A Little Fiction – Goodbyes (Frankie & Benny #2)

“Well Francis my friend, that was a pleasant kind of morning, don’t you think?”
“Oh yes, certainly.  You can’t beat a good funeral, can you?”
“No, you can’t.  Indeed you can’t.  Providing, of course, that it’s done right.”
“Oh yes, has to be done right.”
“Proper mourning.  None of that happy-clappy nonsense.  Proper solemn hymns.  I like a good hymn.”
“Traditional, yes.  A good traditional hymn, where the words don’t fit the tune properly and the verses don’t rhyme unless you pronounce them wrong.”
“Yes, nothing worse than being asked to sing something that sounds like it might have been written by Gary bloody Barlow.  I am at a funeral, not a Take That concert.  I do not wish to clap along.  I do not wish to shake my hips.  I do not want my vicar to wear a kaftan.”
“And I don’t want to celebrate the life of the dearly departed either: he was a miserable bugger anyway.  Wouldn’t have appreciated a good joke at his own expense when he was alive, let alone now he’s in a box.”
“You knew him then?”
“Who?”
“The fella in the box.”
“No, no… not at all.  I was just generalising.  I didn’t recognise a soul.  I thought the widow was very dignified though.”
“Even when they had to lower her down into the grave to get her bracelet out.”
“Always a perilous business, chucking soil down into a hole.  Fraught with danger…”
“Nice to get out in the fresh air though.  Get a bit of sunshine.”
“Definitely, beats a cremation.  Who wants to sit indoors for twenty minutes just to see the curtain come around and knock the flowers over?  Who wants to listen to the corpse’s favourite song when you could be on your feet banging out ‘Jerusalem’?”
“…Did I see you putting money in the collection, by the way?”
“Changing really.  Couple of those coins in there that you can sell on Ebay, so I swapped them for a couple of bog-standard.  Nobody loses out and possibly I might make a bob or two.  Silver linings and all that.”
“Do you know how to put them on Ebay?”
“Not a clue, but still, better in my pocket than the vicar’s.”
“Have you ever considered your own funeral, my friend?”
“How so?”
“Well, what hymns you would have, what prayers… who would read your eulogy?”
“I don’t suppose it will be you: you’re three years older than me.”
“Fitter mind.”
“Do you reckon?”
“I traipse half way across the estate and up the stairs to your flat every day.  All you ever manage is a stroll to the pub.”
“I walk a lot faster than you.  You dawdle.  Dawdle, dawdle, dawdle, like you’ve not a care in the world… Mind you, there’s no doubt why you want me to get to the bar before you, is there?”
“Nor why you never decide to have a pie until the second pint.  ‘Oh look, it’s Benny’s round.  I think I quite fancy a chomp on a chicken & mushroom.’”
“…I’ve written it all down, you know.”
“What?”
“My funeral wishes.”
“What on Earth for?  What does it matter?  You won’t be there, will you?  Listening, I mean, or watching.  Well, you’ll be there of course… unless you’ve been lost at sea or something.  Unless you’ve just wandered off.  ‘Police are making enquiries about the whereabouts of Francis Collins – known to his friends as ‘Tight Bastard’ – who they believe was trying to walk his way out of buying peanuts…’ but you won’t know what’s going on, will you?  They could be singing a selection from Abba for all you’ll care.”
“No, no.  I want it to be right, you know.  I expect all of my friends will be dead by then – you’ll be long gone – and I want to make sure that I don’t repeat mistakes, you know.”
“Mistakes?”
“Well, look at that funeral we went to last week.”
“The one at the chapel?”
“Yes, the one with the paste-table for an altar.”
“It wasn’t a paste-table Frank.”
“It was made of hardboard!”
“It was not.  Granted, it was sagging a little bit in the middle, but a paste-table it was not.  Have you any idea how heavy all that silver is?”
“Well, no.  Now that you mention it, Frankie, I do not.  I have never lifted any.  Tell me old friend, have you and, if so, when?  Perhaps you could fill me in on the circumstances.”
“I have seen it being lifted on the Antiques Roadshow.  Comment is often passed viz-a-viz the weight.  ‘A fine example,’ they say.  ‘Full of… decoration… and… very heavy.’”
“Yes, well whatever, the service was much too long and I didn’t know a single word of any of the hymns.”
“Nor the tunes.”
“Nor the tunes indeed my friend.”
“Lovely wake though.  Corned beef sandwiches and pickled onions.  Trifle.  Lovely.”
“Yes, nice food, I’ll give you that.  Good spread.”
“No free bar though.”
“No, shame that.  Fortunate you had your hip flask.”
“Indeed.  My many years of Dib-Dib-Dobbing not entirely wasted Frankie my boy.  Always prepared.”
“So, don’t you have any last wishes then?”
“Well, nothing special.  I want to be buried, not burned: the surgeon told me that this new hip will last a hundred years – I wouldn’t want that to go up in flames, now would I?  …And I don’t want a photograph of me looking startled on the front of the Order of Service.  Why do people always pick ‘amusing’ photos?  I want a picture of me looking serious, sombre like, you know.”
“When did you last have your photograph taken, Benny?”
“Well, I don’t know.  I had a passport back in the day.  I must have had a photograph then.”
“Your passport ran out in the eighties.  Have you not had a photograph taken since then?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, what on earth are they going to put on your pamphlet then?  A drawing?  A photo-fit?”
“Well, I don’t know.  I always thought they might take one after I… After, you know.”
“Oh yes, that’ll be nice won’t it.  ‘Ah look at him on that photo.  He looks really… dead.’  Classy.  ‘You can see where the cat chewed the end of his nose off.’”
“Are you suggesting that I should have my photograph taken now, in case I die suddenly?”
“Well, it would save a lot of bother, wouldn’t it?  Tell you what, I could do it on my phone I think.”
“Could you?  Do you know how?”
“Well no, but how difficult can it be?  Look, there’s a little picture of a camera there.”
“Well, press that then.”
“Alright, alright, I will.  There…  Oh look, it’s me!”
“You need to turn it round.”
“Now I can’t see the screen.”
“I can.”
“Oh, shall I press the button then?”
“Yes.”
“Right… Which one?”
“I don’t know.  Let me see.  What about this one?  Oh… That’s your ear.  That won’t do.  We’ll need to practice a bit, don’t you think?  I don’t want to be buried with everybody thinking that I looked like your left ear.”
“Yes, you’re right.  It’s not urgent anyway.” 
“No, I’m not ready to say my ‘goodbyes’ just yet.  It can wait.”
“Shall we just take a little stroll down to the pub?”
“Yes, a fine idea my friend.  Lead on MacDuff, lead on…”

Frankie & Benny first appeared here.

This was written and scheduled in late March (since which time I have barely been around, even for reading your wonderful blogs, for which I sincerely apologise) and somehow – through a process known to WordPress alone – sneaked out to some of you at the time. If you have read this before, I can only apologise. Frankie & Benny (names have been altered etc etc) have gone on to become half a play since I wrote this, whether they will ever become a full one, only time will tell. I feel sure that I will be back with you fairly soon (please don’t report me for threatening behaviour) when I have got whatever-it-is out of my system. Thanks everyone!

Bucket

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Beneath my desk as I write this post is a large lidded bucket which is spewing out sufficient CO² to make me personally responsible for the depletion of several feet at least of the Morteratsch glacier and will possibly result in a severe ticking off from Greta Thunberg.  According to everything I read carbon dioxide is an odourless gas, but as whatever is bubbling its way out of my bucket smells like the kind of sock you find at the bottom of a child’s sports bag three months after the end of term, and is covered by the kind of living blanket you find on the elderly jam sandwich tucked away at the back of a bedroom drawer, I have severe doubts.  I am supposed to be brewing beer, but it is obvious to me that something has died in the bucket.  I dare not lift the lid – whatever is growing in there, it is clearly desperate to get out.

My daughter bought me the kit and all associated paraphernalia for Christmas.  She clearly felt that I had time on my hands that needed to be filled.  Like almost everybody of my age, I used to brew most of what I drank back in the day when I had very little money and alcohol cost a lot of it.  I have produced many a glass of wine with a fine, rich and creamy head; many a pint of beer with all the aesthetic appeal of Spring Vegetable Soup, and I’ve drunk them all.  The main difference with the current brew is that I am embracing the challenge, not because I have to, but because I want to.  I have drunk sufficient quantities of ‘craft’ beers over the years to lead me to believe that I can, myself, produce something perfectly acceptable (e.g. not strictly poisonous).  I’ve looked at a lot of paintings over the years and I feel sure that I could do that too, if I just had access to a decent brush.  I’ve read enough awful novels to feel confident in my ability to write one of those.  My head is full of songs that I know would be best-sellers if they ever made it out into the world – or at least into The Eurovision Song Contest (b group).  If other people are able to do things, I find it hard to understand why I can’t do them too.

I’m a believer.  I believed when I started writing this poor benighted blog that I could make a decent fist of it.  I believed that more people would want to read it rather than just tick ‘Like’ and try to sell me vitamins.  I believed that many more would read it than ever did.  It is a crazy affliction: to be fully – and painfully – aware of your own limitations, whilst still believing that you might, somehow, overcome them.  When ‘just about acceptable’ is an aspiration, then not reaching it is painful.  I’m not looking to climb Everest – I get a nose-bleed on a high kerb – but I wouldn’t mind standing atop a knoll for a little while.

I once produced a gooseberry ‘champagne’ of breathtaking beauty, and a greengage chardonnay that could have stripped the enamel off a toilet bowl.  The ingredients were similar, the methodology identical, the results, it would appear, not something over which I had any control.  I don’t recall putting any more effort into one than the other.  Managing ‘effort’, if I’m honest, has never been my greatest forte: generally things either come easily, or they frustrate the hell out of me, and the things that frustrate me the most are the very things that make me resolve even harder to succeed.  It is only after I have discovered that I am unable to do something, that I become really determined to do it.

Consequently, I have spent many, many hours over the last three-and-a-bit years working on this blog.  Hard as it is to imagine, I put a lot of effort into each and every post I make, and the disappointment of the realisation that I have fewer readers than Vladimir Putin has rational brain cells is, at times, crushing.  Whilst I understand and accept that the goal is not to have thousands of readers, well… the thing is that it is really, isn’t it?  The joy may well be in the writing, but the point is in people reading it.  This blog has become the equivalent of playing ‘The Toilet Tent’ at Glastonbury and I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.  It is time, I think, to take a bit of a break, to finish The Play, to record some scripts to see how they sound… 

Okay, so I know that I have done this before.  Last year I was writing four posts a week and it was taking over my life.  (You should try walking around Marks & Sparks, looking at the rows of pants and wondering ‘Can I get a post out of this?’  I even considered getting arrested for shop-lifting, just in case I could find something amusing to say about the experience.)  So I stopped, briefly, and then commenced this more manageable two-times-a-week routine.  I can handle this with time to spare each week.  My problem is that, instead of finding something ‘profitable’ to do with my spare time, I simply write more posts.  I can be frighteningly prolific – some form of literary diarrhoea – and I tend to have so many posts ‘in hand’ that I will probably have had a good four weeks off by the time that you loyal two dozen read this, and I will be raring to go again.  I will already have revisited all of the things I have been unable to finish, finding no doubt that those that I can finish are not worth the effort and those that are worth the effort, I am still unable to finish.

I have no doubt whatsoever that I will be back, just as soon as I write something and think ‘that would be ideal for the blog’ but, for now, that is not the plan.  By the time you read this, my beer will be in the bottles.  I may even have sampled some.  I have a second episode of Frankie & Benny (who are an absolute joy to write) with which I will, for now finish, as it seems to me to be as good a way as any of saying ‘adieu’…

A Little Fiction – The Unseemly Abasement of Miss Timmins

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There was barely a static pair of net curtains along the whole street on the day that the police came to visit Miss Timmins.  Nobody wanted to appear nosy, but they also did not want to miss out on anything that might form the basis of a succulent little nugget of scandal for some future discourse.  Not that it was likely with Miss Timmins.  I’m not sure that anybody actually knew her age.  She looked about ninety with her straight, grey hair scraped up into a bun on the top of her head and the blue gingham housecoat which, as far as anybody could see, she never took off except for her weekly trips to the church hall beetle drive, when she wore a threadbare old cardigan over a paisley blouse of such florid hues that the bus driver insisted that she sit on the top deck for the journey home.  It was rumoured that she had first worn the blouse in the sixties when, as legend had it, she had auditioned for Pan’s People, but had not got the role on account of being far too quick for Jimmy Savile.  Others claimed to have seen the blouse before, in an episode of The Avengers on ‘girl behind ray gun’, whilst yet more claimed that it had once been a hotel bedspread.

In fact, what little was actually known about her had been smuggled, illicitly, out of her little terraced home by such visitors who had dared to brave the gloom and stifling heat of the spinster’s house.  She had a photograph album that she kept on the table in her dingy little lounge and those that claimed they had dared to peak into it when she left the room to brew tea in the kitchen, reported that she certainly had a dancer’s body as a young woman.  Unfortunately it was accompanied by the boxer’s face that continued to lower out from under her hairnet today.  Whilst she had, as a young woman, a body that turned heads, it was accompanied by a face that did a similar thing to stomachs.

Vera Timmins was a woman who deplored ‘frilly’: the crinoline lady that sat astride her toilet roll was void of all fripperies and not even her paper doilies were allowed lacy edges.  Those unfortunate enough to overlook her washing line reported that her underwear was never more (or less) than strictly functional.  In fact some claimed that if you looked really hard, you could still see the Utility Mark stamped onto the waist band of her more-than-ample knickers.  She was a thin woman and yet she somehow managed to wear nether garments that could house a pack of cub scouts.  Truth be told, there were few, outside of the vicar (who could often be heard offering up the fervent prayer that it might never happen again) who were ever invited into her home.  Mary Maguire was one such and perhaps the most willing to discuss the contents of Miss Timmins photograph album.  It was her firm opinion that Vera had been spurned by a man in her youth – the album, she claimed, was filled with roughly torn half-photographs, some of which revealed a distinctly male-looking hand nestling on her waist – and from that moment on had decided to make herself as unattractive to the opposite sex as she possibly could.  In that one respect she had been supremely successful.

No man had been allowed to cross her threshold in living memory.  The rent man, the milk man and the grocer’s boy all picked up their monies in envelopes left by the gate.  She had an elderly tom cat, but that had not been allowed under her roof until the vet had removed its undercarriage.  It had grown fat and lazy, but to its credit, it still managed to spray on the cushions whenever she wasn’t looking.  So it was with a seismic level of surprise that the assembled net twitchers of the whole street watched her beckon the two young male policemen into her home.  None could tear their eyes away.  Most felt it a nailed-on certainty that the unfortunate uniformed fodder would never be seen again. 

This opinion had solidified amongst those still fit enough to be standing with gimlet eye to gossamer crack when, some two hours later, they were still to reappear.  Most had given up.  Some had already been on the phone to Mary, but such was the intensity of her vigil, she would not be drawn away from the window to speak and as Ted, her husband, had taken her mobile to the match having left his own in the compost tub with his spare socks at the allotments, she could not both speak into the ancient handset that hung in the hall and maintain eye-contact on the front door at number thirteen.  They would all just have to sit it out.  She would be quick enough to report when anything happened.

In fact she missed the actual moment when the police van arrived to take the lachrymose old maid away, owing to the fact that she had, over the first fifteen years of her marriage, been on the outside of fifteen children and was not within reach of anything on which to squat in her hour of need, but, undaunted, she was outside speaking to the constable who had remained at the door even before Mrs Timmins had dragged her second leg into the constabulary vehicle.  He was, of course, not supposed to pass on the information, but she knew his mother so what was the point of keeping quiet?  He would have to tell his mother what he had been up to if he wanted to be fed and it was certain that half of the Bingo Club would then know about it within the hour.  What harm could it do?

“It was a romance scam,” Mary Maguire told the assembled throng some time later.
“Oh, poor soul,” cooed Mrs Rodgers who, in the excitement, quite forgot that her teeth were still in the glass in the bathroom and covered Mrs Maguire’s spectacles with a fine dusting of PG Tips and simnel cake* .  “She never seemed the kind did she?”
“The kind?”
“To be looking for romance.  I mean, if we’re honest, she didn’t really seem to have much time for men at all, let alone be lured by one pretending to want to share her life.  Did he get much from her?”
“Certainly not money.  I think you misunderstand,” said Mrs Maguire, a thin smile creasing the scar where she had once been bitten by a parakeet in a Morecambe bar.  “She’s been passing herself off as a forty year old male property developer.  Apparently she’d been using half of an old photograph from her photo album for a profile picture, until somebody clicked that it was actually Patrick McNee without the bowler…”

*Which my spellchecker insists should be ‘semen cake’.  Clearly it does not know Mrs Rodgers.

The Obstacle Race

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I presume that I am not alone in assuming that life is just an obstacle race in which I have been given the bum lane, where the hurdles are both insufficiently spaced and incomprehensibly high.  I know that it is seldom the severity of the hurdles that causes me to baulk, as much as the regularity of them.  The incessant thud, thud, thud of shin on barrier, forehead on lintel, or ego on life is what truly impedes evolution: the offside law as interpreted by VAR; the Chinese Puzzle of tangled metalwork in the unopenable cutlery drawer; the Gordian Knot in the Hoover cable.  The main obstacle to the progress of life itself is the very challenge of existence; the twisted coil in the Slinky of being.  I fail, therefore I am.

They say that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, but it doesn’t does it?  Slothing the day away in front of the TV will not kill you – at least, not in the short term – but it’s hardly going to qualify you as an Olympic weightlifter either.  The truth is that what doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you – which, although not terribly profound, does at least have the benefit of leaving you somewhat more vital than dead.  There are (many) times when there is nothing better in this world than a large glass of red, a huge slab of chocolate and a couple of hours slumped in front of Midsomer Murders, and I have little doubt in my mind that I am quite safe in their hands.  If I want to find something that might kill me, I will look for a gun, or a knife, or a blunt instrument (or, if I’m still in Midsomer mode, I will smear myself in truffle oil and search for a wild boar).  Given sufficient time, I guess that most things can kill you.  I’m not aware of anybody ever being killed by celery, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.  I seem to recall being told that the calories used to eat celery are in excess of those that you gain by eating it.  Is it possible to chew yourself into starvation?  If it didn’t kill you, would it actually make you stronger?  I wonder how much celery has ever been consumed by Arnold Schwarzenegger?

I don’t suppose that life is straightforward for anybody all of the time, and I’m not certain that I would want to live such a life anyway.  Life is a trifle crammed full of petty annoyances and tiny triumphs, but garnished with moments of despair and overwhelming joy.  Both (like Ant & Dec) make the other bearable.  Is it even possible, I wonder, to experience joy if you have never suffered pain?  Does chocolate not give such pleasure to someone who has never tasted okra?  Do you have to experience Starbuck’s coffee before you can appreciate a good malt whisky?  (If you want my advice, avoid the Starbuck’s and hope for the best.)

Some people, of course, are unhappy all of the time (they are called Belgians) but most manage to find some degree of happiness even in the most difficult of circumstances: the macabre East End Humour of the blitz; the ironic cheers of losing football fans; the audience at a Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown concert.  We all have bouts of self-pity, but they tend to grind to a halt when you catch a proper look at yourself and realise how pathetic you appear.  It’s not easy, after all, to take yourself too seriously when nobody else does. 

And I know that you understand by now the way that my brain works, and I swear that I can hear you thinking (a useful addition to my armoury, as my ears are increasingly reluctant to hear actual noise) “So, what’s your point?” or, probably more appositely, “What’s your problem?” and, if I’m honest, if you had asked me that five hundred words ago, I probably wouldn’t have known.  That’s the way it works: I start to write and about mid-way through my allotted thousand words, I begin to realise exactly what it is that I am writing about.  (Not always though.  As you are fully aware, I am perfectly capable of making it right to the end without ever properly understanding what it is, exactly, that I’m writing about.)  Well, some of you – those who have been ‘fortunate’ enough to have suffered the horrors of School Sports Day – will understand the main problem with obstacle races: when you’re on a flat bit, you lose all perspective.  When you’re between obstacles, all that you can actually concentrate on is the hessian sack/bean-bag/hula-hoop/despotic whistle-bound deputy head teacher torture that lies ahead.  Anticipation of challenge (and, per se if you’re me, humiliation) to come, swamps all notion of well-being. 

You begin to imagine that the only rationale for experiencing peaks is to make the troughs look deeper.  When you’re at the top of the hill, all that you can think about is the inevitability of falling to the bottom.  When you’re at the bottom, then all you can think about is the pain of hauling yourself back to the top.  Age is erosion: it eats away at the sharpest pinnacles and dumps the bits it has chewed off at the bottom of the troughs.  With the apex flattened, you get to maintain balance there for much longer.  When you plunge to the bottom, you find that it is not as deep as it used to be and that it is full of the echoes of the peak before.

Life is an obstacle race in which everyone has been given the bum lane.  However much you are dreading hauling yourself into the vacant potato sack, those either side of you are dreading it just as much.  Should you be lucky enough to emerge as last person standing, then your only responsibility is to help everybody else to get back to get back in the sack.

Weak orange squash in a coloured plastic beaker and home for tea.

Ah life…

Pompous quote of the week: ‘I’m indifferent to puddings because I’m no longer a child’ (David Nicholls – author).  Just remember guys, if ever you fancy a tiramisu at your favourite Italian restaurant, you’re just being immature. 

A Little Fiction – Conversations with the Bearded Man (part 6)

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I had never actually tried to seek him out before, he had always found me, and if I’m honest, I had no real idea of where to start.  I wandered the streets for days, sat on buses, drank in pubs.  I retrieved his petrol can from the back of the shed, but it held no clues: it was rusty and the last few drops of the petrol it had once housed had long-since absorbed into the softly rotting floor.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had even seen a metal petrol can.  ‘Only him,’ I thought.  There would be a reason for it of course, some kind of message about strength and fragility.  I would ask him – if ever I found him.

More than a year had passed since the last time we spoke and much had changed – and yet it was the same.  I had made contact with my soon-to-be ex-wife and we had spoken, almost exclusively without rancour.  Well, she at least, had spoken without rancour: I had been my usual petulant self, but against all odds we had managed to remain in one another’s company for more than an hour without once resorting to violence and name-calling.  It had not physically changed anything: she was still well on the way towards becoming my very ‘ex’, but the absence of desire to kill after our encounter was exactly the kind of progress I thought that I should report. 

Also, I now had friends – even if I wouldn’t want to be seen out with them in daylight.  We went out together, or more precisely, we met up at the same place every Friday night in the bar of The Harrows for a few pints, a volcanically microwaved prehistoric meat pie and a quiz.  We never won, but we always got through the evening without major ructions and, as loathe as I was to admit it, I looked forward to the occasion, even if the quiz master did insist on calling us ‘the sad bleeders in the corner’, when our actual name “Archimedes’ Crew”, was quite clearly written at the top of our answer sheet.  More progress to report.  My life had become, if not exactly good, then at least bearable at times.  Never-the-less I knew that there were still pieces of the jigsaw missing and, instinctively, I felt that he had them.

So it became my habit whenever I had the opportunity to sit for a while, empty my brain (a frighteningly simple exercise) and then just see where my legs might take me.  I did things.  I did theatres, museums, football matches, bus trips, weekends away – all alone, all in the hope of being found, and as each day, week and month ticked away I became increasingly convinced that my final meeting with Lorelei was already in the past.  The little diversions became a way of life – just something I did – but as they became more and more habitual, the feeling of emptiness and disaffection began, once more, to chip away at my soul…

…The rain, although not heavy, was as persistent as a text-message reminder from the dentist and more than a match for my cheap, EBay kagoule.  I couldn’t tell you why I had chosen Newark to visit: it was easy to get to on the train and it had a castle and a river, but as the icy cold precipitation soaked through every one of my manifold, yet inadequate, layers of clothing forming a puddle in my crotch that, despite its location, still succeeded in being a good ten degrees colder than the surrounding temperature, I couldn’t think of anywhere else that I less wanted to be.  I picked my way across the market place, along the glistening cobbles, sensing the slick, unsteady surface through the wafer-thin soles of my saturated Converse, towards the dim yellow light that beckoned me from the windows of the pub in the corner, when I became aware of a small crowd gathered around a figure on the floor.  Instinctively I pushed my way in, feeling the burning imperative of the recently acquired St John’s First Aid badge in my pocket and found myself looking down on a familiar, bearded face.  He looked up and beamed a greeting smile.  “I knew it would be you,” he said.  “Thank you everybody.  I know this man.  He has training.  He’ll help me across to a seat in the café there.  I’m sure I’ll be fine after a few minutes in a chair.  I’m so very grateful for your help.  Thank you.”  And all I could do was wonder why on earth he wanted to recover in the café instead of the pub.

I helped him to his feet.  “How?” I asked.
“I just slipped on the cobbles.”
“I mean,” I said, “how did you know it would be me?”
“Well I don’t know anybody else here,” he said.
“But how did you know that I’d be here?”
“I didn’t…  Did I?”  He looked confused.  Painfully aware that the pub was just next door, I led him into the café and sat him at a vacant table.  The waitress was with us almost at once.  She was all concern and fret.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked.  My companion assured her that he was.  “Okay,” she said, finally content, “As long as you’re sure.  I’ll get your tea.  What would you like love?”
“Coffee please.”  The waitress bustled away.  “Do you come in here often?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been here before.”
“So how did she know you wanted tea?”
“I always have tea.  Now,” he said, “why did you want me?”
“I didn’t!  Well, I did, but…”
He was looking around the room, breathing in his surroundings, reading the walls like he was in a museum.  “It’s so important to be open to the new, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I cast my own narrowed eyes around the twee yellow chintz palace, “but ‘the new’ can be pretty boring as well, can’t it?”
“I suppose so.  I always think about see-saws.  You want excitement on one end, then you’ve got to put excited on the other.  If you want to sit at the bottom end just staring up at nothing happening, then it’s best just to stare.  If you’ve got nothing to contribute then you can bounce as hard as you like, you’re always going to end up on the ground with the business end wedged under your chin.”
“So you’re telling me that I can only get out of life what I can put into it, right?”
“Am I?  Oh…”
The drinks arrived at the table and, having poured Lorelei’s tea – milk first, one sugar – the waitress fussed away to her romantic novel behind the till.
I sipped at my coffee, which smelled great but tasted like it was a virtual stranger to the coffee bean.  “I don’t think I always try very hard.”
“I don’t think you have to try too hard,” he said.  “Just try.”
We drank in silence.  Somewhere unseen a cuckoo clock marked the hour and, instinctively, the waitress, Lorelei and I all looked at our watches.
“Well, I suppose I’d better get going,” said my companion, rising slowly to his feet.  I noticed, for the first time the bruise on his head.
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
“I think so,” he said.  “But it wouldn’t hurt to check on me now and again, would it?”
“How?”
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s easy enough.  You can let me have my petrol can back some time.”
“It’s rusted.”
“I know…”

In case you want to catch up on the rest of this tale, the first Conversation with the Bearded Man is here. 

The previous conversation to this (#5) can be found here.

Food for Thought

I eat when I’m stressed.  I eat when I am unhappy, I eat when I am unwell, and I eat when I am agitated.  Unfortunately, I also eat when I am happy, I eat when I am well, and I eat when I am calm.  I have what I believe is known as an unhealthy relationship with food, which, in my case, means that absolutely everything I would choose to eat, is unhealthy – especially in the quantities in which I eat it.

Now, I don’t want you to think that everything I eat is unhealthy; it isn’t.  I eat loads of healthy shit, but given the choice I probably wouldn’t.  If I could find a way to persuade myself that a diet of chocolate and peanuts would get me past my next birthday, I would go for it.  Who on this earth would choose to eat broccoli if it wasn’t good for them?  Analyse it: is it pleasant to put into your mouth?  No.  Does it taste good?  No.  If it was bad for you, would you still eat it?  No, no, no.

This is what chefs do: take a bunch of stuff that you wouldn’t normally put anywhere near your mouth and mix it together in such a way that you think, “Well, that looks almost good enough to eat.”  So you do.  There is a whole tranche of TV cooks – ok, there’s Nigella Lawson – for whom the whole process of preparing a dish is to make the final shot of her eating it as close to oral sex as possible: “Right Nigella, we’re doing courgettes et poivrons dans une sauce tomate et vin rouge au basilica, so how would you like us to prepare the vegetables?”
“Oh sod that, just give me the courgette.  I’ll eat it whole.  You’ll need lots of cameras…”

This, I suddenly realise, is the true essence of modern cookery: take something that is basically inedible, but good for you (this is, of course, a constantly shifting page) and mix it up with something – anything – that will tempt you to put it in your mouth, and with this fleeting realisation comes the hint of a way ahead for me.  A pathway.  Here’s the plan…

  1. Make a list of things that are beneficial to your health, but are basically not anything that you would ever want to swallow – okra, calabrese, swede, kale, an insurance salesman’s promises.
  2. Make a list of things that you can’t stop eating, despite the knowledge that (until general medical opinion changes – e.g. next Wednesday) they will almost certainly kill you – chocolate, butter, cream, fudge and obfuscation.
  3. Devise manifold ways of covering various items from list one with those from list two.
  4. Make a TV show and publish a lavishly illustrated book.
  5. Wonder about how you are ever going to spend all that money.

Simple.

Let us consider the humble potato.  Potatoes are eaten in a number of ways: they might be baked and served with lashings of butter, mashed with lashings of butter, roasted in something rendered off an unfortunate goose, or cut into small batons and fried.  Without the application of fat, potatoes are seldom eaten.

Now, I must admit that, to date, my early attempts at food fusions have not been wholly successful.  The Okra in Chocolate Sauce, for instance, was not terribly palatable initially and, after I experimented with the addition of peanut butter, had a most unfortunate colour and texture, reminiscent of slugs in gravel.  I still remain uncertain what to do with the broccoli, but I’m thinking that salted caramel might be the way forward – it’s trendy, it’s salty, and it looks like the middle layer of a Mars Bar: what’s not to love?  As long as there’s enough of the sauce to mask all traces of that flaccid dendroidal brassica’s malevolent tang (Hint: there is never enough of anything to mask its malevolent tang) then I must be on to a winner.  N.B. broccoli is actually slightly less loathsome when uncooked and even more so when uneaten.  I have tried everything I can think of with kale (up to, and including, Walnut Whip) and I have discovered that there is absolutely no way of making it even mildly pleasurable to eat.  The nearest I have got is by sautéing it lightly in butter with garlic and white wine, before throwing the whole lot straight into the bin.

For many people, taste is a visual thing: if it looks good, they will eat it.  These people have never eaten a whelk.  Specialist food photographer’s have many tricks to make food look appetising on the page, from spraying with water to dousing in oil.  For myself, I cannot think of a single foodstuff that doesn’t look better with a glace cherry on top.  If God had not made apples look so alluring, we might still be residing in the Garden of Eden.  Mind you, I can’t help but feeling that long, long ago, a million-times removed antecedent of today’s oyster must have looked at itself sans shell and thought, ‘well, nobody’s ever going to want to eat me,’ but people do – generally overweight business men attempting to seduce a much younger and terminally disinterested secretary with a plate of half-dead molluscs and a plastic cupful of warm champagne, before going home to a wife who does not understand him* and children who view him only as a peripatetic wallet.  I have looked a shucked oyster in the face before now and, I promise you, the last thing it made me think about was sex.  The first thing it made me think about was where I could hide it that wouldn’t stain the carpet and smell strongly of dead bi-valve the next time the central heating was turned on.  Evolution gave oysters the protection of looking as though they had already been eaten – and that they didn’t agree with whatever did it.  If only God had made apples look like oysters and taste like okra, we’d all be in a better place.

And if he’d made chocolate healthy, I wouldn’t have been so stressed in the first place.

*She does.  That is why she has just spent the afternoon in the company of the vet’s de-worming assistant, hake and chips in the gazebo and PG Tips for two under the duvet.

A Little Fiction – Ancient Greeks (The Meaning of Life #3)

The man in the lovat Cavalry Tweed suit drained the last of his pint, loudly belched a beery fug laced with peanuts and bumptious pontification, and turned expectantly towards the man in the moleskin waistcoat who had barley sucked the froth from his own drink.  “Your round, squire, I think,” he said.
“Bloody hell,” said Moleskin.  “You got a shift on didn’t you?”
“Yes, well, as Archimedes pointed out, a man is only as heavy as the amount he can drink.  You, my friend, are bordering upon reedy.”
“Eureka!” said the man in the Meerkat T-shirt as he painstakingly attempted to remove shards of Cavalry Tweed’s eructation from the head of his stout.
“What does?” said CT, tapping his glass impatiently.
“Eureka.  It’s what Archimedes said after he sloshed his bath water all over the bath rug.”
“No, you my friend are mixing him up with Aristotle when he discovered logic: my glass is empty, therefore it needs filling.  ‘I think, therefore I am.’”
“Descartes,” muttered moleskin, gathering up the glasses and heading, reluctantly to the bar.  “It was Descartes who said that – ‘cogito, ergo sum’- not Aristotle.”
CT chuckled loudly.  “Cogito, ergo sum,” he said, means ‘like clockwork’.  It is actually the motto of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club.  Didn’t they teach you nothing up that posh boys school of yours?”
Moleskin bridled.  The hairs on the back of his neck rose in a villus concert.  “I did not go to a posh boys school.  I went to a state grammar school.”
“Of course,” said CT.  “I forgot.  So,” he continued, “how many girls were there?”
Moleskin passed a twenty pound note over to the barman.  “My point,” he said, quietly contained, “is that it was not a posh boys school.  It was simply a boys school.”  He placed the three glasses onto the table a little more heavily than was strictly necessary.  “You did not need to be posh to go there, you simply needed to be able to demonstrate a certain level of education…”
“…Attainable only to those who did not have to be up at sparrow’s fart to do their paper round and thus supplement the family income,” sneered CT.
“You never had a paper round!”
“Not for the want of trying, sunbeam.  They were all taken up by you posh boys whose dad’s took them round in the family Volvo.  My battered old hand-me-down bike did not conform to the corporate image.”
“Corporate image?  It was a local paper shop.  Mr and Mrs Singh would not have cared if you went round on a pogo stick as long as you got the papers delivered.  You never got a round because you were bolshie even then.”
“Didn’t he have a principle of some kind?” asked Meerkat.
“Mr Singh?  What kind of principle?”
“No, Archimedes.  Didn’t he have a principal?  Something about a solid object displacing its own weight in water…”
“Common mistake,” said CT.  “Firstly, what Archimedes invented was the screw – everything was nailed before he came along – and secondly, when you put something in water, what it actually displaces is its own volume in water e.g. drop an elephant in your average bath and you’re going to wind up with suds on the downstairs carpet.”
“Unless the object was absorbent, I suppose.”
“Not many absorbent elephants around though,” chuckled Moleskin.
“That,” said CT, “is where you are mistaken.  All elephants are absorbent due to where they live in the desert.  It’s why they have humps…”
The man in the moleskin waistcoat opened his mouth to object, but his attention was taken by the man in the Meerkat T-shirt who was taking peanuts from the packet and dropping them into his pint, where they floated on the, as yet, untroubled head.  “How come,” he said, as he tried to get the last few peanut shards from the packet “those huge boats don’t push all the water out of the sea?”
“Well, they do, in a manner of speaking,” said CT.  “They cause the tides, don’t they.”
“No they don’t,” said Moleskin.  “That’s the moon.”
“The moon?” laughed CT.  “The moon?  Have you gone mad?  Might cause a bit of sloshing around, I’ll give you that, as the Earth goes around it every day, but not the tides.  Have you ever been stood there when a big boat goes by?  That’s where your waves come from sunshine.  That’s the tides.”
Meerkat looked on solemnly as the salt slowly flattened his beer and the disappearing head lost its grip on the nuts which sank to the bottom of the glass.  “I don’t think I fancy a cruise,” he said.
“I must admit,” said Moleskin, “I never quite understand why they don’t turn over, those big liners.  There’s so much more above the water than below it.”
“Kaleidoscopes,” said CT.
“Kaleidoscopes?”
“You must have seen them.  Set ‘em spinning and they’ll balance on anything.  Send them scuttling along a piece of string or whatever.  They never fall off.”
“Do you mean a gyroscope?” asked Moleskin.
“Or a cat,” suggested Meerkat.
“A cat?”
“They don’t fall off things, do they?  And…” continued Meerkat, his face suffused with triumph, “…and they always land on their feet.”
“Are you suggesting that ships have feet?”
“No.  Don’t be stupid.  What I’m suggesting is that if you filled ships with cats, they’d never fall over.  Man’s best friend and all that…”
“That’s a dog, surely.”
“Dog’s don’t always land on their feet,” said Meerkat after a short pause for thought.  “Also, only one life.  Cats are nine times more cost-effective.  You don’t have to keep replacing cats.”
Cavalry Twill and Moleskin lifted their glasses in unison and drank in quiet contemplation as Meerkat tried to retrieve the peanuts from the base of his glass with a knife.
“Where would you put the passengers?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you filled the ship with cats, where would you put the passengers?”
“They would have to share.”
“Except for those who are scared of them, of course” sneered CT, staring directly at Moleskin.
“I am not scared of cats,” he replied.  “I am allergic to them.  They affect my breathing.”
“Yes, it’s always difficult to control your breathing when you’re terrified.”
Moleskin drained the beer from his glass and thumped it down on the table in front of CT.  “Like when it’s your round,” he said.
The man in the Cavalry Twill glanced casually at his watch, drained his own glass and rose to his feet.  “Good Lord,” he said.  “Is that the time?  Must get on.  Carpe Diem, and all that” he said.  “God is a fish…”

The Meaning of Life #1 can be found here.

The Meaning of Life #2 is here.
 

Driving On

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com

When I was a kid, I wanted to be older… This is not what I expected. (Anon)

If I’m honest, I expected to feel a lot older than I do by now.  Most of the time I feel exactly as I have for years.  One of the few times when I can really put my finger on a creeping sense of age is when I am faced with a long drive, particularly at night, or ‘in weather’.  As a young man I vividly remember listening to old people talking about the difficulties of driving at night and thinking ‘Get a grip!  You’ve got headlights,’ but now I see headlights – other vehicle’s headlights – as the enemy.  I am absolutely fine driving in the dark – as long as I am in the only vehicle doing so – although there is a creeping sense of shame nagging away at the back of my mind that I might be allowing the rationale of ‘Oh, there’s somebody coming towards me: I’ll just slow down a little bit,’ to take hold.  So far, I steadfastly refuse to be cowed by the inability to see, but I can feel my confidence ebbing away along with my ability to chew toffee or to open a packet of peanuts without spilling the entire contents all over the floor.

I’m not certain whether it is a change in the nature of headlights or of my eyes, but the glare of an approaching vehicle – particularly in the rain – seems to flood my entire field of vision.  It is like that moment of alien abduction in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (I sense that I might just have lost everybody under 50 years of age with that reference.  It’s a film.  Look it up!): everything else is engulfed in the blazing white glare that consumes all notion of light and shade.  All that remains is a blinding light and the faint suspicion that Twinkle is playing on the radio…

My whole being is absorbed in the battle to stop myself from joining the ranks of elderly yo-yo drivers who speed up (sometimes to over thirty miles per hour) every time the road is clear and stamp on the brake every time there is something (anything) coming towards them.  I have a nagging suspicion that it might be a battle I am losing.

How do I tackle it?  Well, like all cowards, I turn my back on it.  It is so much easier to face things when you don’t acknowledge them.  It is so much easier to tackle a problem by avoiding it than facing it.  I would sooner sleep on a park bench than tackle unfamiliar roads in the dark of night and I would, almost certainly choose to walk rather than drive like an old man.

I must admit at this point, that I have never really been a ‘car person’.  A car, to me, has always been a means of getting from A to B (via Z if my wife is navigating), but never the reason for it.  I cannot conceive of ever deriving any pleasure from ‘going for a drive’.  I drive only when I’ve got somewhere to go: somewhere I need to be.  When arriving at my destination is all that matters.  If I want to enjoy ‘getting there’, I go by bike, or I walk.  Age does preclude me from roller-skating, scootering, pogo-sticking and skipping, but it should not.  I aim to address this – and I will – just as soon as the weather improves.  My grandson does not approve of my using his skateboard or scooter.  He thinks I might break.  He could just be right – we’ll see.

I appreciate the car whenever the weather is… well, British.  Rain, wind, hail, sleet, snow – all far better viewed from the driver’s seat than the bicycle seat.

And I look after the car because I dread the thought of breaking down.  (I mean, of course, I dread the thought of the car breaking down.  Although now I come to think of it…)  To sit and wait for several hours until an overalled somebody turns up in a little green van, covered in reflective stripes, with the sole intention of making me feel inadequate by starting the car within seconds using nothing but a ‘surely you knew how to do that’ shrug…  I have never felt ‘as one’ with a car (It’s a bloody car!) but I do, generally, know when it is not running properly, and I know the basics of what to do in those circumstances.  (Phone somebody who is at one with the car.)  I could not tell you if the engine sounds anything but normal, because I never hear it.  I never travel anywhere without music playing.  Whenever I hear the car engine, all that goes through my mind is ‘What’s wrong with the radio?’

I have fully embraced SatNav – it doesn’t seem to stop me getting lost, but it does at least give me some idea of where I did it and, occasionally, it helps me get back to where I should have been before I wasn’t (Huh?) – and I have now partially accepted hands-free, although, generally, I have to stop the car to do it.  Whilst the internal combustion engine is a complete mystery to me, I am pretty much au fait with the inner-machinations of my brain and so I tend to ignore most other ‘driver aids’ which, in my own instance, would generally result in nothing other than tempting me to let my mind wander further than it really should – look!  Rabbits!  I cannot adopt the automatic gearbox as I know that it would thrust my brain into neutral.  I have no need for parking aids as I never leave the car in a space that could not fit the QEII.

I think, If I’m honest, I would be perfectly comfortable as the passenger in a self-driving car – I have been married for forty years: I have no illusions about being in charge of anything – and it’s actually quite comforting to think that in the event of an accident, the two vehicles involved could haggle over blame whilst I sit serenely taking in the scenery.  I suppose that this is one thing that old age does prepare you for: being a better passenger.  In life, sooner or later, everyone becomes a bit of a passenger and, in the end, we all just go along for the ride.

Life is like a helicopter.  I don’t know how to operate a helicopter.  (Anon)

The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion (Communism to Crucifixion)

COMMUNISM     Doctrine that all goods, means of production &c. should be the property of the community.  What a wicked system!  Communism is currently frowned upon by most countries of the world, particularly the communist ones.  It strikes me that the most obvious problem with the communist system is the confusion engendered by the paradox that those who are most doggedly communistic and therefore ardently opposed to all change and liberalisation, both socially and economically, are known as ‘conservatives’ and… actually, now I see that written down, it isn’t actually paradoxical at all, is it?

Most subversives are, nominally at least, Socialist¹ – except when it actually comes down to the principal of sharing things.  The average subversive is more comfortable with a more theoretical observance of Socialist principals, whilst maintaining their shares in BT and the little nest egg in Zimbabwean diamonds.

  1. A sort of user-friendly Communism, once much-vaunted in democratic societies, but now largely discarded in favour of personal advancement, capitalist expansionism and unparalleled levels of shoe ownership.  Socialist principles in the UK have been progressively watered down since the Second World War, through the Worker’s Party, The Labour Party, New Labour, New New Labour, and Sir Kier Starmer.

CONFLICT          Struggle, trial of strength.  Oh dear me, no.  No sensible subversive ever gets involved in such a thing: he/she is seldom well enough.  I, myself, have been almost exclusively mentally subversive for six months, due to a heavy cold.  Struggle is a very physical process and, should it become absolutely unavoidable, best left to somebody considerably fitter than yourself.

CONSCIENCE     The complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.  E.G. ‘Am I likely to get caught?’

CONSERVATIVE  In politics, one who desires to preserve institutions of his country against change and innovation.  What a wonderful concept.  In Britain, we have a whole party opposed to change and innovation.  The only problem is that, these days, nobody is quite sure which one it is.  Generally, in politics, innovations, such as everybody getting a fair and equal chance in life, are frowned upon.

CONSPIRACY     An evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons.  The most widely known conspiracy in the UK is almost certainly The Gunpowder Plot of 1605.  The conspiracy was to blow up James I and the English parliament on its opening day, November 5th, in the hope of prompting a great Catholic uprising.  The brother-in-law of Francis Tresham (one of the conspirators) was warned not to attend the ceremony and the plot was subsequently exposed.  Guy Fawkes, a paid mercenary, was captured, tortured and killed, as were most of his co-plotters¹.  The plot back-fired as harsh anti-catholic laws were passed by the shocked establishment and November 5th became widely known as Guy Fawkes Night (as it had a better ring than Thomas Catesby Night) and the tradition of scaring the living daylights out of the elderly and setting fire to half the neighbourhood, nightly from October 1st to November 30th,  began.

  1. Robert Catesby, John Wright and Thomas Winter originated the plot and, when Guy Fawkes was captured, they fled to Holbeach House in Staffordshire, where they were killed during a gunfight with the local sheriff and his deputies the very next day, having accidentally ignited their own gunpowder.  Instant karma.

CORRUPT           Make rotten, pervert, make evil.  A common aim of all subversion and politics.  Calling a Right Honourable Member a corrupt politician is a double damnation similar to evil devil, violent war and Michael Gove.  If you believe that two wrongs can make a right, you may feel able to trust a corrupt politician.  I do not, but then I don’t trust Dettol.

How To Corrupt a Politician: Elect him.

COSH                 A bludgeon.  The subversive’s most subtle weapon.

CRISIS                Turning point or decisive moment.  I’m not certain that my interpretation of crisis is quite the same as my Dictionary.  A subversive’s definition of crisis requires just one word – ‘Life’.  Life is crisis, crisis is life.  If I have a crisis it is seldom, if ever, a turning point, it is usually a rabid fear of being found out.

CRUCIFIXION     A form of execution by being nailed or tied to a cross.  Although the Romans did not originate crucifixion, they did use it widely, generally on slaves and despised malefactors.  It would appear that Jesus of Nazareth, who could almost certainly be described as an early subversive were it not for the fact that both his motives and his methods were honest and virtuous, was killed in such a manner, with the intention that his importance was seen to be diminished to that of a common slave – well, that worked didn’t it… 

In order to speed up death, which could be slow and tortuous, the crucified party often had his legs broken.  This was considered merciful by the kind of person who regarded nailing an innocent man to a tree as justice.

As a subversive, you will have little time for religion, but you will have plenty of time to consider whether you are sufficiently committed to your own cause to run the risk of such punishment¹.

  1. The answer is ‘No’.

HOMEWORK.

1. Describe in detail, the differences between Capitulate & Collaborate, Chaos & Crisis, Corrupt & Castrate, Capitalist, Communist & Conservative
Or
2. Don’t bother.

© Colin McQueen 2022

N.B. I had intended to see this guide through to Z, but as my already meagre readership appears to have voted with its feet on this particular little strand and headed off into the sunset, The Subversive A-Z will now take what might well become a very protracted break.

The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion (Cabal to Collaborate)

CABAL               Secret plot.  Most of your D.I.Y plots will be extremely secret: you will probably be the only person ever to know anything about them.  If you feel that you are perhaps getting too much of a good thing, tell your wife¹, but expect to be held up for ridicule.

  1. Subversion is a notoriously sexist occupation and ‘partner’ still sounds a little too ‘woolly hat and lentils’ for many ‘traditional’ subversives.  If you are the wife, then tell your husband and expect the same result.  If you are single, then tell anyone you can think of and expect total apathy.  If you have a friend, then you are not a subversive.

CANT                 Hypocritical speech This is not the word I thought it was and it doesn’t mean anything like the same, however, no turning back, and it is quite an appropriate word for our guide.  Being hypocritical is one of the most essential subversive skills.  Without it, you may end up saying what you really mean.  Fatal.  Never fall into the truth trap.  Truth is a four-letter word to the subversive¹.  Lie at all times.

  1. Inevitable, as most of them cannot count beyond three.

CAPITALIST        Owner of capital.  Think of everything nasty, everything evil, everything you most covet – that is capital.  Think of the owner of the capital – that is a capitalist – and sheer, naked envy will make him your sworn enemy.  He has it and you don’t.  Now, how can that be fair?  Being fair is all about you having the capital and the capitalist slaving away in an attempt to get you some more.  Life, of course, is seldom fair.

CAPITULATE      Surrender on terms, give in.  This is something the good, honest, decent subversive will never do – unless it is to his advantage.  Surrender traditionally requires either the hoisting of a white flag or a good foreknowledge of the safe word.  Capitulation is, in fact, the greater part of subversive valour¹ and very rarely results in bruising other than to the ego – which does not hurt anything like as much.

  1. Oxymoron of the day.

CASTRATE         Remove testicles.  Not particularly effective as a political ploy, but great fun in the right company.

CEMENT             Fine mortar.  A fine, grey powder which, when mixed with sand and water, has many applications in building and construction work.  Mainly employed by the D.I.Y subversive in the construction of concrete boots:

  • Place victim’s feet into two medium-sized plastic buckets¹.
  • Three quarters fill with suitable cement mixture.
  • Allow concrete² to set (usually 3 to 7 days, depending on conditions).
  • Throw victim in river or lake.

It is wise to take a few precautions before employing such conglomerate footwear:

  1. Spread plenty of plastic around before mixing the concrete – splashes can be very difficult to remove from light-coloured carpets.
  2. Ensure that the concrete is correctly mixed.  Incomplete mixing could lead to surface cracking and eventually to the re-floatation of the corpse.  Whilst this may be acceptable in the large marine environment, it can be unsightly in the home pond or swimming pool.
  3. Ensure that the water depth is sufficient to cover the victim.  Throwing a six-foot victim into a five-foot garden pond is never going to work³; the weight of the concrete will ensure that the victim remains upright and, even allowing for a certain amount of settlement, his nose is unlikely to sink below the surface.  If you are not properly prepared, you may be forced to haul your victim from the water.  Beware – wet concrete is even heavier than dry concrete.  If you are unable to remove him from the water, try putting a small fishing rod in his hands or, alternatively, decorate his head to resemble a buoy.

Alternative Procedure: 3,000 tonnes of concrete spread evenly across the bridge of the nose will silence even the most stubborn of dissenters.

  1. Traditionally, the wearer of concrete wellies will be dead.  If this is not the case, you may need some help in holding their feet still while the concrete sets.
  2. Mixture of sand, cement and water is known by builders as ‘gobbo’ and is used in building walls – concrete (below) actually relies upon the addition of a harsher ‘ballast’ – usually pebbles or grit – in precise ratio.  It is a well-known fact that these ratios are never actually precise enough and the resulting mix is either too dry to lay, or so wet that next-door’s cat is consumed by it three weeks later.
  3. This is especially relevant if you are trying to submerge a living victim.  There is a very useful technique for ascertaining the vitality of your victim involving a small hand mirror, but I don’t know what it is.  Perhaps it would be best to gag the victim whether alive or dead, but not with the monogrammed handkerchiefs that Aunty Sheila has bought you every Christmas for the last twenty years

CHAOS              Disorder, confusion.  The ultimate aim of the subversive group is to spread disorder and confusion throughout society.  The ultimate dénouement is usually the spreading of disorder and confusion amongst the subversive group itself.

COLLABORATE   Aid an enemy in occupation of one’s own country.  To vote Conservative.  In a war (subversives are always engaged in a war – even if it’s only with the car) collaboration is perfectly acceptable, providing you do it with the winners.  In the Second World War, the French collaborators made three basic mistakes:

1. Collaborating with a party that offered little in return.
2. Collaborating with the losers.
3. Being French.

In order to make a real success of collaboration, you will first have to persuade somebody to occupy your country.  If you are American, Chinese or Russian, I think you might as well give it up as a bad idea straight away.  If, however, you live in Lichtenstein, you have a fighting chance¹.  Your first step is to talk to someone with a larger army and persuade them to invade.  Negotiating with a foreign power is not always easy:

HOW TO TEMPT THEM.

                                  Advise them of the richness of your natural resources.

                                  Offer them money.

                                  Ask very, very politely.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM.

                                  Be certain of their aims.

                                  Be certain of your aims.

                                   Get everything in writing.

IS IT WORTH IT?

                                  No.

  1. Although the non-fighting chance is always the preferred option.

© Colin McQueen 2022

The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion Index is here.