On the very first day of Lockdown I lost a chunk of tooth. What was left of the errant molar then continued to shed lumps of itself at random intervals right up until the present day. Each time I found myself spitting out chunks of dentine, I phoned the dentist, only to be told that she wouldn’t see me unless I was in unbearable pain, unable to sleep, or could not eat. I will not lie, and none of the above options applied, so I chomped on to the best of my abilities.
Yesterday, the dentist rang me to say that they would see me in one weeks time. Great news? Should be, but you know how these things go. Today, my tooth aches. I cannot chew on it. I will not be able to sleep for the next seven days. Psychosomatic? I presume so. I can live with it. What’s of most concern is that six days from now I have to submit an online form to certify that I do not have any Covid symptoms – and I can feel the countdown ticking in my head as I type…
There’s something very therapeutic about mowing the lawn at this time of year, not least in the knowledge that you shouldn’t have to be doing it for too much longer. The sun, although as bright as ever, has lost its fiercest heat; the days are shortening perceptibly, the mower’s basket is less full. Even the ants have given up creating bare patches for now.
My lawns are not huge: well within the range of the mower’s cable. They are far from flat, but unlike last year, they are at least green. They are certainly no bowling green. They host various bouts of running, tumbling, football and cricket. The bounce is, at best, variable. It would leave Joe Root¹ staring at the sky, having vainly chased another one rising sharply just wide of off: it would leave Jordan Pickford² cursing his luck as he fished another one out of the net. But we manage ok, the grandkids and me. Lord knows, we even manage a bit of golf – although with very limited success, when we discover that the hole is full of clothes dryer instead of flag. I must admit that the combination of eighteen inch plastic putter, lightweight plastic ball, uneven surface and grass that is at least two inches longer than regulation does little to help. I would claim to be the world’s worst golfer, were it not for my granddaughter who, tired of constantly missing the ball, gradually takes to thrashing the plants in a manner that I do not think would be considered at all sporting at the R&A.
The mowing is not a long job – although on a good day I can make it so – and I can sense that even my tiny electric mower finishes it with a wheeze of ‘Is that it? Is that all you’ve got?’ Well, yes, it is. Mind you, it’s alright for you little Bosch, you are blithely unaware of how scruffy a front hedge appears alongside a neatly cut lawn. My wife is not, and I am quickly apprised of the situation.
My electric hedge trimmers add a suitable level of jeopardy, if not actual danger, to the morning. When they were younger, they may well have been capable of excising an errant finger here and there, of chopping through an injudiciously placed cable; now, they would merely give either a nasty nag, but an unwelcome one none-the-less. Unfortunately I do not have the intellect to buy common-sense, and we remain uneasy bedfellows, electrical equipment and I. We are all much happier when anything with an external power supply is safely stowed away in the shed. Not quite so therapeutic is the actual process of ‘stowing’. There is nothing in my shed that does not strive to injure me in some way or another. Like Mr Magoo striding purposefully towards an upturned rake, I approach confidently, but there is inevitable harm awaiting. If I do not get punctured by some unseen implement, I get stung by a belligerent house-guest, or receive an eyeful of some noxious something-or-another that I had completely forgotten ever storing there. We have a very traditional love/hate relationship, the shed and I – although from my side it is all hate.
Still, that’s not the worst of it. ‘As you’re out there,’ says the voice from within, ‘the gutter’s leaking.’ My relationship with ladders is even more problematic than my relationship with all things electrical and pointy. I have never had problems with walking underneath them, it is the standing on top of the bloody things that bothers me. (On a scale of 1-10, where 1 = becalmed and 10 = an autumn day on Neptune, how much wind does there have to be to make you feel unsafe on a ladder? Answer, 0.) Anyway, I did it. Did I mention that I had to rest the ladder on the garage roof, having climbed up there via a step ladder? Still, not quite so far to fall. I didn’t, by the way, fall off that is. I cleared the gutter without mishap; got myself and the ladder off the garage roof without incident and stored the step ladder back in the shed completely without injury. Until, that it, I stubbed my toe on the lawnmower…
¹England cricket captain – widely regarded as one of the best bats in the world until, like many before him, the precise moment at which he was made captain, at which point, the wheels fell off.
²As I write, England goalkeeper, although that may change. Eccentric, like most goalkeepers, Jordan has elevated the state into full-on barking at the moon.
‘…Why do they even put backwards-facing seats into railway carriages?’ asked Shaw. ‘Nobody likes them.’
‘Well, I don’t think they are backwards facing all the time, are they? I mean, when they get to where they are going, they don’t turn around to come back, do they? They just get pulled from the other end….’
‘No, of course not. I know that,’ snapped Shaw, who felt that he had to say something, but really just wanted to concentrate on the fact that he was distinctly unhappy at having to watch where he had just been funnel silently away into the distance. Knowing that his future was looming up, unseen, behind him made him anxious and, as everyone that knew him would testify, an anxious Shaw was a spiky Shaw. For the moment, he occupied himself by staring malignantly into the distance, but Dinah recognised the signs, some kind of irrational outburst was just around the corner.
‘Would you like a coffee?’ she asked, all smoothing oil on troubled waters.
‘I would,’ said Shaw, ‘but that’s another thing: no buffet car. A two hour journey and no buffet car. What do they expect you to do, drink the sweat from your own brow?’
Dinah recognised the warning: a troubled sea fanned by a full-on anxiety storm. ‘’I’ve brought a flask,’ she said.
‘A flask. I’ve brought a flask of coffee.’ She unscrewed the little metal cup and poured the black steaming liquid, watching as Shaw’s bottom lip began, petulantly to protrude. He opened his mouth to speak, but Dinah was ready for him. ‘Milk and sugar are in the bag, she said. Shaw’s mouth made the slightest twitch towards complaint. ‘And biscuits,’ added Dinah.
Dinah allowed herself the faintest of smiles. ‘Bourbon, of course.’
Shaw looked into Dinah’s face as passed the cup towards him. She smiled and he felt the tension leave him in an instant, tingling away from the nape of his neck.
‘Now, do you mind telling me where we are going – and why?’
‘There’s something we’ve got to see,’ said Shaw.
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Well, where then?’ persisted Dinah.
‘There’s the thing…’
Dinah sighed deeply. ‘You don’t know do you?’
‘Not exactly, no, but I think I’ll know when we get there.’
‘How? How will you know?’
‘The man in the tartan hat,’ Shaw nodded, indicating the man on the seat behind him. ‘He’ll be getting off there.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Well, he has to get off somewhere, doesn’t he?’
‘I suppose so, but why him? Why are we following him?’
‘To see where he gets off, of course.’ Shaw sipped his coffee, indicating that, as far as he was concerned, the matter was closed.
Dinah, as ever, absorbed and understood the subliminal message, but ploughed on anyway. ‘I mean, you must have some reason to want to know why he, in particular, is going to get off the train, wherever he might choose to do so.’
Shaw drank slowly, eeking out the silence as long as he could. Finally, his cup empty, he sighed resignedly and said, ‘Do you think we should be following somebody else?’
‘Well, no,’ Dinah stuttered. ‘That is…’
‘Good,’ said Shaw, settling back in his seat and revelling in his moment of triumph. ‘That’s settled then. We’ll stick with my original plan.’
Despite a billion reservations bouncing around in her head, like a zero-gravity hailstorm, she decided that the time had come to just go along with the flow and enjoy the day out. She would have said ‘watching the world go by’, but she had to agree with Shaw, there was little fun in watching the world that had already gone by.
Slowly, imperceptibly, she surrendered to the steady sway of the train, and her head sagged steadily towards Shaw’s shoulder. She drifted off into a soft, dreamless sleep, unaware of the gentle rhythmic snoring of Shaw in her ear…
…They both awoke in the otherwise empty carriage to the first lurch of the return journey. Outside the carriage, all was dark. ‘Typical,’ said Shaw. ‘We’re facing the right way, and now there’s nothing to see…’
Previous snippets from the lives of Dinah Shaw are here. Part one, part two, part three and part four.
I found this in my Odds and Sods file simply labelled ‘1’. There is a ‘2’ and a ‘3’ as well. The title tells you all of what it was intended to be. To get the full effect, you should read it out aloud. Try it – you will be so grateful for social distancing. This is the first half of episode 1. I will publish part two in a later edition of Odds and Sods – unless somebody sends lots of money to stop me…
A SHOWER IS TURNED OFF
…Why do they put shower gel in screw-top bottles? I mean, you pour the shower gel into your hand and by the time you’ve screwed the top back on, it’s all washed away and dribbled on your foot. You get clean feet, but I can never understand it… I always buy the bottles with the little hook on top, you know, you hang them over the rail on your shower and they have a little flip-top that you flip down and get the shower gel directly into your eye… Whenever people buy shower gel for me, and people do, a lot… I seem to get an awful lot of shower gel for birthdays, Christmas, father’s day… very… very thoughtful… it’s very thoughtful… it’s a very thoughtful thing to buy isn’t it, shower gel, very thoughtful… but whenever people buy it for me, it always seems to come in screw top bottles. And it always has the word ‘Sport’ in the name of it somewhere. ‘Sport’ like if the shower gel is ‘Sport’ shower gel, it comes in a screw top bottle. Perhaps if you’re a sportsman you can get the lid on quick enough, you know, so that it doesn’t wash away and dribble down your leg…
It’s a funny thing, shower gel, it’s not something we used to have you know, when I was a kid. We had soap. And no shower, come to think of it. We had a bath… once a week as I recall… with soap, but no shower gel, we never had shower gel…
I wonder who actually invented shower gel? I can’t imagine it was one of those Eureka! moments, you know, like, ‘Hey, look at me, I’ve invented shower gel, now, does anybody round here have a shower?’ I think probably more like ‘Oh dear, I’ve just spilled the shampoo… perhaps I’d better rinse it off before it goes sticky… Oh hang on, just look at that…’ I don’t know what the difference is, really; between shower gel and shampoo. I remember my dad always used to say, when we’d run out of shampoo, ‘It’s only detergent,’ he would say. ‘It’s just detergent with a few additives. You might just as well use washing-up liquid. If it leaves hands that do dishes as soft as your face, then it’s bound to do a decent job on your hair.’ So we did, use washing-up liquid that is, and I just can’t help wondering how different that is from shower gel. I suppose it’s possible that somebody spilled washing-up liquid down themselves and went to wash it off in the shower… although that would mean that they’d been washing the pots in the nude, not completely impossible, but not entirely hygienic I would imagine, not the normal thing, unless, of course, you are a middle-aged German…
I imagine most inventions must come about by accident, really… you know, like blue water in the toilet… I can’t imagine anyone would have said ‘I know, I think I’ll invent coloured water for the toilet.’ No, they must have sort of… I don’t know… accidentally dropped ink perhaps, ink, yes, ink perhaps… or a felt pen, a blue felt pen perhaps… into the lavatory bowl and the water turned blue, and they thought ‘Oh, that’s very nice. That looks very nice. Now, how can I make it do that all the time? I suppose the disinfectant came later… You know, they thought ‘That water’s nice blue, but, well, if we put some disinfectant in it then there’d be no stains around the toilet to spoil the overall… blueness. The blueness of the water. That would be right, I think.
Accident see, it’s the way things come about. I mean, who would have thought that for want of finding somewhere for an astronaut to fry an egg, we’d have all ended up with Teflon frying pans? It’s amazing. Amazing. I suppose, to be fair, they must have had fairly explicit instructions you know, like, ‘Look, you’re going to need breakfast up there and it’s not going to be easy to… to wash a frying pan, you know to wash out bits of stuck-on fried eggs from a frying pan in the weightless conditions of space, I mean, as you scrape the bits off the pan they’d go flying around the spacecraft and I don’t suppose the computers can deal with that… I don’t suppose they can deal with that at all. So, I think perhaps in that case, I’m wrong, yes I’m wrong and it was, in that case, deliberate… a deliberate invention and in that respect of course, quite unlike the blue water in the lavatory…
I remember when they first came out, you know, non-stick frying pans and my mum she just… she wouldn’t have one, she wouldn’t have one in the house. She said, ‘Son, nothing works as well at not sticking as a good old-fashioned metal frying pan absolutely full of lard and I suppose in that respect she was… she was quite right of course, because nothing ever did stick in the frying pan. Well, well at least not until she set fire to it of course and then the sausages took a little bit of shifting, but, of course… yes… The point I’m trying to make, I think, is that new inventions are not necessarily an improvement on the tried and tested. I mean, does a… does a self-erecting, telescopic umbrella for instance, keep you any drier than an old fashioned one. The sort that you have to raise, manually as it were. I mean, if there’s a broken strut in the umbrella, for instance, and it sort of dangles down and drips the water down your neck then a fully-functional umbrella is obviously better. But, that can happen with one that puts itself up of course… a gust of wind, you know, catching on a tree, in somebody’s ear which… which, strangely, is exactly what happened to mine and these things can have an effect, but the modern-ness, the cutting-edge, of the invention doesn’t really seem to affect this… I mean, in my case… certainly… the problem may actually have been exacerbated by the umbrella actually erecting itself, as it were, because, because… well, it happened in a lift and, well, the problem could have got seriously out of hand… which, of course, it actually did…
Not that I’m in any way against progress of course. Some modern inventions are absolutely fine. You’ve only got to take into consideration that great boon to twenty first century living, the micro-chip. I mean, it may sound obvious… it may sound obvious to you, I don’t know, but the micro-chip would never have been invented but for the earlier invention of the micro-wave. I mean, without the microwave, you would have nothing to cook your micro-chips in. And of course, we now have the micro-pie to go with them. One thing must lead onto another. Nobody, for instance, is going to say, ‘Look! Look everybody, I’ve invented the micro-chip!’ and leave themselves open for somebody saying, ‘Well that’s very nice, but what exactly are you going to cook them in?’
Bernard had a lovely beard He kept it nice and clean He’d bathe it with conditioner It brought up quite a sheen He’d trim it, stroke it, wax it, poke it Comb and brush and preen Until the day he got it caught In a slice and dice machine Last one on the shift that […]
This is the fourth poem published by my great friend Chris (Crispinunderfelt) on his new blog – A badly chewed pencil. Just thought that I would like to point you in his direction. If you like a funny poem, you’ll love him…
This is not a unique situation for me. I have no idea what I am going to write about, but, whatever it is, I feel that I ought to get started, so, well, you know… I normally scrawl notes on various scraps of paper during the course of the day, but today I haven’t had the opportunity, so I am sitting at my laptop with no crumpled prompts and no idea of where I’m about to go. As I say, not a unique situation, but all I’ve got at the moment.
To be honest, I have been wondering for some time whether my posts in general are a little too long. Through my many years of peddling this kind of tosh to various publications I was generally required to work to 800-1000 words, and I just seem to settle there somehow. It is not a conscious thing, it is just where everything kind of… ends. Anyway, I thought that it might be a good idea to write something a little shorter, get to the point a little sooner… If only I had one. Anyway, there’s shorter and there’s shorter. I’m currently a little way short of 200 words (a little tip for you here, if you need to increase your word count, never express a number in figures, always write it out in letters and never hyphenate) and that’s really a little too short isn’t it?
Besides, I’m not entirely sure that I have the focus to follow a point to its conclusion without a little… You know… I tend to drift away from the point a little, especially when I haven’t started off with one, and, well, you know what it’s like: one thing leads to another and before you know where you are you find yourself wondering what measurement shoe sizes are based on. (Apparently barleycorns. There are twenty six barleycorns in a standard size eight shoe – although I’m still not sure how that actually makes it a standard size eight.) And then I start to remember how I once stumbled upon a website full of photographs of the feet of the rich and famous and all I could think about was who took them? Surely it must be quite difficult to covertly take a photo of an unsheathed celebrity foot. Perhaps the ‘rich and famous’ were implicit in the deceit. Perhaps the photo’s were posed. I have now been forced to take off my sock and spend some time staring at my own gnarled hoof. It is not rich and it is not famous, but it is a good foot. It is an honest foot. It does not harbour ideas above its station (it does not dream, for instance, of one day becoming a knee). It is the kind of foot on which one can rely – unless you are trying to run up stone steps, when it is not. But anyway…
Mostly I like my posts to have some kind of ending, a denouement if you will, and I don’t always find it possible to get around to one if the words available to me are too strictly limited. (I do not mean in an Ernest Hemingway kind of way – that is the thing with words – I mean in purely numeric terms. I’m not thinking of an over-restricted vocabulary, I’m thinking more of a – perhaps I should look in the thesaurus – punitively restricted word count.) I fully agree with George Orwell about the need for simple language, in exactly the same way as I agree with doctors about not consuming alcohol. If I took out all of the surplus words from my posts I… well, I couldn’t, could I? If you choose to look at it in that way, there is no necessity for me to use any words at all. They are all surplus to requirements – especially if what you are actually looking to find is how to construct an IKEA wardrobe. There are no adequate words of consolation if you are in that position.
I attempt to edit what I write, but I always read my posts out aloud before I publish them and, if I’m honest, I do like a verbal flow. I like words, so if I cross a hundred out, I tend to replace them with two hundred more. I never use a word that I do not understand – although I cannot guarantee that my own understanding will coincide with that of the OED. I know what I mean. Anyway, what I am trying to say, I have just decided, is that a shorter blog will probably just not work for me: I do not want to write plain, but ugly sentences, I do not want to get to the point before it is at all polite to do so, and most importantly of all, I do not wish to end my posts in the middle of nowh…
Carol had been working at the Wilton Tribune for seven years, but never allowed to report on anything more glamorous than the Ryland cat show, the local ‘am-dram’ production of ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ and The School Friend’s Fancy Dress Disco, Barbecue and Charity Beetle Drive. She was officially titled ‘Community Correspondent’, but known amongst her colleagues as ‘Our Man at the W.I.’.
Today she was scheduled to be reporting on the long term effects of a burst water main outside the Wilton sub-post office. The leak had been cleared up over a week ago and as far as she was aware, the only long term effects had been felt by a cardboard box-full of Reader’s Digest ‘You may already have won…’ cards. Still, it was an assignment and it didn’t pay to argue with the editor. It would get her name in the paper and if all else failed she could always make something up. Perhaps if she tried really hard, she would be able to find a water damaged water bill…
Not to be. The Tribune’s senior leader writer had been taken ill with something that the whole staff sincerely hoped would be fatal and a replacement had to be found to cover the annual Society Bash. Carol was to hand when the Editor went ballistic and was duly despatched, party frocked and coiffured, to the local conference centre.
It was a nightmare. Wall-to-wall swank… and swankers. A room full of the kind of people that only ever get to fill a room of this kind. Carol stood, spiral bound notebook and pencil in hand, and watched as the dinner suits and sequined frocks wafted by: all designer-label mating-plumage, silicon-breasted, botoxed and lipo’d, carved and padded, a room full of semi-clothed and penguin-suited egos and shoulder chips. A human menagerie, doused in expensive perfume and naked ambition, smelling of pride and envy, jealousy and impotent rage.
She had tried to get a ‘star’ interview. She had tried to get any interview. She had tried to get some inside information from the caterers, from the waiters, from the bar staff, from the cat….. It was impossible; no-one willing to talk to a reporter wearing a borrowed frock and less-than-expensive perfume. No-one willing to talk to a woman who was asking questions that didn’t appear on the crib-sheet. No-one willing to talk to a woman who was ever-so-slightly tipsy…
She yearned for her long-since burst water main and its all-too-difficult-to-find water damage. She began to crave her W.I. meetings, lukewarm tea and soggy biscuits, interminable lectures, dried flower arrangements and crocheted blankets. She began to ache for the company of people in pleated dresses, high-necked woollies and sensible shoes. She began to long for gin and tonic. A very large gin and tonic, with very little tonic…
Then salvation arrived. It was in a face she knew. It was wearing an expensive dinner jacket of immaculate fit. It was looking cool and comfortable in a silken shirt and bow tie. It was tall, slightly ungainly, but none-the-less relaxed and at home in these opulent surroundings. Damien West, the most eligible boy in the whole class of ’99 strode easily through the gathered throng towards her.
“Carol… It is you, isn’t it?”
“I think so,” she said, aware of the banality of her answer and desperately eager for the floor to swallow her up. He laughed. He laughed! Joy of joys, he laughed. She wanted to laugh too, but embarrassment led her to try and hide it and, in doing so, she merely succeeded in contorting her face into some kind of grotesque halloween mask. She feared she might be dribbling. “Save me, God. Please save me…” And then she remembered that he had crossed the room to come to her. Of all the people in the room, he had come to her. And he’d remembered her name.
“So, what are you doing at this boring old lot?” he asked. He sounded friendly, he sounded interested and Carol felt closer to heaven than she thought she had ever been.
She took a deep breath, determined to speak without stumbling over her words. She looked up into the crystal blue eyes and knew that it wouldn’t be possible. “I just, that is I… I work for a newspaper. I have to cover this… I have to get, that is, I have to try to get some interviews. I haven’t done very well up to now. Nobody wants to talk to a nobody. I might have had a glass or two of wine…”
“You could interview me,” he said before leaning in and whispering conspiratorially into her ear “I don’t blame you, I don’t think anyone can make it through one of these evenings sober.”
Carol studied his face. He meant it, he really meant it. She smiled in gratitude, hoping that it didn’t look too much like a gloat. And then she noticed for the first time the elegant woman at his side. Her blonde hair was expensively styled, her clothes had obviously been designed especially for her, her perfume was intoxicating. She was every inch the professional woman, every man’s dream and every fibre with Damien. She leaned towards him and whispered into his ear before slipping away into the crowd. He smiled and nodded before turning back to Carol. “Do you know, at school, I used to loiter around the corridors, waiting for you to come along, hoping I would be able to speak to you, but you seldom came my way. When you did, I could never think of anything to say.”
“I was hanging around some other corridor, waiting for you. I could never speak to you either.”
“It’s strange,” he said. “When you look back, things could have been so different.”
“Would you have wanted them to be?”
“Not everything, for sure, but you always wonder, don’t you. ‘What if’s’.” His colleague/agent/companion/partner/wife (bitch, bitch, bitch!) appeared carrying champagne. She handed a glass to Carol and one to Damien before taking up station once more at his side.
Carol coughed her thanks and stared hopelessly from her notebook to the floor, to Damien and his tall and perfectly proportioned odalisque and then back to Damien, who was looking at her expectantly. She took her cue.
“You’re a famous person these days. A well-known and respected author. Is there any facet of your fame that you find difficult to handle?” An obvious, but sensible attempt to get the interview back onto some sort of professional footing.
“Evenings like this,” he said. “Usually…..”
“I used to stand in the trees, you know, watching you playing football.”
“Well, I know that you used to stand in the trees. I thought you were watching somebody else.”
She laughed, more loudly than she should have. “Half the Sixth Form was in those trees,” she looked down at her feet.
“I didn’t realise teenage girls had a ‘thing’ about uncoordinated boys with gangly limbs and knobbly knees.” Embarrassment flashed across Damien’s face. He turned to his companion who smiled benignly, like a mother. Suitably assured he turned back to face Carol and she realised she had shocked him. Oh God, she didn’t want to blow it now. She had to get a decent interview. “I’m sorry.” She was stammering again.
“Don’t be,” he said. “It’s erhm… flattering, I guess.”
Carol coughed, nervous and excited. “Did you… Have you based any of your characters on people that you have known?” She was trying again, to get the interview back on track, but at the same time, she couldn’t help but fish.
“No.” His answer was definite and a profound disappointment. “But you’ll be in my next book, I promise.”
“The love interest.”
He smiled. She swallowed and felt her whole body flush red. In her mind, they were now alone, the crowds around them ethereal, insubstantial. For reasons she did not understand she was overcome by anger and hunger and injustice and need, mostly need.
“You must have known how I felt about you then, but I suppose I was just one of many. Besides…” she was becoming indiscreet and she knew it. The couple of glasses of wine were actually many and they had been washed down with an equal number of gins. They had fortified her resolve, galvanised and empowered her ragged self-belief and honed her indignation into a dagger. Carol Massingham felt herself rising. She prickled with resentment and exhilaration. “…You had someone special, don’t you remember? The skinny redhead from the fourth form. She had the most awful buck teeth. She wouldn’t leave you alone, stuck to you like glue she did. You must remember. I wonder what ever happened to her?”
“I got myself a dentist,” said the goddess at Damien’s side. “Put some weight on; dyed my hair…”
I have a file of poems that I wrote specifically for reading out aloud, but other than for an audience of one (and he being in the mirror) I have never done so. One or two of them have appeared on these pages before. I quite like the ebb and flow of this one. Try reading it out for yourself, but make sure there’s no-one listening when you do…
Every day, when I sit down with my morning cup of tea
And a chocolate hob-nob biscuit a-balanced on my knee
I grab the book I’m reading and open up the page
Then something always happens that fills my heart with rage…
I see you in the corner of my eye
A-scuttling on my floor.
A little piggy beetle
A-heading for the door.
Oh tell me where you come from
I hoovered yesterday
In edges and in corners
How did you get away?
I know you have a right to live
Like every free wood-louse
But we’d both be much more happy
If you chose another house.
I grab you in my fingers
And take you to the door.
I throw you in the garden
Where there’s wood for you to gnaw.
Then sit back down to drink my tea
But it’s cold – I’ll make another
I go off to the kitchen
And it’s there I see your brother.
It seems to me a tragedy
You drive me mad this way –
Your whole extended family
Is in my underlay.
Oh crusty-backed menagerie of mini-armadillos
Though just insects, I should respect your little peccadilloes.
Perhaps I’d find it easier if you didn’t scuttle out
Every time I have my friends and family about.
So if you want to live a long and healthy insect life
Free of all your insect worries and all your insect strife.
If you don’t want me to blast you with this tin of spray I’ve bought
Then it’s only fair to tell you that I really think you ought
Take my recommendation:
Find alternative accommodation…
My eldest daughter told me
At the school gate, in a shout
That the baby doesn’t like pig beetles,
She always spits them out…
…And the incident in the envoi was a true one!
NB – I apologise for the formatting. This lovely block editor does something (I don’t know what) to pasted-in poems that puts them in a different (as far as I can see unalterable) font and puts each individual line in a separate block. Infuriating!
Like Herb, I have always made it my habit to visit my Spam folder regularly in order to check whether anything ‘legitimate’ has erroneously fallen down into the bottomless cesspool of virtual doo-doo that fills it, so that I can, if necessary, retrieve it, reply appropriately and not feel like an ignorant slob. Unfortunately, I can’t do it any more: there are just too many of them. Over the last few weeks, my Spam has increased exponentially, from just a few per week to several hundred each day and I have no idea why. Last week my OCD tendencies drove me to empty the file – I like things neat and tidy. It took me HOURS. I can only seem to Bulk Edit twenty at a time. So tonight will be my last visit to the folder. In future I will try to ignore it. If, by some mischance of algorithmic nonsense you end up in it, I can only apologise.
What I am struggling to understand is just what, exactly, these people hope to achieve by sending me this junk. So, some of it is trying to push porn. I get that – not the bit where they have chosen me to bother, but the way it works. They mostly have a link which I suspect you only have to click in order to weld your laptop permanently to the KGB network in seconds… or perhaps you just get porn. Not sure which is worse really… Anyway, I understand how that could work, but what, for instance, is meant to happen with the one that says, ‘Would you be in favour of exchanging hyperlinks?’ What is a hyperlink? How do I exchange one? Presumably they want me to reply, although I can think of no rational reason for doing so outside of complete mental breakdown. Many are trying to sell me Amoxicillin. Why? Do I look ill? Many simply praise what I have written – although they do so from a position of blatantly not having read what I have written. Are they expecting me, perhaps, to reply, something along the lines of, ‘Many thanks for your kind comment, but I fear it has been misdirected. I have never written a post about Big Jim and his unusually endowed sister Natalia, and I do not understand the vagaries of trading Bitcoin. I hope that you are reunited with your preferred recipient soon. Yours etc etc’? And if they are, what do they hope to gain from it? A pen pal?
The most mystifying of all are what appear to be very long medical articles. They are very detailed and use approximately thirteen words per line that I do not understand. But why? What do they want me to do? Do they feel that my susceptibility to autosuggestion will be such that I think I may have caught whatever it is that they are describing? If that’s the case, surely all they need to do is offer me a link to the Amoxicillin website. In as much as I understand them – e.g. not at all – they appear to be snippets from a medical student’s dissertation. I fear that even extreme curiosity would not drive me on beyond the stages of putrefaction described at the foot of page one. Unless they are trying to peddle some kind of anti-nausea medication, I am at a loss to understand what they want to achieve, nor why they think they may achieve it with me. I don’t wish to give too much away, but just try me with free chocolate.
Finally, the comment that I get far more than any other – the one that comprises the title of this post. What on earth is that all about? It poses so many questions. I know – because I have Google – that it means ‘Thank you very much. How can I log in?’ but I have no idea what the very polite Spanish person wishes to log into. Even if I did, I would not be the kind of person that I would choose to ask how I should do so. And why Spanish? My blog is not Spanish – although, I admit, it is on occasions just as difficult for English speakers to understand – so why ask me a question in Spanish? Either they have not read my blog and do not know that it is in English or, probably more worrying, they have read my blog and think that English is my second language. Even then, what makes them suspect that Spanish is my first? I never get ‘Merci beaucoup. Comment puis-je me connecter?’. Presumably I am not sophisticated enough to be mistaken for French. In any case, even if they, themselves, do not understand English, they could do what I just did to get a translation. Mind you, it would still be double-dutch to me.
Anyway, all I really wanted to say is that, if you have sent me a comment to which I have not responded, it is probably becalmed in the Bermuda Pentagon of the Spam Folder and there, I’m afraid, it will remain. Please try again. As soon as I get it, I will respond – possibly in Spanish…
I think you may well recognise these two people. If you do not, you can find them here in part one and part two of their conversations…
The bus was just as buses always are on rainy winter evenings: hot and steamy, filled with the smell of impatience and anxiety, damp dogs and incubated dust, perspiration and yesterday’s kebab. It was approaching full and I was, as usual, trying to look large enough to fill both halves of the seat without actually spreading myself over the entire thing – that would be rude. I focussed briefly on each person as they walked down the aisle, beaming out my telepathic message, “Don’t sit here, sit elsewhere,” vaguely aware of how uneasy I would be if I turned out to be the last person that anyone chose to sit next to: the last person with a seat to himself – the public transport pariah – the man with whom not even the unwashed neurotic would choose to sit. Behind me, a child was rhythmically kicking the seat, sending tremors through my backbone like juddering metrical tics. I should have turned and asked his mother to make him stop, but she was in a deep and shouted mobile phone conversation with somebody called Tiff, about the lacklustre nature of her sex life and I had the feeling that any attempt to communicate would inexorably lead to accusations of a nature that would drive me, red-faced from the bus and out into the translucent sheets of freezing rain outside. In front of me two teenage girls carried out a yelled conversation, each struggling to be heard above the tinny cacophony of the friend’s still-playing i-pod. I thought of Ray Bradbury, his little ‘Seashells’ and decided that, were he not already dead, I would kill him for that one. Somewhere, someone was eating cheese and onion crisps.
“Like research labs for observers of human perversity aren’t they?” said the man at my side. I hadn’t noticed anyone sit beside me, but I knew that when I turned to reply, it would be to an elegant, lean and hirsute man, with whom I had spoken only twice before. “Buses, I mean,” he said. “All human life is here. If alien life-forms really do visit this planet of ours, they could learn all they would ever need to know of human nature by beaming up the 5.30 North Circular.”
“I’m sorry,” I was trying hard not to splutter, “I didn’t know you were there. I didn’t see you get on. I didn’t feel you sit down…”
He held out a white paper bag. “Pear drop?”
“Thanks.” I took one, popped it in my mouth and sat back.
“I have your petrol can,” I said.
“Do you?” he said, looking down at my feet.
“Well, not with me of course, but I still have it.”
“Right,” he said. “Good.”
“I need to let you have it back.”
“Do you?” He looked out of the window. “Well,” he said. “Don’t worry. You will.”
“Oh, we’ll see…”
We sat in silence for some time sucking mutely on the fossilized concoction of sugar and chemical something-or-other.
“Always seem so full of lonely people, buses, don’t you think?”
“Well, yes, I suppose so,” I said. “But, to be honest, most of them deserve to be lonely don’t they?”
“Do you think people are ever truly happy alone,” he asked.
“I thought I would be.”
“But you’re not?
“When are you not?”
“When I’m alone…” Odd, I’d never thought about it before. I loved not having to worry about anyone else, pleasing just myself, being alone, but only while I was in company – at work, in the pub, watching the football – when I was alone I felt, well, alone. I was quite happy to sit in silence when I was in company, but when I was alone I had to have the sound of music or the TV or often both. Meals for one are so bloody boring. Eating straight from the foil container is sad. Drinking straight from the bottle is sad. Waking up at three thirty in the morning with an empty wine bottle in your hand and your face in a half finished chicken vindaloo is sadder. You can judge how long a person has been single, by the strength of the take-away curry they buy. By the time they are eating phaal, they have given up on ever having friends again.
And yes, I still thought of sad, lonely people as ‘they’ and never ‘me’.
“What about you?” I asked.
“Are you happy? Are you alone?”
“It’s hard to be alone. It’s easy to be happy.”
“So, are you?”
“Alone or happy?”
“Yes,” he paused as if trying to decide. “Both,” he said. “Sometimes both. Sometimes neither. When I’m alone it is because I choose to be alone, when I’m happy it is because I choose not to be alone. Everyone deserves the everyone they get,” he said. “But you, you need a friend, I think.”
“I’ve got friends.”
“Any that don’t see friendship as weakness?” He smiled and held out the paper bag as he rose to his feet. “Have another,” he said. “This is my stop.”
He moved towards the aisle and as he did so he indicated the two teenagers in front who had fallen into silence, the music clearly audible from their earphones, a song I had known for years.
“‘Everybody Needs A Friend,’” I said.
“Exactly,” he said and was gone.
‘Everybody Needs a Friend’ – Wishbone Ash (Listen to the end of this ‘acoustic’ version for my favourite guitar outro of all time, by the great Andy Powell)