Tag Archives: Book group

A look beyond the veil…

…Somewhere within these few lines and verses is the meaning of life. Of this I am certain, although at present I am at a loss to extract the distilled nectar…

I was heading into town on foot with a list of largely mundane things to do. My mind had wandered…I need to hire an accountant to do my tax returns

I passed under a railway bridge and did an awkward shimmy to avoid a woman approaching in the opposite direction.

…Really? This is what you’re going to spend your Sunday thinking about? I harnessed a phrase so often used on other men in their late thirties whenever the subject of rising house prices rears its inevitable head: We used to talk about girls.

My rumination was disturbed by a loud screeching noise. I looked up and saw that a flat bed lorry containing a large (and full) skip was skidding and jack-knifing all over the road. In a flash I saw that its next arc would bring it round to bear on the woman and myself, crashing through the flimsy fence that separated us. My mind took in other snapshots – the curved wall of the tunnel – no escape – the expression on the driver’s face – a rictus of panic.

I am going to die – the thought as clear as day – A weight like that would pulverise me. I probably wouldn’t even feel it. No time for…Cars on either side of the road shrieking to a halt – petrol fumes – adrenaline coursing – the woman’s arm shooting out, almost grasping mine…

…And then, somehow, the driver regained control of the vehicle. He glanced down at me from the cab and shouted something. I only caught the last word ‘….reprieve!’ His face was a swirl of nervous energy – the relief and mania of not having turned his lorry into a murderous juggernaut, and then he was gone.

In the dim light of the tunnel the woman and I exchanged exhalations. I momentarily entertained the idea of speaking (we almost…we should go for a drink – maybe get married). The moment passed. I offered a smile, which was reciprocated, and then we went in our separate directions.

What now? I couldn’t just go and buy bin liners and washing up liquid as had been the plan – Oh no – I had been spared for higher office (or something). Something profound had just happened, and yet at the same time, nothing at all had happened.

The first thing I saw when I got into town was a coffeehouse I’d been boycotting on account of their exorbitant prices. Well stuff that now, I thought, I’m on bonus time. Bring me the baddest brew you’ve got and here’s all my money. Several glorious infusions later I found my calling – I was to pamper myself rotten. I bought the ingredients for an epic meal, a good bottle of plonk and a hillock of cake (to use the collective term).

Back at home I visited the bathroom and regarded its porcelain namesake (Who the hell has time to draw a bath in this day and age?) Me, that’s who! – piping hot, bubble bath – I only wish I’d had rose petals on hand and a Celine Dion compilation.

Well that was mind-blowing, I self-congratulated as I emerged from a miasma of steam to discover that I had no clean underwear (the result of a recent road-trip). Commando it is then! A pair of trackie-bottoms were on hand – crisis averted!

With a meal of heroes in my belly I stepped out into the garden to enjoy the summer sunshine. The lawn was looking a little unkempt so I decided to mow it – Find an album you’ve not listened to in a while, stick on some headphones – mooch around in the warm rays – perfect.

I set to work, thinking all the while about what had happened earlier that day. Worshipping at the church of self was all well and good for an hour or so, but surely something worthier needed to emerge as a result of so spectacular a reminder that life is fragile and fleeting?

Maybe, but not right now. Right now I had great food, great tunes, I was out in the sunshine. It didn’t have to be profound. This is good, I thought, this is being alive.

Something moved in my peripheral vision. I looked up and there at the gate stood an old woman. By ‘old’ I mean ‘at least eighty.’ She was waving and mouthing something at me. I let go of the mower’s trigger and took off the headphones.

‘What was that?’

‘Nice cock,’ she said – brazen as you like with a wry little smile.

‘…pardon?’

‘…Nice cock.’

I looked down and saw that the mower was obscuring my pelvic region from view.

‘How would you know?’

‘Oh, I’ve been standing here for quite some time.’

And with a wink and what can only be described as an incredibly leisurely pace she went about her business…

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Epic Fail 2 – Fail Harder

…We left our hero coming to the aid of a damsel in distress. The evil double-glazing empire had dispatched an army of horny, if slightly retarded, window fitters to steal her virtue, but had been cunningly repelled by the use of reverse psychology (essentially pretending to be gay). A great victory had been won, but not without cost. One of the windows had fallen at the hands on some conniving chipboard and now lay vulnerable to attack. The testosterone-filled rascals had vowed to return and finish what they’d started. Our saga continues….
The phone was ringing. The sun glistened across my muscular arm as I answered masterfully. ‘Hello?’
‘Hello Mr. Cororan?’
A lesser man would have used many words at this point, but brevity was the key. ‘Speaking.’
Reeling from my duo-syllabic response (etc) my adversary replied: ‘This is Alex from [INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE]. We’re standing outside your house with a window.’
‘OK…Is this the beginning of a joke?’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘There’s no need to be.’
‘Where are you?’
‘I’m at work.’
‘But we’re here with a window.’
‘…Nobody told me you were coming.’
‘Is there any way you could get back?’
‘Not any time soon I’m afraid. I can do Wednesday.’
‘We’re fully booked for the rest of the week. Could anyone else let us in?’
On reflection it was probably the wrong thing to say, but I couldn’t help myself. ‘There’s a flimsy piece of plywood boarding up the bathroom. You could climb up on the roof and punch your way in?’
There was a moment’s silence where the man seemed to be weighing up whether or not to use colourful language. Finally he erred on the side of caution. ‘…OK sir. I’ll get back to you.’
‘OK, speak soon.’
I rang off, putting the whole thing down to simple miscommunication, but ohhhh noooo, larger calamities were afoot. An hour or so later the phone was ringing once more.
‘Alex here…again…when will you be…home from…work?’
‘Why?’
‘…We appear to be locked in your house.’
‘How on earth did you get in?’
‘We did what you suggested and climbed onto the roof.’
‘You’re joking?’
‘Weren’t you being serious…oh…I can see now that you weren’t!’
‘Explain to me what has happened.’
‘Well, we fitted the window, but then realised that all the doors and frames on the ground floor need a key.’
‘So what you’re saying is that you are calling to inform me that you have broken into my house?’
‘…erm…well…no, you suggested it.’
‘AS A JOKE! OK, can you wait there while I phone the police, or are you planning to break back out again?’
‘…’
‘Is Jason there?’ (see previous post)
‘Yes.’
‘Can you put him on the phone?’
There was a brief muffled conversation. ‘He doesn’t want to come to the phone.’
‘I bet he doesn’t!’
‘Do you mind if we climb out of a bedroom window and leave it open till you get home?’
I began to consider the possibility that I was dealing with one of mankind’s more primitive ancestors. An idea for testing this hypothesis occurred to me.
‘Don’t do that. You might set off the Halon system.’
‘The what?’
‘In the event of a fire halon gas drops from the ceiling. This sucks all the oxygen out of the room and extinguishes the flames.’
‘I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not.’
‘Deadly serious. There’s one in the kitchen and one on the stairs…they look like smoke alarms…Look, just stay relatively still and get your boss to phone me.’
I rang off. Moments later their boss was on the line. ‘I take it you’re joking about the halon system.’
‘Of course.’
‘What a couple of clowns. Is there any way they can get out?’
‘Yes, there’s a spare key in [INSERT MEANS OF BURGLARISING ME HERE]’
‘Thanks.’
‘I hope this won’t affect their employment.’
‘I was thinking of having them both killed. Does that qualify?’
‘How would I notice any difference?’
‘Quite. Sorry about this Mr. Cororan. Rest assured they’ll both be flogged.’
‘I would expect nothing less. Oh and one more thing…last time your guys came over Jason left me a rather saucy note. Could you let him know that, whilst flattered, I’m not interested?’

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‘Coma-cise’ Vs Wireless tramps…

Various news forums have been reporting on an experiment taking place in Texas where homeless people are being used as mobile wireless hotspots. At first the article prompted amusement at its absurdity (‘my wifi has wandered off’), before horror at what was described as  ‘the commoditisation of people.’ A subsequent tangential riff at work prompted this silly, slightly more benevolent slant on human behaviour…

‘Coma-cise’:

…Tobias wasn’t about to give his heart away to any old woman – ohhh no – he was waiting for the one – someone who didn’t mind that he was a little bit podgy and dull, or that he didn’t have two pennies to rub together, or that he wasn’t particularly great around people. So when Phyllis came along with her lovely ringlets and her patience Tobias gave a satisfied sigh of relief and whispered ‘I have found her.’

However, Phyllis turned out to be something else entirely and, when the season changed, she blew through Tobias’ world like a tornado, taking with her all of his hopes and dreams. Desperately, desperately distraught and unsure of what to do Tobias went for a drive in the dead of night, but he couldn’t see for tears and crashed his car into a tree.

‘Could be ten years, could be tomorrow,’ the doctor informed Ralph; Tobias’ one and only friend. ‘He may never wake up.’

Ralph sat beside the bed for a long, long time, and it was only when the sun was rising for a second morning that he was struck with a wondrous idea.

The faked note proclaimed that ‘in the event of my falling into a coma I should very much like you to stick me on an exercise bike and stimulate my muscles with tiny electrodes.’

‘It’s a very unusual and specific request,’ the doctor replied somewhat bemused, ‘but it would help prevent atrophy setting in, and I suppose no harm can come of it.’

Ralph burned the midnight oil customising the exercise bike so that his friend’s involuntary actions would spin a dynamo that, in turn, generated electricity.

Tobias looked rather dapper in his emerald tracksuit as they fixed him into position. Tiny sparks animated his dormant body as he unknowingly burned through 1000 calories and filled five large batteries with energy. The first trial was such a success that the doctor agreed to repeat it five times a week.

Ralph sold the batteries to the national grid and deposited the money in his friend’s account.

News of Tobias’ strange treatment spread, first through the hospital, then the town, then across the country. Well-wishing cards began arriving from the farthest flung corners of the globe.

‘You’re looking good’ Ralph informed his friend as he peddled alongside. ‘You’ve lost weight, but you’re a little pale. What you need is some sun.’

Tobias apparently had no opinion on the matter.

Getting outside once a day turned out to be impractical, so Ralph had a tanning booth installed around the bike. ‘That’s better,’ he said. ‘Girls love a man with a healthy glow. Please say something.’

But his friend was lost for words, so Ralph resolved to maintain his silent vigil and dug in for the long haul.

And in this state Tobias remained for seven years – cycling, tanning, generating and networking, until one day, quite unexpectedly, he awoke – a bronzed Adonis, known and loved the world over and rich beyond his wildest dreams…

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…It’s just been revoked

How I yearn for the halcyon days when, having been slighted in some fashion, a chap could challenge the offending cad to a duel, get up at the crack of dawn, fire a musket round through his heart and be done with it.

Simpler, happier times.

Fast forward two hundred emasculating years and we’ve evolved to mumbling ‘That’s the third time you’ve incorrectly formatted this spreadsheet. Prepare to feel the wrath of my carefully-worded-so-as-not-to-get-in-trouble-with-HR, passive aggressive, sent before running away, email.’

He won’t do that again the cheeky little expletive-deleted.

Of course he will. I am powerless to stop him.

At the office I’ve been lobbying for a practice along the lines of the police’s guns and knives amnesty – a ‘Bring your rant to work day’ if you will. For one glorious day of the year you could saunter up to the lazy, ineffectual office gimp and, with complete impunity, bombard them with the abuse they so richly deserve, before putting the secretary across your knee as punishment for that memo she badly typed six months ago (it’s the only way she’ll learn). So far my suggestion has been met with stony stares and a call for me to go on something called ‘gardening leave’?

My female boss clearly doesn’t understand me.

But flippancy aside (I don’t advocate the spanking of women except by mutual consent) you have to be careful. For example – I was once sitting minding my own business when the following message arrived in my inbox:

‘Dear Martin, I am writing to let you know that I am having a name and gender change. From now on I shall be known as Rachel. Yours, Richard.’

I met with Rachel for lunch. For the sake of argument I’ll refer to her as ‘she’ even though, at this stage, she was still packing heat. Rachel wasn’t a happy camper and told me that she was in the process of making  a formal complaint. Management were refusing to let her  use the women’s toilets even though she was dressing and living as a female in preparation for the full op.

I said to her that she was a genius and that, if I got the use the women’s loos, I’d wear a dress to work, at which point she made a complaint about me.

Women eh! Cuh.

On a related but reversed theme I would encourage you to check out the very fine blog of Transman: http://theadventuresoftransman.com/

Also: In the interest of merciless self-promotion I have set up a Facebook page. If you feel so inclined please like it, love and cherish it, print it off, mulch it down into papier-mache and make your very own blog-based companion etc. I thank you.

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The future, and still no levitating chairs…

Goddamn you ‘Tomorrow’s World’! Where is the sweet-smelling utopia you promised me in the late 70’s?

In its place is a vision of dystopian angst where a man sits in traffic being bombarded by moronic tweets. He could have made something of his life if it wasn’t for all the constant interruptions. To his left and right he sees that his fellow motorists are in similar catatonic states. His brain twitches and splutters with occasional life ‘…What was that great idea I had yesterday before someone sent me a link to a monkey throwing faeces at a nun? I’ll never get those eight seconds back…What other important stuff did it shunt it out of my head?…Can’t get my relatively high-powered car above 15 miles an hour…must invent time machine…warn past self…can’t…form…rationale…help me…’

Arriving at work he finds that a shadowy conspiracy has altered the rules of established logic. The doors to the server room and all of its valuable data have been left open, but the stationary cupboard is being protected by a hexadecimal key-code. Even if he solves the code he’ll still have the armoured drones to deal with, but he really needs those post-it notes. He considered sacrificing one of his team members.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he chides himself, ‘think of the admin.’

Poor chap – his primitive cranium simply hasn’t had enough time to adapt to the sudden super-stimuli of modern life – all those endless images streaming at him, the conference calls where someone forgets to go on mute and reveals that their multi-tasking abilities consist of lying about working from home whilst doing the hoovering, and the blinking pilot light informing him that his synapses are melting. Too much information.

A friend recently extolled the virtues of a new voice-activated i-phone feature whereby you can ask what the weather will be like, and then it tells you! ‘You used to have to go out and buy a newspaper. It took at least ten minutes. Now it takes ten seconds.’

‘Yes, but what an enjoyable ten minutes they were,’ I replied, ‘getting a brolly, maybe whistling a made-up tune and enjoying a brisk walk, perhaps engaging in conversation with a real / non-chat-room-based woman, focusing on one thing. Now you’ve got to fill up those ten minutes with other meaningless crap! Everything’s so efficient nowadays, so why do I have less time?’

…Which was possibly a massive overreaction, but he seemed to take it all in good spirits.

And besides, being focused isn’t always a good thing. In some cases it can lead to obsessional fanaticism….

Over the road from my house there is a small car park.  It isn’t clear who owns the land, and it is invariable empty. However,  anyone daring to park there is subject to the remorseless wrath of a little old man who sneaks out of an adjacent flat when he thinks no one is watching and dished out non-inforcable parking tickets which are written in biro. The tickets include a fine (mine was £100). I’m not sure who the fine should be paid to, or whether it should be with real or biro money.

Enough of my friends have been fined over the years for me to consider it high-time to invoke counter measures, so last week, just as it was getting dark, I deliberately used the car park, walked round to the back door if my house, went upstairs, turned off the lights…and waited.

With the exception of a thermos and infra-red camera I imagine it was alot like badger-watching. After less than ten minutes he appeared, bold as brass; a slip of paper in his hand. I waited till he was out in the open and reaching for the windscreen before I pressed the key-fob that activated the headlights.

For a man of advancing years he sure can shift!

A few days later I was taking a brisk walk / buying a newspaper / checking the weather. It was only down the road so I left my slippers on and took a cup of tea with me. Passing a bus stop I heard someone say ‘That’s a good idea.’ I looked up and came face to face with the village’s self-appointed traffic warden. We struck up a conversation and I was informed that he was on the way to see his grandson.

‘Why don’t you drive?’ I asked innocently.

‘I don’t own a car.’

In an alternative universe I unmasked myself as his adversary, castigated him for terrorising the neighbourhood and doled out some brutal old-school street justice. But back in reality I took a certain amount of joy in his eccentricity and wished him a pleasant evening.

Arriving home I was seized with panic and dropped to my knees – ‘Please God, don’t let me end up like this. Don’t let this be my future – grumbling under my breath that next door’s hedge is getting a bit unkempt and writing them a stern letter that I post anonymously at 4am.’

It’s a definite possibility that we’re all pre-destined to travel along the conveyor belt to senility. I’m already moaning about the quality of modern pop music and I’m only in my thirties.

I concluded my prayer with the words ‘Please help me to refrain from pettiness. Amen.’

The very next thing I did was check my e-mail. I’m hosting a school reunion shortly and someone had written to inquire about parking spaces. ‘Will there be enough room or should I get a train?’

‘Don’t worry about space,’ I reply, ‘there’s loads of it. I own a car park.’

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Inappropriate One-upmanship

Some monumentally bad planning from Channel 5 saw a recent documentary on Whitney Houston cut from a distraught looking Aretha Franklin to an advert for Wonga.com where an elderly puppet uttered the immortal words ‘She looks better in a body bag.’

Here’s why gaffs like this are essential for holding together the fabric of space and time…

On Christmas Day 2001 my father and I were standing at his mother’s grave having just laid a wreath. Dad was an intensely private person and, in the five years since her death, had never openly discussed his feelings about her. Now however the moment demanded that something be said. It was just the two of us. It was cold and silent. A statement of considerable poignancy was required, but nothing was forthcoming. I decided that he should be the one to voice it and resolved to wait him out. A minute passed, then five, then ten. Finally he spoke. These are the words that he chose:

‘You know, when I pop my clogs I want you to bury me in a luminous pink cardboard box. If pink isn’t available get me something equally garish, whatever you think will make the mourners feel most awkward.’

The intention was clear: this is too vast for either of us to fathom, so let’s go to the other extreme.

‘I can’t have people thinking we’re too stingy to buy a proper coffin,’ I replied in kind, ‘perhaps we could go for a halfway house and just paint you pink.’

‘Oh I wouldn’t worry about that. I only have two wishes in life – one is to spend your inheritance, and the other is to die leaving you all in debt.’

I decided to up the ante. ‘When I go I’d like to be liquidized and drank at the reception. I could ask my kids to mix in some Imodium so that I am literally a pain in everyone’s arse.’

Dad mulled over what I’d just said and a wry smile spread across his face.  ‘Actually scratch that. Load my cadaver into a catapult and fire it into the air. Wherever it lands I’d like to be left to rot.’

‘Or we could fit your body with animatronics and have someone remote control you to rise from the grave screaming ‘Rrrrrrraaaaaahhhhhhh.’

The conversation went through several more, increasingly inappropriate rounds of one-upmanship, after which we apologised to Grandma, bowed and left.

We lost my mother to cancer last year. This isn’t a cue for cyber-sympathy and I wouldn’t use a blog as a forum for sorrow. All I will say is this. My dad didn’t think he’d be up to doing the eulogy so, without really thinking it through, I offered to take his place. On the day of the funeral I breathed deeply, stood up and faced the large crowd that had come to pay their respects. The eulogy had been put together by the whole family. There were fond memories, achievements, extracts from letters and even some humour. After a shaky start I found a rhythm, and actually started to enjoy sharing all the wonderful stories, but midway through a profound sadness washed over me. As I was trying to compose myself a woman in the front row rose to her feet, set up a tripod and started taking photographs. As I looked at her in disbelief she mouthed the word ‘smile.’

Nothing so perfectly illustrates the hilarious absurdity of death (or life for that matter). Afterwards the same woman engaged me in a conversation that was more like top-trump-grief. ‘No one could ever be sadder about this than me,’ she informed. Over her shoulder I saw an old school friend making the international symbol for fancy a pint? (which in my opinion is the only genuinely helpful thing a person can say to someone when they’ve lost a loved one). ‘Congratulations,’ I replied, ‘you’re the winner!’ She seemed pleased with her triumph, so that’s good. A few days later she emailed me some photos of the coffin with the subject header ‘Hope these help.’ There was a great cathersises in pressing delete so, in a way, they did. Dad told me that I should have replied with ‘Not well at the mo – here’s a picture of my poo.’ Maybe it was an opportunity wasted, but it didn’t seem suitable at the time, and I’m sure her heart was in the right place. Anyway, we dined out on it for weeks.

So, I’m sad to see Whitney go, but Channel 5 have made me feel that life’s gonna tick on just fine, and I thank them for that.

And finally…

I once had the misfortune of working with a highly unpleasant misogynist called ‘Scoffer’ – a combination of his surname ‘Scoffield’ and the eating habits that had resulted in him becoming almost perfectly spherical. When in his late forties he suffered an epic fatal heart-attack (which presumably was the objective of eating six meals a day) a number of the psychologically abused women spread a rumour round the office that a vending machine had fallen on him.

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Kim-Jong-il look-alike’s career in tatters…

The media rarely considers the plight of celebrity impersonators when reporting on the death of a communist dictator. As such the recently unemployed 61-year old Kim Young Shik has become just another of North Korea’s silent victims. He is said to be in mourning at the loss of his raison d’etre. On the other hand the BBC reports that he’s saving an absolute fortune on haircare products. Every cloud…

It’s stories like this that make Valentine’s Day bearable. That and standing in Paddington station watching the look of horror on a man’s face as his girlfriend gives him a teddybear the size of a washing machine. I did my best, but it’s impossible to convey ‘I feel your pain’ in looks alone. For a moment there we experienced the bond shared by all men when we realise that, despite our most earnest endeavours, we’ve stumbled into a trap.

Onto matter book-related, Tim Carter-Wale at systemfx has come through with the latest draft for the front cover of ‘Froth’ – a book of short stories. The colours, design and concept are all fantastic, and constitute a marvellous realisation of my frankly inept brief. The book itself is in the proof reading stage and I’m hoping to get it published online in April.

The other development is that I’m circling around the idea of re-submitting a couple of manuscripts to literary agents. It’s not something I’ve entertained for years as pitching work is a sobering experience at the best of times. Imagine a cocktail bar filled with devastating looking women (reverse sex as appropriate). You go up to the first, choke back your crushing doubt and murmur, ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ She looks at you as if you’re disgusting and spits a savage ‘No.’ You turned to the next, ‘Can I buy you a dr…’ ‘GOD NO!’ You turn to the next. ‘Can I b…’ ‘You must be joking. Avert your gaze wretch.’ The rest shun you without response.

I can only dream of soliciting so impassioned a response from an agent. Oh to be deigned worthy of a ‘sod off.’

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