?”

“That's pretty funny,” I said, scribbling it down. “I'll try and remember that. Pass it off as one of my own.”
“What's funny?” he asked.
“The striking writers,” I said, as patiently as I could muster. “With their placards.”
He stared at me blankly. So did Terry, who added “One of your own what?”
“Nothing written on them?” I said. “That's quite, you know...” My voice trailed off. “...Funny. Unlikely as that sounds now.”

Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, marched into the office reading aloud from a magazine.
“Do I create a buzz whenever I walk into a room?” she asked.
We weren't sure if it was rhetorical, but then she repeated herself, in that stroppy headmistress tone she uses when she thinks we're being thick. “Come on guys, it's a simple question.”
She rolled up the magazine and clouted Neil on the back of the head with the walking stick she was holding in her other hand.
“Ouch!” he whimpered. “What was that for?”
“It's from when I broke my leg,” she replied. “I don't need it anymore so it's going back to the shop.”
He looked pitiful and stumbled out into the corridor rubbing his head. “I can hear a buzzing now, if that's what you mean,” he mumbled.

The truth of the matter is, yes, I think she probably does create something akin to a buzz, but I'm not going to admit as such to her.
You can just sense when she's in a room, you really can. It's not an aura in the mystic hippy sense, more of an inaudible whining like what only dogs can hear, except that you can hear it too.
She's like a smoke alarm that needs it's battery changing. She bleeps incessantly until you do something about it.

Stella wasn't going to let it drop so I put my phone on speaker mode and listened intently to the dialling tone for a few seconds.
“Nope,” I said. “No buzzing here, Boss.”
Silence, obviously.
Mike returned from his 3:30 wank, took one look at me and said “Are you on fucking drugs?”
“Okay,” I conceded. “Not as good my placard joke, but it might just get a laugh in New Zealand.”

“If those Hollywood scriptwriters were here now,” said Terry, thumbing through his Maplin catalogue, “they'd all be shitting themselves.”
Then everybody went back to work and I poured an apple and rhubarb yoghurt down my cardigan. Nothing, as they say, goes to waste.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Blood Donor 

I've become convinced that Neil, my former team leader, is not of this planet but am yet to come up with concrete proof.
Everything about him - his mannerisms, the things he says, the way he goes about his business – indicates that he's busking it. You're a fake Neil, and I'm on your case.

It's a bit like when you're at a posh meal and you're not sure which cutlery to use, so you wait for someone else to make the first move then copy what they do.
Only Neil, being a good deal dimmer than your average alien life form, always manages to get his wires crossed, mistakes the white noise for the signal and the signal for the white noise, tries to eat his soup with a fish knife, wears his napkin like it was a party hat, follows women into the Ladies to “freshen up his makeup and generally bitch,” and remains oblivious to the commotion he leaves in his wake.

Ages ago he held a door open for me as we passed in the corridor. My mind was elsewhere at the time, nothing new there I suppose, and instead of saying thank you – “Kew” in it's shortened form – or “Ta”, the word that left my mouth was a combination of the two: “Car.” Ever since he thinks that Car is the word to use when thanking me. Nobody else, of course, just me. I tried putting him straight but got nowhere and life's too short so I've let it pass.
There are worse fates in the world than being incorrectly thanked by a manager from outer space.

Today was Blood Donor day here at Company X and I thought this would be my big chance to unmask him. I've been priming him all week.
“Are you going to give blood on Friday, Neil?”
“Erm, what's that?”
“It's where you donate some of your blood to someone else who needs it more than you.”
“No, I mean what's blood?”
“Oh. It's this red liquid, or fluorescent green in your case, hopefully, that carries oxygen and stuff around your body. It's great.”
“Car Tim, but I think I'll take a rain check on that.”
“Oh come on,” I said. “It's the easiest karma you'll ever get. You get an hour off work to have a lie down, and at the same time you're giving a wonderful gift to, you know, your fellow man and that.”
He shifted uneasily in his high chair. “Nobody needs my blood more than I do. Car Tim, but no car.”
“Neil,” I persisted. “When else are you going to be restrained flat on your back by a woman in a nurse's outfit? For free? You'd like that, wouldn't you? I know I do.”

By Thursday I could tell he was wavering on this last point.
Something about the thought of all those pipes and tubes must have rekindled memories of his travels in the mothership, and the promise of buxom Earth Matrons in stiffly starched uniforms proved more than he could resist.

This morning we walked together down to the Company X cricket pavilion where the blood donor people had set up their equipment.
Neil, who learned everything he knows about the National Health Service from watching old Carry On films, was giddy with excitement. I think he was expecting to be forcefully manhandled by Barbara Windsor.
I, meanwhile, was anticipating camera crews and maybe a speaking part on the six o'clock news:
“This is a great day for the good people of Preston who can once more sleep soundly knowing this alien lunatic is safely under lock and key. I only did what anyone else would have done in similar circumstances. It was the least I could do.”

As it transpired, I was turned away on the flimsy grounds that “I have a chesty cough, sore throat, cold sore or am coming down with a cold.”
I explained that having a chesty cough is just my natural state these days and that, honestly, I was fine, but they were having none of it.
Seeing me being rejected, Neil lost his nerve completely and claimed not only to have the mother of all man flus, but also declared he was on antibiotics, had received complicated dental work in the last seven days, and had had his ears, nose, face and Prince Albert pierced in the last six months.
“Is that going to be a problem, Nurse?” he innocently enquired.
What probably clinched it was his belief that he was pregnant or had had a baby in the last nine months.
“Well, which?” asked the nurse.
“Both?” he wondered uncertainly.

I was livid.
“It obviously wasn't meant to be,” he sighed as we headed back in the pouring rain. “But car anyway for thinking of me, Tim.”
I put up my hood and pretended not to have heard him. Investigations are ongoing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Tuesday night, live at the Conservative Club: me attempting Creep on the ukulele. This is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you, etc.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, teetered into the office under a pile of new motivational management books for her reference library.
“Why Can't You Be More Like Me? Excellence In Unconvincing Times.”
“False Hope: A Guide To Staying Positive In The Face Of Conclusive Evidence To The Contrary.”
“Weed and Feed: Systematic Demoralisation In The Corporate Gardenplace.”

“Happy New Year,” she trilled. “Back to old clothes and porridge.”
“Porridge what?” asked Terry.
“It's just something my nan used to say. 'Back to old clothes and porridge.' You know. Now that Christmas is over?”
He gave her his best 'I haven't got a clue what you're talking about' look.
“It's a figure of speech,” she explained. “You don't take it literally.”

“Porridge has a low glycaemic index,” I said. “Energy food. Don't knock porridge. Stabilise your blood glucose levels and you can stabilise your moods.”
“This is Ralph Lauren,” said Stella. “Brand new, obviously.”
“And it does wonders for your....” I hesitated. “Well. I'm going to stop the Porridge Marketing Board thing before I go too far. Can't have you thinking I'm mad or anything.”
“No, you're absolutely right Tim,” said Stella, which is unusual. “All through the holidays my friend Becky saw to it that I got my oats every morning and I've never felt better. Brilliant, in fact.”
“That'll be the B vitamins,” I said. “And the zinc and iron. I'm really going to stop now.”

In an instant, Creepy Keith from Accounts galloped downstairs and was all over Stella like norovirus jumping aboard a new host.
He launched into his terrible Christmas, his falling out with Jeanette from the Introductions Agency, his being caught speeding, family troubles, the downturn in the housing market, the chavs down the road that darken his day, cold callers, the government, taxes, the untraceable phone calls in the middle of the night enquiring after his services as a male escort, the whole degrading experience that is simply existing. A classic text in victimhood. He hates everything and everyone, and everybody hates him back, and the only joy in his life is telling Stella about it.

“I'm telling you Babe,” he screamed, “they're trying to steal my identity, and when I find out who they are I'm going to break their legs.”
“Two questions,” she replied. “Who in their right mind would want to be you? And when you find your identity thief, how will you know they're not you and you're not them?”
“Oh shut up.”
“You'd have to break your own legs as well, to rule out the possibility that they were right and you were wrong.”
He stormed off at this point.
“I had a wonderful Christmas, thank you for asking,” she shouted after him. “I could break your legs for you now, if you like.”

I caught Stella's eye and mimed enjoying a wholesome bowl of porridge. I blew on my pretend spoon then swallowed a mouthful of hot tasty goodness.
“What the fuck are you doing, Tim?” she asked.
“Looks like a certain creepy accountant could you use something to stabilise his moods, don't you think?” I said. “Mmm, not too hot and not too cold. Just right.”
“You're pretending to have no idea what I'm talking about, aren't you?”
More silence.
Outside my window Rex the security guard was dismantling the Christmas tree and packing away the lights. The sky darkened and the rain fell harder.
I wandered down to the wonky vending machine for a coffee style drink and when I returned we carried on like nothing had happened.

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