Tag Archives: Book

El Stake-Out (Dos)

Hijo de puta! Walking around Reading – minding my own business when – boom! Nana Grande of Peruvian ‘gang’ fame (El Stake-out) appeared right on my six – A plastic bag on each hip (presumably full of guns and cocaine) – moving like stink – little moccasins tearing up the pavement – three and a half feet of raw terror. I got in a cheeky reverse photo before veering off through a car park and into Homebase…

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Todo es bueno…pero no! Nana Grande was in there too, loitering in the weapons department (rakes and hoes). She looked up and there was a sly expression of recognition.

We stood side by side at the check-out, like the world’s slowest car(t) chase. Ahead of me an old biddy made small-talk, unaware of the life and death struggle taking place behind. To my right NG took the lead and placed her items of torture (pegs and hoover bags) on the counter.

I know this looks like one of those grainy photos you see of Loch Ness or Big Foot, but the one she took of me as I was standing at the check-out (whilst possibly planted some kind of nano tracker) was crystal clear – The cojones on this woman!

As I write she’s probably in a knitted treehouse relaying the day’s events to Rosa, El Colonel and Big Mike, planning some garish pan-pipe / blow-dart related demise. My cards are marked people…

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Adios Stink-Town…

‘Why are my hands adhering to the steering wheel? This is deeply unpleasant.’

I peel my palms from the upholstery and sniff the offending digits – honey – the remnants of a squeezy bottle placed in the bin on the way out the door. By my reckoning it’ll be 15-20 minutes before I’m near a sink – No, I am an overly pampered westerner and cannot possibly wait that long. It’s early morning and there’s dew on the ground. Sweet Mother Nature has provided the means of my cleansing. I run both hands through a wet hedge and a giant spiderweb clings to the honey and creates a gloopy gossamer membrane. This is way worse! No matter – I’m passing a row of cars – windscreens glistening with moisture. Again – both hands. Apparently there’s more dirt than water. My webbed appendages now resemble the fur of a badly stuffed animal. A car alarm goes off. I make good my escape…

…At the station I realise that my ticket has expired. So now I’m at the counter, trying to fish a wallet out of my pocket with my wolf hands and the cashier’s judging me and I’m thinking of clever things to say (‘Full moon last night’ or ‘you should see my sheets,) but not saying any of them…

…OK…on the train…good…only not good! The loo is semi-occupied by a large man, door ajar, his head angled so as to hold a phone against his neck and both hands working furiously to scrub food from his tie, carriage too packed to seek alternative means of hiding my shame.

‘My password?’ he bellows. ‘Sure. Are you listening carefully? it’s Asswipe123…Yes! I thought so too…I was gonna use Fu…Oh shit! I dropped my phone down the toilet!…Hello? Can you still hear we Jerry? Nope, he’s gone.’

He retrieves his phone from the U-bend, dries it as best he can on the septic rag that Great Western were kind enough to provide and places it in his pocket whereupon further bog water seeps into his crotch and midriff like a burst colostomy bag.

I go into the now vacated loo to find that Asswipe123 has used up all the water. So we stand side by side on our journey to London – a man who’s soiled himself and a man with terrible hygiene.

‘Were it not for social conventions,’ I think ‘I could put my hands down his pants where there’s moisture aplenty’…

…I tell the woman who now hates me. We should be on my leaving lunch, but instead we’re sitting on the floor of a tiny lift waiting for the emergency services to arrive. An hour previous she asked me to put into words what it felt like to leave the company. I jumped up and down in elation, the breaks kicked in and you’re all caught up.

‘Do you have enough air?’ a facilities guy shouts down the lift shaft.

‘What are you going to do if we don’t?’ my colleague replies…

…Thank God that’s over I’m thinking later in the check-out queue.

‘Planning on murdering someone?’ the cashier asks.

I look down at my shopping basket: penknife, bleach, bolt-cutters, gloves, plastic container, washing up liquid.

I consider the truth (‘I only came in for the washing up liquid,’) quirky (‘What was it that gave me away?’) and unhelpful (‘Imagine how much more incriminating this would be if I still had honey, web and dirt all over me!’) before opting for ‘You realize I cannot allow you to live?’

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Ten things to do AFTER you’re 40…#NoOneCares

Google the phrase ‘Things to do before you’re thirty,’ and all manner of wondrous suggestions cascade like an invitation to dream the impossible – jump from a plane, eat caviar on top of a mountain, grope a woman way out of your league whilst wearing high-performance running shoes etc.

Google the phrase ‘Things to do before you’re forty,’ and the dream has been somewhat curtailed – do a sit-up, try to remain relatively stationary, make up with an enemy (presumably before you feel death’s icy fingers around your embittered heart?)

I resent the idea that I am (we are), at every moment, running out of time to do stuff. I therefore present ten doors that open (rather than close) as you get older:

TEN THINGS TO DO AFTER YOU’RE 40…

1. Go to Topshop and complain about why they no longer sell boot-cut jeans. ‘Yes, I know I should have stopped coming in here ten to fifteen years ago, but what’s with all this skinny crap and court-appearance-suits, and why do you keep glancing down at your phone? How else am I am going to (continue to) look like a Top Gear presenter you little shit?’

2. Go somewhere uber-hip. Know with a certainty that it isn’t you – It’s everyone else. Relax in the surety that you will never ever be hip again (if you ever were). Wear what you like. Resist the urge to beat up metro-sexuals. Lament the decline of masculinity. Revert to northern stereotypes when confronted with pretentiousness, safe in the knowledge that your adversaries will do anything to avoid conflict as their hair will get un-ironically messy: ‘These chips appear to be made of beetroot. Bring me potato before I turn feral.’

3. Gaze in amazement and horror at teenagers who’ve never heard of Gandhi, Thatcher or Hitler (I lived with teachers – this happened).

4. Leave mortgage statements lying around for young people to find (or hen’s teeth / unicorn’s horn). Talk openly about being in the market for a second house (cash buyer obviously).

5. Rejoice in the fact that interest rates really are interesting. Why else would you talk of nothing else?

6. Harness the power of forgetfulness and never worry about anything ever again (or at least forget that you were worried in the first place).

6. Have I already talked about not worrying? Where am I? Why am I still in my pyjamas?

7. Congratulate yourself on not having one of those voices? That goes up like a question? But isn’t? Slavishly take people who do at face value e.g.

‘I went out at the weekend?’

‘Well, I don’t know. You tell me.

‘It was amazing?’

‘Again, only you can be the judge of that.’ etc.

8. Get asked by a bald, diminutive, comb-over-sporting Indian man if you’d like to come with him to Bangalore for ‘Buy-one-get-the-second-half-price- follicle-replacement-surgery.’ Reply: ‘I don’t think you need it. What are you, 46?’

‘I’m 34.’

Work with him under increasingly tense circumstances for a further six months.

9. Genuinely remember when all this was fields. Realise that people have started consulting you on how we used to live. 

10. Get laughed at for owning Level 42 and Gloria Estefan albums on cassette (plus workable analog devices for playing them on). Smugly know that they’re coming back in fashion any day now…

Any day…

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My Punchable Face…

…Or ‘My Expletive and Dwarf-laden journey home…’ (Certain words have been substituted to give this a PG-13(ish) rating).

Aldgate station, London 17:45, usually quiet, on this particular occasion – rammed to the gills: ‘We apologise for the congestion,’ droned the tannoy, ‘This was caused by a fight on a train and subsequent cancellations.’

A cursory glance at the board told me that I wasn’t getting home via the conventional route. I took the next available train going west and changed at Baker Street. As I reached the start of the escalator an incredibly short man cut in front and tripped over my feet. Temper-wise he went from zero to a zillion within the space of a nanosecond – peppering me with a barrage of C-bombs and spectacularly overreacting.

‘Charming,’ I replied like an imbecile. Further C-bombs abounded.

In addition to the man’s height deficiency he was also three rungs below me. As such my genitals bore the brunt of his fury;  an overarching thought throughout: I am perfectly positioned to kick you right in the face…but I’m not going to do that. Sure, you look like a midget with a Napoleon complex, but you might be a ninja. I can’t go out like that. It would be like choking on a marshmallow or getting run over by a segue.

A voice from behind came to my aid: ‘Mate, calm down, I saw – It was an accident – you pushed in.’ I turned. The voice belonged to a man in a three-piece suit

‘Well you can funf yourself as well,’ screamed the ninja.

‘Ok…’

Napoleon stormed off leaving me a little shaken.

‘Don’t worry about it mate,’ reassured Three-piece, ‘guy’s a douche – you handled it well.’

‘Thanks.’

‘I would’ve hit him!’

‘Fair enough.’

Far below Napoleon had clearly decided our encounter wasn’t over and was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator.

‘If you ever deliberately trip me again I will slit your throat you C-bomb.’

‘Mate, it’s been a long day – I’m not doing this.’

‘You’ll do what I funfing well tell you you’ve doing.’

‘OK…’ I went to the right side of the platform, as did Three-piece. Napoleon followed.

Together we tried to placate the little man whilst he continued threatening and bombarding us with abuse. Eventually he lost interest and started to walk away.

‘Jeez,’ sighed Three-piece. ‘I bet you wished you’d pushed him down the escalator.’

‘What did you funfing say?’

‘Oh c’mon! No one can be this angry!’

The train arrived, packed to the rafters. No one got on board. It pulled away leaving us on the platform.

‘Yeah,’ snarled Napoleon, ‘you thought you’d escaped, but now you’re stuck with me.’

Three-piece made a strange noise. I looked to him and saw that he was laughing his ass off. He set me off.

‘This isn’t funfing funny!’ Napoleon declared.

‘It’s quite funny,’ Three-piece responded.

‘This is ridiculous,’ I added. ‘You’re ridiculous. Why are you so aggressive?’

‘If you don’t stop laughing…’

Before I knew what I was saying I’d stepped up to him. ‘I tell you what – Throw down or f*&% off.’

‘Oh, you want we to throw down? I’ll funfing throw down. I’ll throw you off the funfing earth.’

I am living proof that it is possible to find something hilarious whilst also fearing for your wellbeing. ‘No, I don’t want you to throw down. I want you to go away.’

Another train arrived. The three of us got into the same carriage and stood staring at one another for the next ten minutes . It was the closest I’ve ever come to an out of body experience in that I could sense how smug I must look, but was powerful to wipe the provocation from my lips. Three-Piece was clearly having the same issue.

At Paddington the two normal-sized people alighted.

‘Bye C-BOMBS!’ Napoleon yelled.

If I was going to smack him I’d left it a little late. I looked at Three-piece. He gave me a cheeky wink.

‘BYYYEEE,’ we both waved euphorically.

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Gift of the Gabbage

Someone has labelled everything in the park. A tree has a piece of paper attached to its bow with the word ‘tree’ written on it, the ground is labelled ‘ground;’ a lamppost ‘lamppost.’ Not everything is so literal. One of the bushes is christened ‘Bean Head,’ and a bench sports ‘No Thugs.’

FullSizeRenderAll in all there are close to forty such signs. It’s like something out of Alice in Wonderland (‘Drink me.’)

What would prompt someone to do something like that?

My initial ideas (in the order they arrived): Prank / Peruvians / Some kind of protest / Epic breakdown / Insane.

It’s not in Spanish so it can’t be my Peruvian stalkers, (unless they’re deliberately using another language to throw me off the scent – Los Rapscallianos!) See previous post: Digame!

If insane then just imagine what a treasure trove their home must be – all the nouns assigned a little sticker – knives labelled ‘stabby friends’ or ‘she will be mine.’

‘I’m just going down to the ‘Green-play’ (park), but first I shall put on my ‘cloth skin’ (coat) and ‘fruit-bowl’ (pants).’

FullSizeRender (1)I want to engage with you fellow human. What are you?

I got to the train station without being accosted by a white rabbit (shame). I have a long commute each day. On occasion it grinds me down. Yesterday, wedged against some guy’s ass-crack, having miraculously secured a seat, I thought ‘You know what would spruce this journey up? A Mariachi band! I could hire one and get them to follow me around for the day. Sure, it would compound the overcrowding, but think of the joy it would bring, to you and your fellow commuters. I dismissed the idea as fanciful, but later found myself researching the matter thoroughly and ascertained that I could employ said musicians for the grand sum of £300 (el etiquette Trabajo de Mexicanes es muy bueno!) Were it not for the prohibitive train fares I may well have proceeded (£50 a head for a day return! (plus the guy who plays the bass is normally as fat as a house / sports a coffee-table sized sombrero – he’d need two tickets)) – Maybe if I booked in advance I could get some kind of super saver, but then I’d need to travel off peak…
…the point being – it would be amazing, but people would think I was unhinged…

Perhaps the phantom labeller was attempting something equally uplifting. Who can say? Unless they leap naked from behind the bins one morning, a half-dead pigeon twitching between their teeth, and screech a heroin-fuelled explanation into my face we’ll never know. I apologise crazy person. Our failure to communicate is 50% my fault…

But it’s not all misfire. I know a guy with a Filipino wife thirty-two years his junior who speaks no English. They communicate exclusively through Google Translate (and presumably blowjob morse code – one speculates), and they seem to get along just fine!

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Cheeky Bonus!

I knew today was going to be great. Had a feeling deep down in my bones right from the get-go…Alarm went off at bastard o’clock, leapt out of bed like I was in a musical and launched into my solo number ‘Who needs sleep when you’ve got work?’ My walking cane tapped out a jaunty tune as I skipped down the stairs – munched down my cornflakes like they were cocaine (just the three bowls – they’re so moreish!) and was out the door into a beautiful (albeit drizzly) morning.

My journey to the station took me alongside a dual-carriageway lined with hotels and B&Bs. From one such establishment loomed an incredibly tall, incredibly overweight man who walked straight into me.

‘Hey! Watch where you’re going,’ I said somewhat feebly.

Saddened by some poor life choices (It was 7am and he appeared to be eating a kebab) his response was somewhat colourful (lots of confectionary terms – ‘Fudge’,  ‘Muddy-funster’ and the like).

I wasn’t about to get into an altercation with a man who looked like he could snap me like a twig so I let the matter rest, but now we were walking in the same direction and at roughly the same pace – #awks (what have I become?)

For the remainder of this account imagine bullet-time as can be found in the film The Matrix. I shall revert to the present tense…

I spot a giant puddle stretching all the way along our side of the road. It is long and deep. The road is empty. I turn and see that the traffic is being held at a red light. The light changes to green. The traffic is 200 yards away, enough distance to get up to a respectable 35-40 miles an hour by the time it reached us. There is no way I can get past the puddle before they arrive and nowhere to seek cover…

Except there is…

Timing is everything…

At the last minute my pace quickens. The large man flinches. He turns to face me, clearly thinking my intentions to be hostile. I am not looking at his face. I am looking at his shoulders, making sure that we line up. I crouch slightly and brace for impact.

He realised that all is not well to his rear. He begins to turn back. He is a clown rotating to receive his pie more fully in the face. His timing is impeccable.

I don’t see the monstrous arc of water that annihilates him, but I hear it!

The traffic passes. I look down – not a drop of water on me.

‘Bonus!’ I definitely say out loud.

More confectionary terms come thick and fast. I give him the ‘I’m-only-this-dry-cos-you’re-that-fat look’ (A highly nuanced expression I’ll grant you). When this prompts abuse I shift gears and favour the ‘I-did-this-to-you-and-yet-I-did-nothing-at-all’ smile (Goddamn I’m good).

I get on the train – A man taps me on the shoulder as he passes and mutters ‘Very much enjoyed operation human shield – keep up the good work.’

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My Tuba Shame…

In 1989 I rocked a stone-cold mullet and whenever I walked into a room heavily coiffured heads would turn. I was thirteen years old and the world was my oyster / toilet. I had no mobile phone (they existed, but were the size of microwaves, cost a gajillion pounds and were only used by YUPPIES (Young Urban Professional (Take that you acronym obsessed Millennials – LOL))). In the evenings I generally pootled around on my Grifter bike, taped music off the radio, or wrote actual letters to my actual girlfriend with an actual pen (steamy smut about how I wanted to ‘hold her hand’ and other such filth). At weekends I’d rifle through LPs in a second-hand record shop, sit waiting for blocky games to load on my Spectrum 48k or hang around with an annoying kid whose dad owned a sizeable cache of video nasties and porn – the hiding places of which weren’t fooling anyone. I made things, played the clarinet, knew the location of dens…

Then one day it all changed, or rather – it didn’t.

In the 80’s it was compulsory for all Catholic schools to have comedy names. Ours was called Blessed William Howard (or ‘Blessed Bills’ to the initiated). One Autumnal morning me, my mullet and my fellow hilariously dressed classmates were shepherded into the ALF  or ‘Active Learning Facility’ (Couple of tables with some state-of-the-art ‘personal computers’) to be introduced to something called ‘The Information Super-Highway.’

Our teacher – “Mr quotey-fingers” proceeded thus:  ‘The “Information Super-Highway” or “World-Wide’Web” will “revolutionise” the way in which we view and share “bits and bytes” of “data.” Instead of seeing this computer as a single machine, try imagining it as a “node” on a “network.”‘

He turned on the screen and (once it had warmed up) a pre-Google / Lycos / Ask Jeeves white DOS-prompt flashed before our eyes.

We were asked to type in a phrase or “keyword” and see what came up.

I went first – ‘Boobs’ – nothing! (Can you even IMAGINE? (the horror)). A couple of guys followed suit – ‘Willies’ (nothing), ‘Kylie Minogue’ (nothing), ‘fart-face’ (nothing). Something said ‘try just fart‘ (nothing) etc. The kid next to me had tried ‘nipples’ and ‘poo’ all to no avail.

‘Try typing The Gross Domestic Product of China,’ the teacher encouraged.

We duly obliged and were rewarded with a string of text (no pictures) and links to incredibly stodgy academic papers.

‘I hope this demonstration shows you how the world as we know it has irevocably changed forever,’ he concluded.

‘What was that bullshit?’ someone shouted as we filed out (earning themselves a detention and 400 Hail Mary’s (Protestant kids these days don’t know they’re born!))

One thing was for certain – It would never catch on.

Anyway, I told this story to a grad last week and it was like I was talking about my hardships during The Great War.

My tuba shame‘Computers used to operate with less memory than is found in today’s lowest resolution photo,’ I proudly divulged like a luddite neanderthal banging on about the glory days before wheels and fire. ‘And data used to be stores on flimsy five-and-a-half-inch floppy discs.’

‘How did they fit in the USB socket?’ I was (genuinely) asked.

‘We used to roll them up and wedge them in,’ I replied.

Later that evening, tormented by the ridiculous notion that I might be old, I perused through a few photo albums and found that a good twenty-percent of my childhood pictures were in black and white…and that I was wearing flares in all of them!

Twenty years from now someone will be explaining cloud-computing and reality TV to a young person born in 2016 and they will be laughing their arse off at how quaint it all was back in the day…

…but enough reminiscing for now – granddad needs his nap…

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Work/Life Balance…

…Every three weeks the project I’m managing awards someone the title of ‘Team member of the iteration.’ It’s a nice idea – whoever wins receives the adulation of their peers and has a photo taken for the board in which they smile whilst holding an item associated with the company’s brand – an umbrella. This time around we decided to give the award to a group of people – the offshore software testing team, working out of an office in Chenai, India.

In the last week Chenai has been hit with the worst rainfall in over a hundred years. The city has experienced flash floods that submerged whole suburbs and turned its river into an ocean. In the face of this hardship the testers were literally forced to flee for their lives and relocate to another city hundreds of miles away. With the very real possibility that their homes had been destroyed they nevertheless focused on making up the time they had lost and diligently worked through the weekend and evenings to catch up…

…and then we got them to pose with umbrellas and took photos of them.

Travelling to work the next morning I imagined the train being derailed,  waking up in a hospital bed having had both legs amputated and my first priority being to balance a laptop on my stumps so as to pick up wifi cos that progress report wasn’t gonna write itself, to later have a grateful colleague present me with a Thomas the Tank Engine duvet and a card declaring ‘You’re a Winner!’

‘Oh my God, we’re monsters!’ I announced to the office. The general consensus was that it probably wasn’t that bad. I unleashed my Thomas the Tank Engine analogy, but not being aficionados of Ringo Starr’s difficult second album the cultural reference was lost. (At the risk of appearing too heroic I should point out that I wasn’t that vociferous in my assertions as they are keeping my project on track).

Over the years I’ve worked with many offshore teams, and the two things they all have in common are i. Uber-politeness, and ii. An insane work ethic.

I met an old friend for coffee and the subject came up.

‘Do you think maybe we’ve (I’ve) been monumentally insensitive?’

In clear earshot of the baristas, all of whom are either African or South American exchange students he replied, ‘That’s what outsourcing’s all about.’

White people…Jeez…

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Summon the Posh

There’s nothing more skank-ass-ho than a man walking through a park at 8am wearing a tuxedo. And it’s not like I didn’t take every precaution to prevent this from happening. I left the Christmas Party at a reasonable time, caught the train, cranked up my headphones to drown out two Gen Y girls who were engaged in a competition to see who could be the least socially aware (‘I’m such a free-spirit that men can’t handle me…’), shared some ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ type vibes with fellow passengers (‘We all did it!’), got delayed, commenced the walk home, saw my car at the midway point, knew for certain that I was way too drunk to drive, got into the passenger seat just for a minute, just to rest my eyes, just to get a bit warm and then – BAM – right in the middle of the school run and kids faces at the window and ‘Mommy, is that man dead?’ and ‘No darling, he just doesn’t have his life together’…oh, and the judgemental eyes of the upwardly mobile middle-class like I’ve stumbled into the hood and am gonna get stabbed up or barred from Waitrose or both…

I looked at the dashboard clock – too late to go home and change before dropping my car off for its MOT. An image of the queen popping out of Buckingham Palace to buy some fags was firmly ensconced in my brain as I rucked up at the garage – lop-sided tiara and foie gras stuck between her teeth. My deodorant, impressive though it was, had long-since given up the ghost and my waxy skin / stubble combo spoke only of shame.

Various overall wearing staff made no attempt to hide their amusement as I stumbled up metal steps to a port-o-cabin and heard a voice that sounded like Eartha Kitt’s demonic transgender uncle mumble that I was here to drop off the Audi.

‘Why are you in a tuxedo?’ the man asked

‘Why are you not?’

‘Fair enough.’

Then came the annoyance of him asking me complicated questions like ‘Is this your address?’ and ‘Has your phone number changed?’ and all I could think off in response was: I am an aristocrat in decline, I’m going to be spectacularly overcharged, Where can I purchase the healing elixir that is bacon? 

With both hands I reached into my coat pockets to retrieve the car keys and came upon the handles of a set of maracas (which I already knew were in there from when I got out the car, but for some reason had failed to stow in the glove box).

The man could see them (and hear them) and now I was off the chart crazy. An explanation was surely forthcoming. Should I use the real reason (So that I’ve got something to do when I’m waiting at the lights)? No, of course not:

‘It’s how we, The Elite, identify ourselves to each other in public. I usually use a French horn, but my butler’s having it polished.’

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You are fragile and temporary…

2015-02-09 15.35.23 copyEnding One: The Thorn Tree was a pub in Wakefield, infamous for being an excessively violent place in which to drink. My friend had taken me there specifically to prove this point and was duly rewarded. Within an hour a fight broke out between two women. Some karaoke was hastily cobbled together. The mood calmed somewhat.

I believe (if memory serves – it was a long time ago) that I was in the process of being light-heartedly chastised for something when my friend stopped mid-sentence and glanced over my shoulder.

‘I think the man behind you is dead.’

‘What?’

He repeated himself. I turned to look.

‘No, don’t look. It’d be rude!’

‘How am I supposed to verify if…?’

For a few awkward moments we debated what to do – finding it semi funny / semi disturbing, and pretty certain that it would all turn out to be a misunderstanding.

‘No, I think he really is dead.’

We both stood up and took a few short paces over to the man’s table. He was sitting bolt upright, his face composed, eyes wide.

‘Evening,’ my friend said.

‘Excuse me?’ I added.

‘No blinking – He’s not there.’

An old gent, out on his own, a half finished pint, a silent slipping away. It was real.

Whilst my thoughts drifted towards the realms of ‘Is it sad that he died alone or good that he died in pub?‘ my friend had far more practical considerations in mind. Eager to preserve the man’s dignity he calmly made his way over to the bar and informed the landlady. Her reaction was the complete opposite of what had been hoped or intended. Rather than quietly dealing with the matter she flew into a fluster and started making it all about her. A very public call to the emergency services alerted the entire room to what had transpired, and we watched in bemused horror as she draped a bright yellow tea-towel over the man’s face in order to hide the fact that he was dead.

‘What on earth do you think you’re doing?’ I asked.

‘Well I can’t hardly use a sheet can I? He’d look like a ghost. ANYONE KNOW WHO HE IS?’

‘I can’t tell,’ one of the punters replied. ‘He’s got a bright yellow tea-towel over his face.’

Some in the room found it tragic; others hilarious. A few (me included) found it both.

This blog is read by a few hundred people. Statistically therefore one of you (us) is going to die a comedy death at some point, and all the things you’d like to be remembered for – being a great man, woman, lover, philanthropist – will take second billing to having chocked on a dildo during a hen-do gone horribly wrong, or decapitated by a shard of frozen urine being expelled from a plane (‘You remember Pete?’ ‘What, Pissy-Pete?’ Or ‘Hey, how about Phil?’ ‘Oh yeah, the tea-towel guy?’ etc)…

Think on…

 

Ending Two: Mike, 59, ex-marine, ex-North Sea oil rig diver, IT developer, salt-of-the-earth, two weeks from getting married for the second time, December 2005 – my leaving do. Mike’s a naturally scruffy person (a man after my own heart), but under his fiancée’s instructions he’s gone out and bought an incredibly expensive suit – Armani, voluminously huge – the kind Al Capone would’ve worn. He spends the evening taking it out of a travel bag to show people, uttering a single, well rehearsed line of dialogue and replacing it in its bag. The line:

‘I’m only going to wear this twice. Once when I get married and one when they bury me in it.’

At 10pm he leaves – last train to the south coast. We shake hands. It has truly been a pleasure. We’ll see each other tomorrow for my final day.

The next morning a phone call diverts me from the office towards a coffee shop. ‘Leaving presentation’ my all-about-me brain suggests. I push through the front door and someone is whispering in my ear that Mike died in his sleep from a brain aneurism. There then follows a fog of floating into the office, gathering up my traumatised team and taking them somewhere they can breathe. We are joined by our project sponsor, a very senior manager who laments ‘It’s a shame the pubs aren’t open. If ever there were a need for a stiff drink…’

The phone rings – my boss – Where are you? – In a coffee shop – Your team? – With me – Have you forgotten that you need to get a software build out my lunchtime? – Mike… – Yeah, I heard – Then you’ll know that the software build will need to wait a little while – I know you’re in shock, but that’s no excuse for being unprofessional – There are grown men here crying, you need to dismiss the idea from your mind – Listen Martin I will not…

The senior manager can hear what is happening. He makes a gesture to me that I should hand over the phone. ‘Hang on, Rob want’s a word.’

‘Hi Andy, it’s Rob. Yeah listen, show some compassion and f@$* off!’ He ends the call and hands the phone back with a wry smile.

I write to Mike’s fiancée (whom I’ve never met). She asks me to read the letter out at his funeral. The whole team are there, and the senior manager, and his manager, but not my (now ex) boss. All throughout the service I am feeling sorry for him and thinking that he has failed to grasp one of life’s fundamental lessons – that life does not go on, and that all things stop for death.

Mike’s fiancée comes up to me afterwards and says: ‘He rolled over in the middle of the night and whispered, ‘Great to be in bed with the one I love.’ That was the last of him.’

In moments such as these you can only go with your gut. A phrase like that doesn’t need my sympathy. It needs admiration:

‘My word,’ I reply. ‘That’s how I want to go out!’

 

Ending Three:

On Christmas day 2001 I went with my father to lay a wreathe on his mother’s grave. It was cold and had snowed recently. It was a sombre moment and there was a pregnant pause that needed to be filled with some poignant words.

But I wasn’t the one to fill it. Feeling somewhat belligerent I decided that my father (a man private about his feelings) was going to be the one to speak and not me. A considerable amount of time passed in silence. It became awkward, oppressive, slightly funny, then awkward again. Eventually, when he realised that I wasn’t letting him off the hook my father turned to me and said:

‘You know, when I pop my clogs, I’d like to be buried in a snazzy cardboard box – a pink one – something garish that offends the mourners.’

This is how we’re dealing with bereavement is it? I thought. OK, I can run with it…

‘When I die,’ I responded, ‘I’d like to be liquidised and surreptitiously added to the reception punch. I could then literally be a pain in everyone’s arse.’

Father upped the ante: ‘I’d like to be loaded into a catapult, fired into the air and, wherever by body lands, be left to rot…no, not a catapult – a trebuchet – I’d go further.’

I brought it home: ‘When you go I’m going to have you fitted with animatronics so that I can remote control you to rise from the grave going RRRRAAAHHHH!’

‘And that’ll help you cope will it?’

‘I imagine so yes.’

‘Oh good.’

 

Epilogue: Why have I written about death? It’s not because I’m building up to a personal revelation. It’s simply this.

I was meeting an old friend for lunch on Friday, but she cancelled due to fears about getting on a train to London. The killings in Paris had her on edge. I was socialising with a client a few days beforehand when we heard that a couple in San Bernardino had killed fourteen people over a work dispute. They themselves were later shot dead by police. On Thursday a man in London arbitrarily pushed a complete stranger off an underground platform into the path of an oncoming tube. The blogosphere is currently alight with debates over gun control and whether or not to invade Syria, blaming God, David Cameron and the American senate to name but a few. A company I’m working with offers terrorism insurance. I’m led to believe it’s now a fairly standard practice. I have a strong opinion on all of these things, but in some respects that’s also part of the problem – Everyone shouting into an abyss. Never before in human history have people been spoon fed death, terror, death, terror by ubiquitous media morning, noon and night. Never before have they had to be so sophisticated in compartmentalising certain horrors and placing others into context so as not to go insane, so well done you!

That’s probably the only point I was trying to make – Well done you. That I’ve chosen silly slants on the stories is part defiance and part irreverence. I once saw someone I love die and there was nothing warm or graceful about it. Afterwards I carried the mantra around in my heart: You are fragile and temporary. It would help all of us I think to know our place in the grand scheme of things…

…But statistically the world is becoming a far safer place – more parts of it enjoy more liberties then ever before, there is more diversity, less racism, greater rights for women. If we can work out how not to use everything up we might just get where we’re going.

For example: In the dim and distance past if I’d taken a shine to another man’s wife (or his cave) I’d have had to bash his head in with a rock and move in. Now alI I have to do is stalk her on Facebook, take her out to an obscenely priced restaurant, get criticised for not knowing which fork goes with which course, have her post my faux-pas on Twitter and subsequently struggle to gain the acceptance from all of her judgmental friends.

Simpler, happier times…

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