Green Ink on the Back of a Pizza Delivery Receipt – (Dinah and Shaw part 7)

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‘…Thing is,’ muttered Shaw, ‘I assumed that you had agreed to take this case on.’
‘Me?’ spluttered Dinah, indignation firing from every pore.  ‘Have you any idea…  When have you ever…  What, exactly, are you doing with your foot?’
‘I’m trying to stretch it.  It was wedged under my leg.’
‘Yes, well now it’s wedged under mine and I would be awfully grateful if you could just unwedge it.’ 
Painfully aware of the six-inch layer of pins and needles that played about his sole, Shaw squirmed his foot around as far as he was able, losing his shoe in the process.  Searching for it, he realised, was definitely not on the agenda at that moment.
‘And anyway,’ continued Dinah, relieved that Shaw’s foot was no longer under her leg, but somewhat dismayed to find his shoe by her ear.  ‘Why would you possibly think that I had taken the case on?’
‘Well,’ Shaw had a tendency to sound like an affronted schoolboy when under pressure, ‘I don’t remember doing it.  I saw it in the diary.  It was in your writing.’
‘Right,’ sighed Dinah, her voice taking on, Shaw sensed, a definite edge.  ‘Let’s see, it was written on the back of a pizza delivery receipt.  In green ink.  And the spelling was atrocious…’
‘Ah…’
‘And,’ Dinah was on a roll and had no intention of stopping, ‘I repeat my earlier question: when have you ever let me…  What is that?’
‘What?’
‘On my leg.  There’s something on my leg.  If that’s you, I’ll break your fingers.’
‘Yes,’ thought Shaw.  ‘A definite edge.’
‘On the other hand, if it’s not you, what in God’s name is it?’
‘It’s not me.’
‘Ok then,’ Dinah fought to control her breathing.  In for five, out for ten.  She spoke with an exaggerated calm.  ‘There is something moving on my leg.  If it’s not you, then I’m out of here.’
‘Ok, it’s me.’
‘Is it?’
‘No.’
‘Right, I’m out of here!’  Dinah struggled to move her legs, to push towards the black rectangle of the door, the thin halo of light that surrounded it the only illumination in the bottomless darkness of the tiny cupboard.  She reached out a hand to push and Shaw, sensing rather than seeing her movement, reached out to stop her, brushing a breast as he did so.
‘Shit!’
‘I take it that was you,’ hissed a very tetchy Dinah, all school teacher once again.
‘Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…  Look, just wait a minute.  Let’s just see if I can find out what’s on your leg.  Can I?’
‘Ok, but just be careful.’
Shaw tried to marshal The Force, attempting to follow the profile of Dinah’s body without touching anything until he reached the leg.  He felt flesh, definitely a leg that was not his own, and he sighed with relief.
‘Wrong leg,’ said Dinah.  ‘And wrong end.’ 
Shaw withdrew his had so quickly that he struck his elbow forcibly on something extremely hard and angular.  ‘Bollocks!’ he squawked, as far under his breath as the pain allowed, bringing an unseen warm smile to Dinah’s lips.  ‘Ok, I’m with you,’ he said.  ‘Sod it, let’s get out.’
‘Hang on.’  It was Dinah’s turn to be cautious.  ‘There are a few things you need to explain to me first.  One, why are we hiding in a supermarket cupboard?  Two, if you really thought that I’d taken this case on, how come it’s only you who has the faintest notion of what’s going on?  And three, when have I ever…’
‘It’s a department store.’
‘Sorry?’
‘It’s a department store, not a supermarket.  We’re in a department store cupboard and we’re waiting for the store to close.’
‘I know that much.  I allowed you to bundle me in here.  What I don’t know is why?’
‘Well, the client wants us to look for something that…’
‘Hah!  So you do know what it’s all about!  You did take the case on!’
Bloody hell, three exclamation marks.  Shaw was forced back onto the defensive.  ‘Are you quite certain it wasn’t you?  You could have told me and then forgotten.’
‘Look Shaw; one, I didn’t take the case on; two, I didn’t take the case on, and three, since when have you ever let me take a case on?  You’re only happy when I have no idea of what’s going on.’
‘Yes, well, since we’re partners…’
‘We’re partners?’
‘Aren’t we?’  Shaw managed to use just two words to plait shock and hurt together into a blanket of perceived injustice.
‘I don’t know.  Are we?’
‘As long as you want to be.  Do you want to be?  There’s still no money mind…’
Dinah allowed herself another quiet smile.  ‘We’ll talk about it later…  You do admit that you took the case on though?’
‘Yes.’
‘Fine.’  Dinah was pleased that Shaw could not see the grin that threatened to tear her face in two.  ‘So why don’t you tell me what we’re doing here?’
‘We’re waiting for the store to close.’
‘You told me that.  Why?  What are we looking for?’
‘Erhm…’  Shaw inhaled deeply.  ‘I’m not exactly sure.’
‘Not exactly sure?’
‘At all.’
It was Dinah’s turn to take a deep breath.  ‘Ok’, she sighed at length, ‘we don’t know what we are looking for, so why are we looking for it here?’
‘Well, why not here?’  Shaw was intuitively aware, even in the all-encroaching darkness, that Dinah was gaping, fish-like, trying to find the words to say.  And then he heard the bolt slip.  Outside the cupboard the light snapped off and Shaw tensed as the thin corona of light surrounding the door turned to black.  He tried to push the door, but it was firmly locked.  ‘Ah…’ he said.
‘I heard it,’ said Dinah.
‘Mm,’ said Shaw.
‘You expected that, right?  You have a plan…’
‘Plan?’  Shaw was clearly confused.
‘You didn’t just cram us both in here on a whim?’
‘Well, no.  I certainly wouldn’t call it a whim, exactly.’
‘So, what would you call it exactly?’
‘It was more of a hunch.  I thought that we might have a better chance of finding what we’re looking for after everybody else had gone home.’
‘Although we don’t know what it is, nor where it is, and now we’re locked in this cupboard until, hopefully, somebody opens it in the morning?’
‘Yes…’
Dinah sighed the sigh of a doting mother.  ‘Well, we’d better settle down then.  I hope you haven’t had too much to drink…’  She rested her head against Shaw’s shoulder, taking his hand, instinctively conscious of the fact that he was afraid of the dark.  ‘Just in case it should stray inadvertently onto my leg again,’ she said…

Part 6 of this whole shebazzle is here with links to all the other parts.

Part one is here if you wish to start at the beginning and you can follow links from there.

The Running Man and Dentistry

A single inadvertent chomp on a Curly Wurly and I was waving goodbye to my two week old filling.  Just a little nibble, on the other side of my mouth; what could possibly go wrong?  A second’s distraction.  Should soft caramel make a crunching noise?  No, clearly not.  Obviously my own fault, but it saddens me to know that once my tooth has been repaired, Curly Wurlys must be removed from my diet forever and onward.  Likewise the two mini Chomps I had hidden for future use.  If I’m honest, I do recall that the tooth made a very strange noise two days previously whilst I was eating a roast potato – yes, a roast potato; surely not the greatest of challenges for a newly refurbed gnasher.  Anyway, for now, here I am, running along with every intake of cool air twanging across my recently emasculated molar like a soft pick on a detuned ukulele.  It’s depressing.  Of the many things I expected old age to bring to me, I did not consider talcum powder teeth.

Running does somehow attune your head to the body, meaning that you become ever more conscious of the corrosive effects that time has upon mortal flesh.  I run in my contact lenses because glasses steam up, get rained on, fall off, and I dare not go ocularly commando because I cannot see beyond the end of my nose without something to enhance focus.  I would not recognise a familiar face until I had fallen over the owner; would not see the bus until I had caused it to stop in the most inopportune of fashions.  I am limited, even in lenses.  I have to make myself stop before crossing roads as all traffic becomes invisible to me if I am moving.  Joint-wise I am okey-dokey except for the hips, the knees and the ankles.  Everything below the waist aches after a run but, crucially, everything aches even more if I do not exercise.  Knees and ankles have long been a problem, but the hip, although late to the party, has now joined in with a vengeance.  It is the only joint that keeps me awake at night these days, although calf muscles have started to ache in the wee hours in a manner that suggests that they have heretofore been somewhat left behind in the atrophy stakes, but they are making every effort to come up on the rails now.

Anyway, my dentist informs me that I cannot be fitted in for another two weeks because I need an extended appointment that is not available until that point. What a lovely, relaxing thought, that re-fixing my recently fixed tooth will require an even more extended period of horizontal panic. I would have liked to have got this all sorted whilst I was on furlough, but unfortunately I am neither bleeding to death nor unable to eat, so there is no rush in these Covid-ruled times. I am well down the pecking order and, if I’m honest, I’m not in great pain so that’s ok. Until I cannot successfully gum on a gently wilting banana, I will live. And until the body finally decides that the downward trend of bodily vigour reaches terminal velocity, I will run – and if that doesn’t prove that the brain is going, nothing does…

Today’s top plodders:

  • Silly Love – 10cc
  • It’s a Beautiful World – Noel Gallagher
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Supremacy – Muse
  • Avonmore – Bryan Ferry
  • All my Life – Foo Fighters
  • Steel Town – Big Country
  • Cocaine – Eric Clapton (again – time for a new playlist)

Odds and Sods – A Final Reflection

One thing that struck me as I stumbled out of my Odds & Sods computer file and into the boxes of tattered paperwork that litter my attic (in a physical, as well as a metaphorical sense) is how very long it took me to become me.  What I have written has always been – as far as such a thing is possible – ‘original’, but I have not always been me whilst writing it.  I was always wearing somebody else’s hat.  I wrote as Spike Milligan, Woody Allen, Monty Python, Ronnie Barker, Alan Coren – it took me many years to find me.  In many respects that has only fully happened over the last couple of years.  For much of my writing life I resembled a man raking through a box of other people’s underwear – trying to find a pair that fit: whatever I put into them was my own, but surrounded by somebody else’s DNA.  (Have you ever written an analogy that has made you feel queasy?  I think I may need a whisky.)  It was never a conscious thing.  I am a sponge; I soak up whatever surrounds me – which proved particularly troublesome when I worked in my Father-in-Law’s pub: pissed by osmosis is no defence in law.  Subconsciously, I seek to replicate, in style rather than substance, what I enjoy.

It was a trait that I sought to get a grip on (way back when it mattered) by not reading or watching any ‘comedy’ whilst I was working on something myself.  The merest glimpse of ‘The Magic Roundabout’ or ‘Hector’s House’ in the five minutes before the early evening news and all of my characters became happily drug-dependent misfits: a commune of odd souls happily existing in a world just one degree south of our own.  A mere thirty minutes in the company of Victoria Wood would leave me desperately hopeless – certain that I just was not cut out for this.  Yet I plodded on, and I did ok within the limits of my capabilities (large limits, tiny capabilities) but I don’t think I ever truly spoke with my own voice until I started this little farrago a couple of years ago.  If you do not like my blog, then you almost certainly will not like me – and, if I’m honest, having waved a fond farewell to my first six decades, it is something that I have learned to live with.  Like everybody, I seek approbation, but I understand why I might not get it.  It’s ok.  I understand, also, that I will not be able to change the minds of those who do not like me – because they are idiots, obviously.

Anyway, until this morning I had in front of me several pieces of Odds & Sods arcania that I intended to revisit: things that I thought I might, somehow, breathe new life into, but it has occurred to me that in order to do so, I would once again have to become the person that wrote them originally – and I no longer have any real recollection of who that was.  Was he Colin in Alan Coren’s jockeys, in the multifarious Pythonian undergarments, or even those of the erstwhile Mr Barker, which would, in all senses, make me feel like far less of a man than he?  Frankly, as much as I continue to admire the work of these people, I have no desire to be re-assimilated by them, so the paperwork has gone back into the loft and the lid has gone back on the Odds & Sods.  And we’re all stuck with me again…

Zoo #11 – Octopus

If you meet an octopus
On the top deck of a London bus,
Just shake his hand, as they taught you to
And say ‘How do you do, you do, you do, you do, you do, you do, you do, you do?’

I realise that I am going to lose three quarters of my audience through the course of this sentence, but if you’re my age, British and you remember the wonderful Frankie Howerd, try reading this out in his voice.  It really works…

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Ex-Mas

Well, despite a brief summer window of optimism that it would all be over by the autumn (now delayed until next summer when, hopefully, the miracle vaccines will be proving their efficacy) here we are tottering towards our very first New Normal Christmas: a cheery three household bubble gathered around the laden seasonal table wondering how they are going to explain to Aunty Ethel why she has been excluded; no drunken games of Twister; pulling your own cracker…  The extended family as a liability.  Even if the rules are relaxed, who in their right mind is going to invite granny over, knowing that what she just might take home with her, could be the very last ‘gift’ she ever receives?  Not even the Christmas Day armour of sweet British sherry and egg-nog can offer sufficient protection.

The threat of post-Christmas ‘payback’ means that seasonal consumable stockpiles are likely to consist less of candied fruits, nuts and brandy butter, and more of toilet rolls, candles and flour.  This year’s must-have stocking fillers?  Possibly a family-sized bag of twirly* pasta, a personalized hand-sanitizer pump and a bag of any soft confection that does not pose a threat to ill-maintained lockdown teeth.

The sparkly, pre-Christmas twinkle of city centre shopping might return, but will there be footfall to justify it?  Can you imagine shoppers flocking into our current High Streets of boarded up buildings and whitewashed shop windows?  The usual Christmas Markets were all cancelled months ago – the gluhwein pans stowed away for another year and the cheap red wine poured down the sink where it belongs.  Carols, should they be sung at all, will fall more into the province of barber shop quartet than church choir.  There will be little chance of celebrating The Real Meaning of Christmas with socially distanced pews and not a single voice raised in joyous thanksgiving.  I fear that Jesus may find himself even more sidelined than normal amongst the new concerns of mince pie shortages, supermarket home deliveries that consider ten Brillo Pads as a suitable replacement for an oven-ready goose, and ‘who needs a new bra and pants set, when you haven’t been out of your pyjamas for nine months?’  I fear that madness beckons.

I suspect that our children will probably bear it all with greater fortitude: imagine a whole Christmas Day without being slobbered over by an ancient and hirsute aunt whom they normally encounter only once a year, when they have been penned in with little chance of escape.  Nothing in the world is quite as good news to a child as not having to hug adults.  And there will be positive gains to those of pre-school age in the ever-longer Christmas run-up.  Can you imagine what self-respecting adult would currently allow their child to be plonked upon the knee of an unsanitary, red-suited super-spreader for whom, with the best will in the world, a mask would prove ineffective.  What, I wonder, would be the ‘R-rate’ of a single ‘Ho-ho-ho’?  Imagine, no more having to pretend that you actually believe that the man in the cheap polyester Santa suit and white nylon beard, who smells of a gentle collation of Benson & Hedges, Johnny Walker and urine is the real Father Christmas.  No more having to pretend that you believe there is a real Father Christmas.  As long as Amazon do not cock up delivery, all will be right.

I may, of course, have got this all completely wrong.  Christmas might just continue much as it ever did**.  Granny will upset Aunty Norma by criticising the quality of her mincemeat, Grandad will melt a hole in the new sofa with his pipe and Uncle Derek will throw up on the cat.  When you clear them all out at midnight you will swear that, whatever happens, you are never doing that again, even though you know that you will, just as soon as you are allowed.  Nobody wants a New Normal Christmas when the Old Normal has so very much going for it…

*I appreciate that this is probably not the correct Italian terminology, but I bet you know exactly what I mean.

**In the UK we will find out what is to be allowed this Thursday – and possibly the January price we have to pay for our five-day communal debauch.

The Running Man and Birthdays

My sister-in-law was born on the 25th of December and I’m sure that it is sometimes hard for her to live with.  However much she is loved (and she is) she cannot actually claim her birthday as her own.  Somebody, with a somewhat wider sphere of influence, had it first.  Let’s face it, there are plenty of people to say, ‘Oh, you were born on Christmas Day.  Do you just get one present?’ but I suspect far fewer to say, ‘25th December?  Really? Did you realise that Jesus shares your birthday?’  It must shape you.  Imagine, for instance, the difference between being born on September 10th 2001 and being born one day later.  Imagine the difference between being born on the day that Mandela died and the day that Hitler died.  Imagine the difference between being born on Thursday the twelfth and Friday the thirteenth.  Birthdays must shape lives.

So I checked out my birthday and I find out that the USSR launched a rocket on that day (Luna 1) which missed the Moon by 3,725 miles and ended up orbiting the Sun, and an Indian Cricketer (Kirti Azad) who played a grand total of Seven Tests was born – I’ve never heard of him, but that’s ok, I’m sure he’s never heard of me.  In a wide, wide world of events, all other incidents took the day off.  So now you know why I have become what I have become…

My playlist plodders today almost made the slightly longer run worthwhile:
Cocaine – Eric Clapton
Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode
Don’t Come Back – Wishbone Ash
Heroes – Bowie
Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
Everlong – Foo Fighters
Black Dog – Led Zeppelin
Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix
Back in the Doghouse – Seasick Steve (Frustratingly cut short by untimely death of phone)

I’m not sure what’s left in the playlist before it starts again, but I’ll let you know…

A Little Fiction – Dramatis Personae

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Before you begin to write a new character into a novel or screenplay, it is important that you have begun to understand their back story…

…He stood five feet six in his stockinged feet.  When he wasn’t wearing his stockings, he was exactly the same size.  They made absolutely no difference.  I don’t know why I even mentioned them.  His face, which in his prime had looked lived-in, now looked as if someone had died there.  As a baby, not even his mother would kiss him, in case it was catching.  She had the word ‘Top’ stencilled onto his forehead on the day that he was born, so that she knew which end to put the nappy on.  His father had left home the very moment that James (Jimmy) Riddle was born, saying ‘That cannot be mine.’  He never returned, which was a great relief to Jimmy’s mother, as she had no real idea of who he was.  He had just appeared in her bed one hungover morning, where he remained for nine months, rising only to attend to his toilet needs and to empty the traps.

Jimmy was raised on the bottle.  It was not that his mother was unable to breastfeed him, rather that, having had a strict convent education, she refused to remove her vest for anything lower than a cardinal.  Furthermore, the preparation of formula milk required a much higher level of culinary skill than she possessed, so she opted instead for bottled Guinness on which to raise the child, with the result that Jimmy did not experience a single day of sobriety until the age of two, at which time he was introduced to Kentucky Fried Entrails – a rather less-than-successful venture undertaken by Colonel Sanders’ younger brother, Orbital – which was to become his staple diet for the next sixteen years and which, coupled with his continued consumption of eight bottles of Ireland’s finest per day, ensured that he was a boy without friends.

School became a hurdle that little Riddle could not overcome.  Academia was a place that had bolted its doors, put a chair up against the handle and covered the keyhole lest he should attempt to peek inside.  Shunned by fellow pupils and teachers alike, he was instructed to stand in the corner of the classroom even during playtime, when the other pupils used him as a wicket.  He tried to make friends by becoming ‘the class clown’, but he discovered that he was too much like a classic French bouffon, in that nobody found him even in the faintest bit funny.  He was caned on an almost daily basis by the Headmaster.  Not because he had done anything wrong, but because they both rather liked the routine.  The Headmaster was, in fact, the only person in the entire school to ever ‘see anything’ in young James – but charges were never brought.

He left school at the age of thirteen and decided to join the Navy, despite being allergic to water.  It was not a problem, the recruiting officer assured him.  He would be given a stout pair of boots to wear on board ship.  If ever the water began to lap over the top of them, that might be considered an appropriate time to panic.  In fact, the three years he spent aboard the nuclear submarine as Acting Latrine Orderly (second class) were the best of his life.  Although he was shunned by the rest of the crew, the lack of basic facilities on board ensured that he did, at least, smell like everybody else.  He became a valued member of the ship’s company and although nobody tacitly acknowledged his presence on board, it became the accepted thing to leave him some portion of unused rations on the seat as a ‘thank you’ after particularly explosive episodes.

It was the death of his mother – ironically with a cold on the chest – that brought him back to dry land.  She had always told him that he would get what was coming to him when she died – and she was true to her word.  The combined might of the Debt Collectors of seven counties made sure of it.  He emerged from their ministrations looking like Michael Flatley had hoofed his way through an entire River Dance on the bridge of his nose.  He had never been an oil painting, but now he looked like a Jackson Pollock – one of which, incidentally, the debt collectors had also stood on.  He was motherless, homeless, penniless, and his ointment had all but run out.  A silent rage flooded though him.  He felt impotent – which indeed he might well now have been – and useless.  His view of the world had changed.  It was to be despised, along with everyone in it.  He would never know the joy of befriending a bus conductor.  He would never enjoy the thrill of love.  He would never own a budgerigar called Bryan.  Jimmy Riddle stared into the world and prepared to cast himself out from within it.  He carried his impetigo before him like a shield.  His weapon was an unwashed body and breath that could strip paint.  Two weapons.  He strode out of the door with his head held high – which was a shame, because it had a very low lintel…

Well, that’s sorted the romantic hero out, now for the heroine…

The Running Man and His Playlist

I have a playlist for running.  It is full of tracks that have a steady beat – nothing with jarring changes that might confuse plodding feet – that approximate the metronomic thump of my 5k lope.  It is probably because of the choice of my music that I manage to maintain such a steady pace: it does not vary by much more than three or four seconds per kilometre.  Today I took a slightly different route to my normal, expecting to cross the local sports field and pub garden as a bit of a change of scenery.  As I made my way across the sports field I was treated to the kind of stare that Hannibal Lecter might have stopped using on the grounds that it was too disturbing, by a man playing ball with his two toddlers.  This is a big field.  I must have been at least thirty yards away from them, but he clearly saw me as some sort of superbug.  It would appear that whatever the chunk of atmosphere he had decided was exclusively his; I was intruding upon it and breathing out God-knows-what.  I was pleased he didn’t have a dog.  He struck me as the kind that might well set it on me.  I was in no state by then to run away.  Speeding up was not an option.  When I say that my pace is steady, I forget to mention that it is only because I don’t have a second gear.

Anyway, having passed through the park without actual physical attack I arrived at the back of the pub to find the gates locked and chained, which meant that I either went back through the park or on through the churchyard.  I felt a little uneasy about running through the graves, but I slowed slightly as I passed the most recent, which I’m sure the occupants appreciated.  I would have bowed my head, but that would have inevitably ended up in me going full length over something stone and immovable, so I continued to look where I was going.  The detour added an extra kilometre to my run although the pace remained unaltered, all down, I am sure, to the even beat of my running playlist.  I really didn’t realise how many good ‘plodders’ I have.

Today’s running tunes:

  • Big Money – Rush
  • Bully – Judie Tzuke
  • Locomotive Breath – Martin Barre
  • White Man in Hammersmith Palais – The Clash
  • Fascination – Bowie
  • Action – Def Leppard
  • Seven Seas of Rye – Queen
  • Pretending – Eric Clapton

I have no concept whatsoever of time signatures, but a steady lope was maintained throughout…

Odds and Sods – Dear Colin

This was written at the height of the Cold war – Reagan and Thatcher were determined to rattle the Soviet cage and the threat of nuclear holocaust seemed ridiculously close.  For those of you (I imagine most) who do not remember what that felt like, it felt like this…

***

I saw a famous Agony Aunt on the TV yesterday and, whilst it was not a particularly edifying experience, it did provide me with one or two interesting tit-bits to mull over.  For instance, did you realise that most letter writers really do claim to be writing on behalf of a friend; that the majority of letters are sent by men and that, in this particular woman’s experience, despite the fast changing nature of our modern world, the character of the problems she is asked to address remains just the same as it has ever been?  Well, it made me wonder…

Dear Colin
Before the nuclear ‘accident’ I was a normal teenager with a pregnant partner, 32 years my senior, who was married to somebody who, quite honestly, is just not coming back.  Since our re-emergence above ground however, I have found myself increasingly disturbed by her tendency to lose limbs at inopportune moments and have, thus, found myself increasingly distant from her.  Especially since she has been requisitioned by the Ministry of defence and deployed as a lighthouse.  I am now in a stable relationship with my neighbour, Geoff, and we are very happy together, despite the obvious disapproval of our neighbours, who have recently become hermaphrodite and will no longer share a bathroom.  My question is this: we both wish to have children.  Will this be possible?
Jeremy

Dear Jeremy
Almost certainly.  Frankly you both have as much chance of conceiving as any female survivor.

Dear Colin
I am a fairly average looking guy: four foot two, one good eye, a nostril that works almost all of the time etc, but I do have problems in attracting members of the opposite sex.  My mother says that it is because of my teenage complexion problems, and that once the zits have cleared up, girls will start to look me in the face again.  Is she right?
Lonely

Dear Lonely
Spots?  How on earth do you find them amongst the scabs, flaking skin and running ulcers that constitute a healthy complexion?  The only people I know without spots are really no longer bothered by it.  High radiation levels are almost certainly good for the skin.  I suggest that your problems might lay elsewhere.  Cup your hands over your nose and mouth, exhale and then inhale sharply.  Has your nose stayed on?  That is a good sign.  May I suggest that you visit your doctor and ask him to perform a sperm count.  If you have some, and they are not too badly deformed, I suggest you make yourself a placard to that effect; I can almost guarantee good results (unless you are Belgian).  If your sperm count is low, try moving to Brussels.

Dear Colin
I am pregnant and very worried.  Last week I went for a scan and the baby looked like a three-legged dwarf dromedary.  Is this normal?
Worried

Dear Worried
Yes.

Dear Colin
Before the accident my husband and I enjoyed an excellent sex life (often with one another) but as the nuclear winter has dragged on and on, the frequency of our lovemaking has dwindled away to never.  I have tried all I can think of to rekindle his desire, on occasions going completely naked under the lead peignoir, but to no avail.  We are the only two people currently breathing in our bunker, so I am certain he is not having an affair.  Have you any ideas?
Frustrated

Dear Frustrated
First of all, check that he is alive.  A cheap and simple way of doing this is to wave the front page of the Daily Mail in front of him.  If he jumps up and walks away, muttering darkly, he is alive and well.  If he shows interest in what it says, lure him to the door and lock him out, he’s really not worth the bother.  If he keels over to one side, his tongue lolling loosely from his mouth, his body limp and glowing, then I wouldn’t worry about warming his slippers any more.
If all else fails, move to Brussels and keep an eye open for a frustrated man with low sperm count.

Dear Colin
I voted Green at the last election, marched for CND and moved to a Nuclear Free Zone, yet, when the balloon went up, I still had to watch my nylon bathroom curtains melt, the garden shed explode in a ball of flame that scattered my gladioli over the best part of five counties, and my cat fly right across the road, landing on top of next-doors breakfast bar, three feet from his tail.  Who can I sue?
Confused

Dear Confused
Quite frankly, I don’t think you stand much of a chance with the government as, technically, they no longer exist.  CND are pretty well beyond reproach and as most of our armed forces have had their molecules evenly distributed across most of what used to be the free world, they will be very hard to track down.  Try the local council, but expect a long wait as it may take quite a while to track down a judge who is sufficiently ‘with it’ to operate in the current situation – but then, it always did…

Dear Colin
Since the conflagration I have met a very nice man.  He is all I have ever wanted: good looking, kind, honest, generous and with almost all of his own nose, but my mother will not let him in the house.  What should I do?
Unhappy

Dear Unhappy
Persuade your mother that she is looking peaky and that she could do with a good lungful of fresh air.  That should do the trick.

Dear Colin
In the months since the holocaust I have had a terrible problem with my ‘thing’ – or, to be more precise, my ‘things’…

Zoo #10 – Leopard

A leopard never changes spots –
Or maybe that’s the cheetah –
I couldn’t help but wonder if
A pinstripe would be neater.

As I stated last week, I am always baffled by the patterns that animals display on fur and hide.  A number of you good people explained to me the way a zebra’s stripes work, but how do spots make you disappear on a grassy plain?  It never worked for Mr Blobby*.

*Cultural reference for those outside the UK.  Mr Blobby was very popular in this country for a number of years.  It was a national aberration: one to which no-one in his/her right mind would ever admit to succumbing.  Ditto Noel Edmonds…