Friday, May 28, 2004


“So, how are you keeping?” I asked the Ex-Boyfriend of a Friend of a Friend to break the (dry) ice at last night’s gig.

“Good, thanks” came the barely audible reply.

It’s great when you establish a connection, no matter now tenuous, between people you thought were unconnected among London’s 7-million+ population.

Particularly if that connection involves rudeness.

One drink-fuelled night, many moons ago, my friends were discussing exactly this. Laughter erupted as we nostalgically worked out people we could never imagine being together had, actually, been together. Rudely together.

So intrigued were we by this phenomena that I started jotting our findings on a scrap of paper.

Rules were quickly laid down: minimum criteria had to be a snog, identified by a dotted line between names; shag = continuous line; relationship (defined as minimum one week, or five shags) = continuous, bold line.

Before long, a complex sprawl of names and lines (combination of dotted, continuous and bold) was emerging from the blank A4 sheet.

Great pleasure was derived as we unearthed liaisons long forgotten by us, and probably them, and drew links between apparently disparate individuals. BINGO!

And so lo and behold the ‘Shag Bingo’ Matrix was born: one that would be returned to many times over the years. The scrap of paper made way for a chart, and the chart eventually for a powerful database.

“So, where are you working now?” I continued politely conversing with XBFoFoF.

“At Company X” he replied.

“Really?” I exclaimed, “You must work in the same building as my clients Ms Y and Ms Z!”

“Yes” he replied, his face suddenly turning ashen-white, before unnecessarily divulging “Actually, I’ve slept with Ms X.”

“REALLY?” I exclaimed again, this time a bit too loudly and high pitched, “I must email her to point out this connection. Hang on... this was since splitting with Ex-Girlfriend, right?” I asked.

“Please don't email her. But yes, it was since then.” he replied.

“Ah, but you would say that, wouldn’t you?” I persisted.

“No!!! I wouldn’t just say that. I was on the rebound, actually.”

“I must email Ms X to let her know that too.”

“No. Please don’t do that.”

“I understand. I’ll fax her instead.”

I returned home to add two more names to my matrix.

Shag Bingo!
Thursday, May 27, 2004

  Those were the days, my friend

Sometimes, I feel it my duty to share my undisputed natural musical talent with the world.

Perhaps not by chance, this often coincides with the intake of significant volumes of alcohol, and much else.

Which is odd, because I can’t really abide ‘typical’ drunken songs:

‘Wonderwall’ is indeed a superb yet simple folk tune of our times. But it takes on a sinister undertone in the incapable vocals of a bladdered bunch of footy fans.

Pissed ladies' equivalent of singing anything by Atomic Kitten also grates with my sense of everything that is right and dignified in this wonderful world of ours. Dire. Truly dire.

And ‘We Are, We Are, We Are The Lads’ is just plain wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

I prefer to go for the more unusual:

Don MacLean’s original version of ‘American Pie’ (not the substandard Madonna reworking) has got a special place in my heart. Although I do get stuck on the verses.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s ‘Homeless’ is excellent, especially when you take it in parts to do the harmonies, and delegate vocal parts such as the ‘shic-alic-alic’s and ‘ee-moo-nanya-wah’s. Doing the dance just adds to the fun.

And to appeal to the child in all of us, ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ reaches surreally hilarious heights when extremely inebriated. Remember to miss each body part in sequence.

Go on, try it.

You know you want to.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

  'Working for a safer London'...?

Sincere thanks for everyone’s thoughtful messages on yesterday’s post. (Apart from "Norah's bearded bass player". Hmmmm.)

I had indeed reported the weekend's incident to the police:

Settling back at my flat, the whole experience was already faintly surreal, though I was still in shock.

I composed myself to phone back my pal to reassure her everything was OK, then rang my sister. Though I wasn’t even starting to think about reporting it, both suggested I do so.

What clinched my decision was the reminder that similar happening to someone else could seriously traumatise them. I knew what I had to do. I arranged to report in to my local police station later.

But first, I had my tuna sandwich to attend to.

Leaving my flat, tuna-nourished, I looked over both shoulders as I took the five minute walk.

Posters outside the station entrance instructed, bizarrely: “If you’ve been a victim of crime in the last 25 minutes, report here immediately”.

Why 25 minutes?

Was half-hour not ‘fresh’ enough?

I sat and waited whilst others were seen. A bloke with a bike was giving a statement in the security-sealed reception area. A woman jabbered in French into her hands-free phone. Another bloke was pacing up and down. I twiddled my thumbs, then untwiddled them again. And again and again and again.

Twenty minutes on, Bike Bloke asked if he could take his bike into the interview room. “I suppose so.” replied the WPC, “We wouldn’t want it getting nicked”. I was unsure if she was joking.

Other Bloke spent another ten minutes presenting his driving documents. I mentally noted I’d just have exceeded my 25-minute deadline.

Then the French-speaking woman spent twenty minutes reporting some stolen property. By now, my thumbs were seriously over-twiddled.

Finally, it was my turn.

I looked round expectantly for the bleeping lights of the ‘National Crime Database’ I’d been reading so much about.

But the receptionist jotted all the information I could recall onto a small notepad. I was disappointed. This alone wasn’t going to catch criminals by complex cross-referencing DNA and eye retinas.

Nonetheless, she confidently assured me it’d be reported as Attempted Robbery, and wrote this down. In joined-up, and underlined.

“Are you sure?” I questioned, “Even though they returned my phone?”

She telephoned a superior (“Sir?...Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir”) before turning back to tell me I was right after all: technically, no crime had been committed.

“Though the fact they were brandishing pistols was, obviously, a concern” she conceded.

No shit, Sherlock. It seems phone theft takes precedence over mere threat to life.

She thanked me for taking the trouble to pop by. But I wanted a little more feedback.

“So, has anything else like this been reported?” I asked.

“No” she replied, “Not today.”

Reassuring. I didn’t bother to ask her if this specifically meant they’d received identical reports in preceding days, or if she was just talking generally. She smiled, in an “off you go, then” way.

“Should I expect to hear back from you?” I asked.

“Not really,” she replied, “as all we’ve got is a description.”

Inspiring. I half-wished the little shits had kept my phone after all.

I returned home to find a London Mayor campaign newsletter on my doormat: “CANDIDATE PLEDGES MORE POLICE”. I sincerely hoped he hadn’t set me up in some desperate vote-winning ruse.

A few days on, I’m pretty much back to normal. And keep telling myself these things could happen to anyone.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

  Counting myself lucky

I knew my run of luck couldn’t last.

I’d said as much when readers suggested on these very pages that my luck might be turning good.

But even I would never have predicted the bad fate that awaited me over the weekend. I think it’s fair to say a single three minute event redressed the 'luck' balance:

I’d been enjoying the sun in the park, reading and listening to the radio, when I decided to make a quick call on my mobile.

As I chatted away, I detected out of the corner of my eye a couple of hooded teenagers approach, then stop suspiciously close by.

Still hovering some thirty seconds later, I broke off my conversation to ask, incredulously, “Can I help you?!”

After a deliberately evasive reply, their intention was made clear as the first lad pulled a pistol on me and demanded I hand over my phone.

Naturally, this startled me. I’d never been threatened with a gun before. My eyes gravitated to quickly survey the barrel, half-expecting a toy with protruding ‘Bang!’ flag. I’m no firearms expert, but it looked real enough to me.

Cool, calm, collected, compliant, I thought.

I ended my conversation, surprisingly myself how politely: “I’ll call back later... just being robbed…”

Then, the second lad pulled his pistol on me.

Naturally, this further startled me. Five seconds before, I’d never been threatened with a gun. Suddenly, I was being threatened with two. I felt like Clint Eastwood, but was in no position to use his "Do you feel lucky, punk?" line.

Possibilities cascaded through my mind. At one extreme: just pesky kids; wouldn’t shoot for a phone; fake guns, or not loaded. At the other: delinquent little shits; clearly screwed up; real, loaded guns.

At that moment, possessions mattered nothing to me. Without further hesitation, I proffered my phone to the first lad: “Go on, take it”.

He grabbed it, and both started putting their pistols away.

“You know it won’t be worth anything to you” I stated casually, surprising myself again as I did so.

But hang on! It was all just a joke, they told me. "The guns were real", they said, but I should "just chill out, man".

Silly me, I thought, still surprised how I’d managed contain my reaction.

They handed my phone back, sarcastically apologising for interrupting my conversation as they ran on to their next jape. Just as quickly as it all began, it was all over.

I didn’t really feel like sunbathing any more. I packed my stuff away and decided to leave the park, as they continued to mock me afar from the bushes.

Besides, it was getting overcast, and I was getting hungry.

Arriving back at my flat, my calm veneer pretence departed.

My heart was pounding. I was shaking. And I’d never been so relieved to close the door behind me.
Friday, May 21, 2004

  Luck turning?

I’ve won the lottery!


I know this because Shaz, Lottery Coordinator for the “Absolutely Famous International Lottery”, emailed to tell me.

Shaz5050, to be specific.

This was particularly gratifying, as I hadn’t knowingly entered.

But Shaz5050 explained “your e-mail address was used for membership confirmation and prize notification which subsequently was attached to a ticket number 6/5/3/8/9/0 with serial number 3/5/8/8/7/5 drew lucky numbers 6/8/6/0/1/7 which consequently won in the 1st category, you have therefore been approved for a lump sum pay out of US$1, (One Million United States Dollars)”

A natural sceptic, I couldn’t quite believe it, but Shaz5050 would hardly have gone to the bother of emailing me if this had been untrue.

And I decided to overlook Shaz's inadvertent overstating the prize money by a factor of 1,000. This might work in my favour.

Shaz5050 goes on: “However you are to keep this information confidential until your claims has been duly processed and your winning sum confirm to your nominated bank account. This is part of the measure taken to ensure the winning sum is paid out to the right person and also to avoid unwarranted abuse of this program by some participants.”

She’s obviously acutely aware of the scammers and fraudsters prevalent in the world today, and I know I can trust you to keep this exciting news among yourselves, dear friends.

All I have to do now is contact their European Fiducial Agent with my bank account details, and the money should be with me within days.

I’ve got plans for the money.

Big plans.

I’ll set up a small catering business to help disadvantaged youngsters.

I’ll donate significant sums to further research into debilitating diseases.

Then there’s the 'Unlucky'-branded orphanage. (Just the first franchise in my quest for global domination)

But, most importantly, as Shaz explains “The Absolutely Famous motto is if you want to be famous, you've got to have money”.

I don’t seek fame, but realise this will put me on a more even financial footing with Norah at last.

This could work out, after all.

On this run of luck, I’m confident Norah will be in touch soon.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

  Too cool for school

I can’t be bothered with trying to be ‘cool’ any more.

Working in a music environment, there’s an unspoken competitiveness to be a bit cool. Most people, once you scratch beneath the surface, are actually OK. But there’s a definite veneer of cool, one which I can’t personally be bothered with.

Much post-work pub talk concerns music which, with a broad taste of many eclectic styles built up over many years, I’m enthusiastic to participate in.

It doesn’t take too many beers, however, for me to admit that music truly shocking in my collection which stands shoulder to shoulder alongside that more credible.

On rare occasions the conversation turns to ‘firsts’: first single, first album, first gig. This is where things get nasty. You see, I just don’t buy it when someone cites The Specials, The Jam and The Smiths. THE BARE-FACED LIARS.

Before I divulge my shocking antithesis to cool, I’ve got my blog’s future to bear in mind. So, regular readers, before you even dream of not returning, note this: I know your IP address. And understand from technical colleagues that I could ‘ping’ it. (I don’t know what ‘ping’ing is, but it sounds pretty damn nasty). Consider this a formal warning, then read on…

Well persevered, and remember to return here whenever you’re feeling a bit uncool:

My first single wasn’t The Specials. It wasn’t even Madness, or Blondie; they all maintain kudos. No, it wasn’t any of them, it was Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap You Face’.

I loved it. With its witty lyrics, funny pseudo-Italian voice and amusing video, it was a true folk song of its time. C’mon, gimme a break: I was nine.

Clearly I wasn’t alone buying this single: it was selling fifty-thousand copies each day, dwarfing the sales of many Number Ones these days. And I remember quite a queue in W H Smith, Basildon.

Yet I’ve never heard anyone else admit their first single was Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap You Face’.

Wait. It gets worse.

My first album wasn’t The Jam, or The Wedding Present, or Soft Cell; all of which would have been OK. No, such a devoted fan was I, it was also Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap You Face’.

I liked it. As I’d enjoyed Joe’s follow-up singles, ‘If You Want To Be Happy (For The Rest Of Your Life)’ and ‘Reggae Matilda’. Yes, there were follow-up singles, and an album. C’mon, gimme a break: I was ten.

Clearly I was fairly alone buying this album: it didn’t sell very many copies, and I was served almost immediately in Kelleys Radio, Basildon. Before being swiftly escorted from the building.

So I’m not totally surprised I’ve never heard anyone else admit their first album was Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap You Face’.

Don’t go! Stay. But it gets so much worse.

My first gig wasn’t The Smiths, or Depeche Mode, or even FGTH; all would have been respectable first gigs. No, it wasn’t even Joe Dolce. That’d had been silly: he didn’t tour this country, and I wasn’t that sadly obsessed. But maturing into a teen-pop fan, my first ‘gig’ was Romford’s finest, Five Star, at Southend’s salubrious Cliffs Pavilion.

I liked it. I enjoyed the wordplay of ‘System Addict’, Stedman’s costumes, Dolores’ choreography, and Doris. C’mon, gimme a break: I was fifteen.

Clearly I was not alone in attending this gig. It was full to capacity, and I had no problem enlisting the attendance of school mates. And Five Star went on to enjoy a long and successful career. Well, for a bit, anyway.

Yet I’ve never heard anyone else admit their first gig was Five Star.

It’s at this stage of complete openness that I usually find myself being shunned now as I was then. And this among people who consider themselves ‘open’ to all kinds of music. Heathens!

Fast-forward seventeen years and, through my work, I had the pleasure of attending an emo-band’s London in-store appearance this week.

Arriving just before the band is due to start was clearly too late from the massed youth already gathered. These kids are too cool for school; literally, with some still in their uniforms.

These are the cool kids, the gangs I missed out on first time round.

Suddenly, the band start, and they’re good: alternating Pixies-loud and REM-quiet.

The kids are screaming every word and, for a second, I’m into it. I’m one of them.

I laugh as I catch a couple of sad older blokes sticking out like sore thumbs among the ridiculously young crowd.

Then, just as suddenly, stop laughing as I catch my reflection and realise I am now one of those sad older blokes.

As the set finishes, I browse the racks, and decide to treat myself to a few cut-price CDs.

I can’t help myself. Indoctrinated by my Norfolk friends, I pick out the Proclaimers CD, which I sandwich between four eclectic, credible CDs in some vain attempt to make the overall purchase somehow more fashionable.

I can’t be bothered with trying to be cool any more.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004


Three things have happened to make me extremely happy:

The first thing to make me happy is that, after months of cajoling, my ex has started moving her stuff out en masse.

Not having spoken for over a couple of months, or even met for a couple of months before that, I was naturally nervous about seeing her again.

By the time I arrived home, she and her sister had nearly completed loading the car. Having underestimated how much stuff there was, there are clearly a couple more carloads to go.

We only met for a few minutes, but that was ok. Sure, it felt odd, and there was a tinge of sadness at seeing her move her stuff out. But overall I feel a sense of relief that this will further help both of us move on.

Most significantly, when she asked how I was I could reply “pretty good, thanks” and realise I actually meant it, rather than it be the hollow response it would have been only a few months ago.

In that moment, I realised I wasn’t actually nervous about meeting her: I was nervous about how I’d react on meeting her. And my reaction was relaxed, with an overriding feeling of hope that we can now become friends again.

After they left, I played some happy music. I'm walking with a spring in my step.

The second thing to make me happy is that it's gorgeously sunny today... again! Weather is sweet, etc.

The third thing to make me happy is that I saw the Cussing Old Man as I spring-stepped my way through the sun-drenched park this morning.

He was being dragged into the bushes by his tearaway cussed-at hound.
Monday, May 17, 2004

  Good day sunshine

The sun is shining. The weather is sweet. And I am, indeed, moving my dancing feet.

Shame, then, the London Underground woman wasn’t sharing my sun-soaked glee.

Because her despondent misery almost caused a minor altercation at my boarding station this morning.

I use my Oyster card, one of those new-fangled ‘smart cards’, to navigate quickly throughout the London Transport network.

I like my Oyster card. It looks smart. And makes me feel part of some ‘elite’ set.

Except, sometimes, it doesn’t work. By which time, usually, the person behind has swiped their card. Causing a catastrophic ‘domino’ effect, as the ‘failed’ cardholder passes through the turnstile, blissfully unaware of any problems unfolding in their wake. At some point, the turnstile closes on an ‘accepted’ cardholder behind. It gets nasty: an annoying flaw in an otherwise good system.

This morning, I somehow passed through on the person-in-front’s swipe, before realising mine had failed. This prevented the cute-girl-behind-me from getting through. She was trapped! She couldn’t escape!!

Realising my mistake, I swung her an apologetic smile, but still resisted the temptation to wink.

She accepted this, and said not to worry. (Besides, I’m quite the catch, don’t you know.)

Normally, such matters are swiftly resolved: an assistant checks the failed card, then swipes their own ‘magic’ card to reopen the turnstile.

But this morning’s operative acted aggressively and presumptuously. She, without asking, snatched my card wallet (which also contains dosh and other cards). Then, checked it with suspicion. Finally, and again without asking, used my card it to let the cute girl through, before thrusting it back into my hands.

This irritated me. But I didn’t object, because the girl was quite cute. And because the sun was shining. I might yet write in to make up for my shallowness.

Distressed to count at least six pairs of chinos clearly unaired this side of winter during my half-hour journey, I was heartened to see the attire of an old man as I awaited the lift.

He stood, resplendent in smart black trousers, crisp white shirt, thick jumper (tucked in to his trousers – perhaps the subject of a future post?) and, on top of this, a large body warmer.

I look forward to the age when I just can’t wear too many layers.

I’m not there yet, though, so am off to spend my lunch hour on my favourite patch of grass on Primrose Hill.

I for one am determined to enjoy every delicious minute.
Friday, May 14, 2004

  Come away with me

It’s not just women who plan ahead, as I confessed last week on the phone to a relatively new female buddy:

“That Norah Jones,” I announced, “She’d make a good wife, I think.”

“I can understand that.” came the reassuring reply, “She’s lovely. And has a voice like honey.”

Norah is lovely. And does have a voice like honey. She would make a very good wife indeed.

I’d already identified one potential obstacle, which I thought it right to voice my concern on:

“One condition: she’d have to cut down on her touring commitments.”

“I can understand that. Otherwise you wouldn’t see anything of her. You should also consider the fact that she’s living with her bearded bass player.”

I considered this advice further over subsequent days. The advice was sound: Beardybollocks would have to go.

Norah is lovely. She seems nice and down to earth. My friends already like her. As does my mum. I’m sure my dad would approve. And her dad could play a bit of sitar at the wedding. We’d have to find someone else’s CDs to chill out to but, that aside, it’d be bliss.

Over coming days, I hatched cunning plans to get Beardybollocks out of the picture.

But I was growing increasingly troubled by the wide margin in our relative earnings, and explained this to my non-stuttering dating mentor.

I was hurt by the accusation in response: “You have problems with a woman earning more than you!”.

No! This wasn’t the problem. This wasn’t the problem at all. I have no problem with a woman earning more than me. (And if I did, I’d be needlessly drastically reducing my prospects to target).

But I do foresee problems where the earning differential between either partner is so VAST.

So I defended my controversial opinion:

“Picture the scenario where I’ve just returned with the week’s shopping.

Norah’s flying back from a successful tour of the Far East.

I’m totting up the Safeway receipt: go dutch on the veg and meat, magazine for me, smellies for Norah.

On her return I announce: that’s £13.56 you owe me, Norah.

She’s going to be tired and irritable, and bound to bring up the subject of who earns the bread. I’m going to be at least £20 million behind. It’d get nasty. It’s just not going to work.”

I’d been stupid. It just wasn’t going to work. How could it? A multi-million selling Grammy-winning artist, and me: a moderately successful direct marketer. I was a fool.

I explained this to my new-found agony aunt:

“I’ve been so stupid. It’s not going to work between Norah and me. How could it? She’s a multi-million selling Grammy-winning artist. Then there’s me: just a moderately successful direct marketer. And that’s before I’ve even gotten rid of Beardybollocks. I’m sorry; I’ve been such a fool. I am scum.”

“I’m glad you’ve given it some thought and seen sense.”

So I went on to explain how I thought lesser known but equally lovely and honey-voiced Irish songstress Gemma Hayes would make a good wife instead.

Gemma’s touring commitments would be less, though would inevitably increase with the likely increased popularity arising from her yet-to-be-released second album.

Gemma is lovely. And also has a voice like honey. She seems nice and down to earth, though has yet to elevate to that A-List stratosphere where egos can run out of control. She would make a very good wife indeed. I’m sure my friends would like her. And my mum and dad. We could still play Norah’s CDs to chill out to. It’d be bliss.

“It’s perfect.” I explained, “Naturally, out of courtesy, I’ll be writing to Norah’s people to withdraw my interest.”

I do feel genuinely sorry for the vast majority of men for whom such a dilemma is mere fantasy.

So am extremely grateful I’m in the privileged position to be able to blog about it, and count on your continued support at this difficult time.
Thursday, May 13, 2004

  Family day out?

Returning on the train from my parents at the weekend, I passed the East London cemetery where my grandad, among many others, was cremated.

The scene was much the same as usual except, this time, the view obscured by a large white banner hanging from the fence:


This disturbed and inspired me in equal measure.

On the one hand, I thought, maybe this showed commendable enterprise: a struggling business seeking to tap into the highly stressed, overworked, undersexed market of its passing commuters.

But on the other hand, I couldn’t quite marry the concept of a cemetery embracing such commercial activities.

I assumed the day wouldn’t be resplendent with bunting, bouncy castles, candy floss and ferret racing, but had trouble visualising how anyone would tactfully suggest visiting to their loved ones:

“So, Auntie Bev. There’s a nice local flower show on this afternoon. The whist drive at the local hall? Or we can show you some caskets and tombstones instead?”

Still, beats shopping, I guess.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

  Helping hands

The new work experience girl has started!!!®

Jubilation reigns! Hallelujah!

Working in a largely male-dominated office, the arrival of any new female face, let alone a young, innocent and possibly virginal one, is greeted with much excitement. A rare treat, indeed, of Haley’s Comet-esque proportions.

For two weeks, work won’t quite be the same.

For two weeks, the world will be a slightly better place:

Male colleagues’ desks normally in disarray equivalent to the ‘before’ scene of a ‘Ground Force’ Beirut special will be hastily cleared. Framed photographs of partners, or even mildly attractive distant cousins, will be upturned and chucked into drawers.

The usual slightly high-testosterone atmosphere will be temporarily replaced by the forced pretence of a soothing cool, collected calm.

The office hifi’s usual Xfm will make way for Kiss fm, and AC/DC for N*E*R*D, to project a false image of retained youth.

Scuzzily-dressed blokes will up a gear and start attiring themselves competitively with funky shirts, sharp trousers and bobby dazzlers. Some may even make the effort to shave every day or wear special pants.

Ironically, for someone inevitably employed to field telephone calls, photocopy and file, She will have on hand more unsolicited office support that that provided by a medium-sized Indian call centre.

Hot-blooded males will horde surplus stocks of staples and paperclips. Just so, in case She should ask, they can answer “But of course! I have some here for you... down there, in my bottom drawer.”

For the rest of us, PCs will continue to crash every half-hour. Crawl to a halt when running more than 2 Windows applications. And print to the wrong printer, in the wrong font. She, on the other hand, will inevitably be provided with a PC highly spec’d enough to simultaneously coordinate London’s Air Traffic Control, de-code DNA, and quite possibly find life on Mars before the end of her placement. None of which, alongside the photocopying and filing of course, should look too bad on Her CV.

So regular will be the offers of “I know a great little sandwich place to show you at lunchtime” that within a few days She will detect this ruse well before the eighth course is served at Odette’s.

Of course, by the end of the fortnight, this temporary relative calm will have descended into a tense mix of squabbling, resentment and backbiting, as our abject failure dawns on most of us.

Last time, it was the ‘quiet one’ who put in a very late pitch (post-pub drinks following her leaving do, natch) and is still going out with her now. I think you’ll find my hat well and truly OFF.

We all know it’s all so very wrong, but feels so right. Besides, we’re safe in the knowledge that She’ll benefit from becoming a better person from the whole experience.

But the saddest part of this desperately sad situation is that She will think this is what Working Life is really like.

Inevitably, She will mature beyond blossoming innocence to develop a flawed, shallow and in all probability slightly irritating personality. She will be flung into actually working with others. ‘She’ will become just ‘she’. Just another one of us. Just another worker.

It will dawn on her that she will have to fix the photocopier herself; she’ll lunch alone; and her substandard PC will crash every half-hour.

In the meantime, though, She’s still worth a punt.
Monday, May 10, 2004

  Quality time

Author's Note: Spare a few minutes for today’s self-absorbed epic. For an accurate recreation of this scene, persuade a couple of colleagues or acquaintances to play the parts of Mum and Dad. Dad should be played loud, obstinate and thick-skinned. Mum should be played meek, polite and considerate. It's essential both start their next line no later than one-third through each other's previous line, creating an irritating 'overlapping chatter' effect. You could probably play Me yourself: there's relatively few lines, which only require mumbling, occasional rolling of eyes and continual feigned interest. Perhaps, just for fun, you could invite a few friends to gather round seated on some chairs to watch, and eat crisps?

Act 1: 'Breakfast'

Mum and Dad sit on doily-covered sofa in typical suburban lounge. Mum listens to Enya CD. Dad fiddles with TV remote control.

Me enters stage left, bleary eyed and only half-awake, and sits down on comfy chair.

Mum: Morning, Unlucky. Did you sleep well?

Dad (after considerable pause): Oh, hello Unlucky.... morning.

Me: Morning. Yes, slept well. Good! You have the teletext on already.

Dad: Yes, cricket's on.

Me: So I can see. Greene King Veterans league - excellent!

Mum: Would you like a cup of tea, dear?

Me: Oh yes please, mum, that'd be lovely.

Dad: Are you going to have some Shredded Wheat?

Me: No, I don't lik...

Dad: You should have some Shredded Wheat. I like Shredded Wheat. Shredded Wheat is nice.

Mum: But he doesn't like Shredded Wheat.

Me: No, I've never liked Shred...

Dad: You don't like Shredded Wheat? But Shredded Wheat is nice.

Me: I know, but I've never personally liked Shred...

Dad: You should try some Shredded Wheat. Shredded Wheat is nice. Go on, just try some.

Me: I know you like Shredded Wheat. And I've tried it. Lots of times, when we've had this conversation before. I'm sorry, but I just don't like it.

Dad: So, you don't like Shredded Wheat?

Mum: No, luv, he doesn't like Shredded Wheat. Never has. He's tried it.

Me: It's ok. I'll have some Weetabix. I like Weetabix. I just don't like Shredded Wheat.

Dad: You like Weetabix? But it's not as good as Shredded Wheat.

Mum: I'll make Unlucky some Weetabix with our tea, luv. He prefers it to Shredded Wheat.

Mum exits stage right to make tea and Weetabix. Dad continues to fiddle with remote control. Me picks up local paper with 'MEMORIAL FIASCO' headline.

Act 2: 'Catching up'

Mum and Dad sit on doily-covered sofa in typical suburban lounge. Mum listens to Enya CD. Dad fiddles with TV remote control. Me sits on comfy chair, reading local paper with headline 'MEMORIAL FIASCO'.

Dad (still fidding with remote control): I saw that Darren Briddlesley the other day.

Me (still reading paper): Really?

Dad: Yes, you were good friends with him, weren't you?

Me: Erm, no. Don't recall the name, actually.

Mum (in between humming to Enya): He's doing very well, you know.

Me: Really? That's good.

Dad: He's playing some good cricket at the club.

Mum: And getting married next year.

Me: Really? That's very good.

Dad: Yes, he's moving up to the 2nd Eleven. Bowling well at the moment, he is.

Mum: And they're buying a house.

Me: Really? Excellent.

Dad: Fast-bowling. Just what the team needs.

Mum: Hang on a minute, Unlucky wasn't at school with him, we're thinking of his brother.

Me: Well, I'm pleased for him anyway.

Dad: He's good with the bat too. And not bad on the field.

Mum: Would anyone like tea and biscuits?

Dad & Me: Yes please, that'd be lovely.

Mum exits stage right to make tea and biscuit. Dad continues to fiddle with remote control. Me continues to read local paper with 'MEMORIAL FIASCO' headline.

Act 3: 'Neighbourhood Watch'

Mum and Dad sit on doily-covered sofa in typical suburban lounge. Mum listens to Enya CD. Dad fiddles with TV remote control. Me sits on comfy chair, reading local paper with headline 'MEMORIAL FIASCO'.

Mum (words emerging from undiscernable conversation): ..... has emigrated after becoming pregnant, and Number 15 have moved!

Dad: Yes, they've moved!

Me: Really? Moved out?

Dad: Yes, they sold their house. And moved out.

Mum: It'd been on the market for over a year.

Dad: They'd overpriced it. I'm surprised anyone bought it.

Mum: But they dropped a price a bit, and sold it.

Dad: I thought they'd never sell it.

Mum: But they did, then they moved out.

Me: Really? Completely out?

Dad: Yes, they sold their house, then moved out.

Mum: Hang on, I don't think Unlucky knows them. Unlucky, did you know Number 15?

Me: No, they'd only been here a couple of years, and it's seven since I last lived here.

Dad: I'm not going to miss their kids.

Mum: No, they were always running over the neighbours' gardens to get their ball back.

Dad: I caught them climbing onto Number 12's roof the other week.

Mum: They hadn't even asked permission! Your dad told them off...

Dad: ...but some people just don't listen.

Me: Really?

Mum: Would anyone like tea and cake?

Dad & Me: Yes please, that'd be lovely.

Mum exits stage right to make tea and cake. Dad continues to fiddle with remote control. Me continues to read local paper with 'MEMORIAL FIASCO' headline.
Friday, May 07, 2004

  Crunch time

It’s nearing the end of the week P#0001 said she’d text me back following our date. We'd had a good time, I wouldn't mind seeing her again, but am reassuringly relaxed about the whole thing.

Nonetheless I was intrigued to receive an email alerting me to a new message left for me on the dating site.

I logged on to the site in anticipation, and indeed 1 new message was waiting for me.

Alas, it wasn’t from P#0001.

It was from ‘fitlad’.

As I’ve made clear on these pages before, I’m a free-thinking man, willing to embrace the complex web of relationships that make up our modern day society today.

But as clouded as my memory was from copious wine drunk at the last speed-dating event, I had no recollection of ‘fitlad’.

I opened the message.

It was a ruse: ‘fitlad’ was peddling package holidays for singletons.

I couldn’t believe it. I’ve started receiving spam through my dating site. Is nothing sacred?

I deleted the message, and return to my real-life dilemma.

My social life’s received the kick up the arse it needed this year, and I’m really enjoying myself.

Risk minor loss of dignity pursuing P#0001, or time for P#0002?

Hmmmm. Mull this one over the weekend, I think. Looks like it might be a good one.
Thursday, May 06, 2004

  Goin’ Nunderground

I descended the lift to catch my usual Northern Line tube train, for my sins.

The journey was largely unremarkable until late on, after most passengers had left the carriage, when I was joined by a jovial looking nun who sat down next to me.

My intense scrutiny of Metro’s cartoon page was interrupted as I realised my nun’s joviality was deteriorating towards mild panic.

She was sighing over her hastily-unfolded tube map, looking confusedly at its contents. My nun was looking flustered. My nun was looking blue.

Being the good Samaritan, I asked if I could help. She explained she needed to get to Archway, and was worried she was on the wrong train.

I could be of assistance here, I thought. I knew the Northern Line well. Actually give accurate instructions, rather than just pretend.

“Don’t worry.” I reassured her, “You’re on the right line. Just the wrong branch. You need to change at Camden, and all will be well, sister.”

Alas, she didn’t seem to understand. Clearly, she was not in the habit of travelling on the tube. But precise explanation of what she needed to do, and where she needed to go, appeared to assuage her fears. I was confident that absolutely nothing could go wrong.

Our journey continued, and I returned to Metro’s cartoons.

Before long, the automated voice announced: “The next station is Camden Town, Edgware branch. Change here for Northern Line trains to High Barnet and Mill Hill East.”

My nun looked alarmed. I guessed she was used to hearing voices in her head, just not that one. She really needed to get out more.

I nodded friendlily, indicating this was her right stop. She smiled and thanked me for my help. I resisted the temptation to wink, and just told her she was welcome. She made her way towards the door. I returned again to Metro’s cartoons.

The train slowed to a halt, and my reading was once again interrupted, this time by a mild kerfuffle. Passengers further down the carriage gestured towards my new-found celibate friend.

My nun was repeatedly pressing the ‘Open Door’ button, exclaiming “I can’t get out! I can’t get out!!!”. My poor nun. This must have been hell for her.

Looking around, I immediately realised what had happened. The train had stopped before reaching the station, waiting for another train to clear the line ahead. I calmly explained to my nun that she was attempting to disembark in the tunnel, and should wait instead until we reached the platform.

A minute or two later, the train shuffled forward to the platform, and my nun stepped off without further incident.

I finished reading Metro’s cartoons, and skipped the business and sports pages for the day.

My work was done. I ascended the lift at my destination a Better Man.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

  In the country

I return to work refreshed from a lovely couple of days away from the city bustle for some tranquil country-living with my Norfolk friends.

May Day weekend marks one of the highlights of the West Norfolk calendar: the local Craft Show.

It was therefore with considerable expectation that we took the five-mile drive to the Show. Even the incessant playing of my host's Proclaimers CD was unable to spoil the enjoyment of speeding through beautiful countryside with the top down under the glaring sunshine.

Our anticipation was raised further as we approached the ground's entrance, alongside expectant-looking visitors old, and even older.

And excitement neared bursting point when we reached the turnstiles, and parted with our four pounds fifty. Each.

This was going to be good. Very good.

The Annual Woodcutting Championships were already underway, and we soaked up the atmosphere of watching a contender carve a bear out of a tree stump. After a couple of minutes, we'd got the gist so moved on.

Spoilt for choice, we surveyed the surroundings.

To the left: a craft marquee.

To the right: another craft marquee.

But straight ahead of us was an ice-cream van advertising ice-cold fizzy pop. This was too enticing a prospect to let pass before we commenced our craft tour. The vendor repeatedly explained I'd saved sixty pence by “shopping at the cheapest van at the show”. Which was some consolation as he passed over three luke warm, battered, dirty, old cans.

Refreshed, we entered our first tent. A miscellany of paintings, blown glass, Peruvian woven wool, country wines, bathing smellies, leather goods, among many others, treated our senses.

More of the same greeted us in the second tent.

By the third tent, we were tiring a little.

To be honest, quality ranged from the quite good to abysmal. Whilst I'd admired the old man's boat-building skills, the gargoyle garden sculptures and doily place mats impressed me less, and I fail to see how mounting photographs of Concorde in a picture frame in any way constitutes 'craft'.

Just as craft-fatigue was setting in, an announcement wafted across from the PA system which I'd been excitedly awaiting all afternoon.

“Ladies and Gentleman!”, boomed the friendly voice, “Starting in just a few minutes: FERRET RACING!”

I rushed out of the tent, past the wicker basket stall and narrowly avoiding the Victorian steam organ, and pushed a couple of small children aside to ensure I had an unobscured ringside view at the racing arena. Phew! I was not too late. In fact, I was very early.

The Ferret Man continued: “Prepare yourselves for a spectacle of a scale not seen in West Norfolk for some years.”

People began to gather round.

“Four ferrets trained to the highest standards will be freed to run down four tubes. The first to emerge, in its entirety, at the other end, will be declared winner.”

Chatter reverberated as everyone realised they were witnessing something very special indeed.

“Of course, this alone is just a Ferret Run!” continued his well-rehearsed pitch, “It only becomes a Ferret Race when it matters.”

Ferret Man explained how bets of twenty-pence would be accepted with lucky winners standing to double their stake, and all proceeds going towards further rescues of the furry rodents.

“Twenty pence matters”, he explained.

As an obese child paraded the runners around the assembling crowd, I pondered how migrating these animals from their lives of unrestricted freedom to a cage no bigger than a shopping basket, and Victorian freakshow-esque racing down pipes, amounted in any way to “rescuing”.

Putting animal ethics aside, this was an opportunity too good to refuse. This was show-business. Besides, the ferrets looked happy enough.

I generously parted with the sixty pence saved at the cheapest van to place bets for myself and my two hosts, presuming that a stake in three different ferrets would almost certainly ensure victory.

By this time, Ferret Man was well and truly in the stride of his patter: “Upon release, these athletes of the animal world shall move with such ferocity down each tube, I advise parents to ensure their children remain at least five yards away from the tube opening.”

Perhaps it wasn’t too late for the BBC to reconsider their buying back of the Premiership rights.

The crowd must have been near full-capacity now, but their patience was becoming tested. The Ferret Rescuers coffers must have been inflated by as much as ten pounds, enough for a couple more ferrets at least, and Ferret Man being the professional he is realised he could milk this goodwill no longer.

The obese and three other unremarkable-looking children knelt behind each of the ferret boxes.

Ferret Man encouraged the crowd to participate in counting down from 10, at the last count signalling to the children to release their allocated ferret.

A massive cheer erupted! The Ferret Race had begun!!!

Then….very little happened.

The 'blue' pipe's ferret was the first to put its snout forward, but appeared in no rush to begin a run.

The 'red' pipe's ferret seemed far too preoccupied with scratching itself to take any interest in the race.

The 'green' pipe's ferret was the first to properly emerge, but in reverse, which was clearly never going to be a very successful tactic.

“I may have exaggerated the ferocity ever so slightly” apologised Ferret Man, insincerely.

But to the masses assembled, this race mattered. They'd parted with twenty pence. Each. This wasn't merely a Ferret Run.

“C'mon Green!” shouted the lady to my right.

“Get your act together, Red!” hollered the man to my left, “I've put good money on you!!!”

This was the spirit, I thought. Our 2012 Olympics Bid must surely be in the bag.

After a couple of minutes kafuffle, Green edged forward, but then stopped. Red quickly overtook, but was loath to emerge at the other end. Just then, Yellow surged forward, apparently out of nowhere.

Yellow won the race.

Yellow was the only colour I hadn't placed a bet on.

I threw my betting slip down in disgust, and moved on to have a go at shooting some cans to try to win a furry toy instead.
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