For the last ten years or so I’ve been trying to teach my mother the following joke:
Bloke 1: Did you hear about the man who drowned in a bowl of muesli?
Bloke 2: No.
Bloke 1: Apparently he was dragged down by a strong current.
Unfortunately her brain works differently from most people and she feels compelled (mostly at parties) to blurt out variations on ‘Did you hear about the current…oh…forget that bit…did you…something about muesli…erm…oh…etc.’
Similarly the joke ‘Two seals walk into a club,’ transmogrifies as ‘There’s a club…no, not a club – a seal cub…a seal walks into a bar…not a bar…a club.’
I’ve written before about accidentally typing ‘retards’ instead of ‘regards’ on letters to publishers. I have now superseded this with a phone pitch that went:
‘Hi, I’m ringing to enquire as to whether you’re taking on any new authors?’
‘That was a very wordy introduction. I hope you’re writing is better.’
‘Don’t be – goodbye.’
I’m writing this entry on a scrap of paper, six hours into a hellish British Rail-hilariously detouring-replacement bus-journey between Stafford and Reading – stranded in Watford of all places (nowhere near either!) The idea of the trip had been to get a much needed break from endless commuting – A plan now well and truly knackered.
‘Frustration’ is very much the word of the moment – bored with corporate life, unable to get any literary body to recognise my work for the undiscovered work of genius it so clearly is (!) and watching as the slowest, most jam-packed train in the world pootles down the track whilst a woman next to me rips into to her husband on the phone; chastising him for not being a mind-reader and getting the evening meal ready too early
What to do?
I’ve used the trip to start writing in earnest again for the first time in about three months – a story based on a phrase my father used to say in the eighties – ‘We’ll take anyone here – the sick, the lame and the criminally insane.’
There’s nothing more frustrating than when the words won’t come, and by contrast, nothing more elating than when they do.
Having garnered some much needed inspiration, I now feel better prepared to endure the final five legs of my journey, and am less likely to take a member of staff hostage and barter their life in exchange for a refund…
There’s a large bill-board in Southwark that’s been devoid of advertising for well over a month now. Each morning as I walk past it taunts…
“…You should fly-poster me…go get a marker pen and scrawl ‘I’m so good I want to read myself‘ in massive letters…Come on Cororan…where’s your backbone?”
The problem is that the bill-board is visible from the office in which I work. In any other circumstance this would be a good thing (as opposed to career limiting).
Now, I’m not in the habit of receiving messages from inanimate objects, although I once wrote a short story about a woman who did (e.g. grass screaming ‘Nooo, don’t cut me!’ Coffee mug shouting ‘Don’t pour that liquid in me – It’s hot, hot, HOT!’)
I’ve been interviewing recently for a Project Management role. The last question I ask is always ‘what are your hobbies?’ I do this for two reasons i. No one puts them on their CV anymore, and ii. It gives a good insight into what a person is really like.
On one particular occasion the candidate replied with ‘scuba and sky-diving. I’m an adrenaline junkie and love danger and excitement.’
After the interview my colleagues and I agreed that the man in question was a nice, competent guy, and decided to offer him the job. The following morning he declined the role stating that he had been mugged outside the office, and that Southwark was too dangerous a place to work!
A few days later another candidate was asked the question ‘How do you deal with conflict?’ to which he replied ‘I don’t. I avoid it like the plague. I’m a politician. I weave around conflict.’
‘But surely there are times when conflict is unavoidable – for example – when you’re dealing with a poor supplier or a lazy employee?’
‘Well there you go. You’re in conflict with me now.’
‘No I’m not.’
‘What are your hobbies?’
‘I’m in a theatre company.’
‘Oh great – What was your last role?’
‘I was a clown.’
Walking through a crowded Waterloo station each morning I catch snippets of obscure and often harrowing conversations. Yesterday I overheard a man say ‘…Two years ago I was happy…’ followed by a woman uttering, ‘…Christ, if something doesn’t change soon I’ll take…’ Similarly this morning I saw two women weeping uncontrollably whilst being consoled by complete strangers. Not to concentrate on the macabre, I’m fascinated by the idea that, as I walk down a busy street, all these little stories are passing me by – mostly unheard, often interlinking, sometimes fantastical – and every so often people forget their British foibles and just erupt.
Most of my stories tend to come from this angle – the question of what is going on beneath the surface of apparent normality.
Of all the tales ever conceived The Melting Pot has burned the brightest so far. I was very driven to get it into print, and spent a considerable sum of money in pursuing that purpose, but it’s only recently that I’ve stopped to ask myself why?
I certainly don’t have any designs on being famous – quite the opposite in fact. I like the idea of one day being on a train, seeing someone reading the book and being able to watch their reactions from afar without being recognised – anonymity AND notoriety…
I just said all that out loud…I’ll shut up now…
Latest Google-search: ‘guerrilla marketing constipation.’
Once a week I write to Mariella Frostrup at Radio 4’s ‘Open Book.’ At first I begged her to grant me an interview on the show, but now I mostly compliment her on her hair. I thought about sending one that read ‘Can you see me? I can see you,’ or perhaps ‘Did you get that finger I posted?’ but people rarely take stalker-humour in the spirit that it’s intended.
Latest Google searches to find me: ‘Pot urinals,’ ‘Guerrilla night-clubs’ and ‘Sally Gunnell bikini.’
On Saturday a friend and I were in Howth – a small seaside town a few miles north of Dublin. We’d cleverly chosen our little break to coincide with an Uber-tsunami and were feebly making our way up along the wind-battered docks when we saw the saddest of sites – an accordion playing busker belting out a jolly jig whilst being pelted with everything the weather could throw at him. Despite the ordeal he wore a wax-work grin that slipped periodically into constipated angst.
A short way along the dock a second man opened a case to reveal an alto-sax. As he did so he scowled at the accordion player. The accordion player scowled back. Even in the downpour it was clear for all to see:
This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.
We spent the afternoon holed up in a bar speculating on the history of animosity that had obviously (probably) built up between them. I feel a short story brewing – perhaps entitled ‘Busk This.’
Venturing further north we arrived at Malahide castle. It was sobering to find a proud building that had weathered many Atlantic invasions only to be conquered by Starbucks. Complicit in its downfall we sat nursing a brew when a man was pushed into the room – wheelchair bound, his face covered in bruised and abrasions, tubes running along both arms and up his nose, blankets warding off the cold and a face that screamed defeat. A waitress approached, and in her chirpiest voice said ‘You’re looking well. How are ya?’
The man stared her down and replied: ‘As you see me. In what possible way do I look well?’
I shall call this story ‘Euphoria…’