Tag Archives: London

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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Anti-Social Media

Well, I’ve had a very productive commute! My gifts to the world include…

Rate My Troll (.com) The pitch: Why feel morally superior to people who post anonymous racist, misogynistic rants by tackling their indefensible comments with more enlightened points of view when you can feel morally superior by criticising them on their poor use of grammar? For example: ‘A womans’ place is in the kitchen?’ – I think you’ll find it woman’s – Get your possessive nouns right pleb. Or did you mean a collection of individual women? In which case it’s still wrong and a paradox – douchebag(‘s)!

This is how we end all malice. I think I’ve stumbled onto something here. Either that or the abuse gets more eloquent (which is a victory of sorts).

Shoredicks: Like Michelin stars, but for A-holes. I went to a hipster cafe. The barista had a tattoo of a chemical equation on his arm. I inquired after its meaning. He told me it was the chemical formula for love. I wanted to punch him in the face. If there’d been two Shoredicks in the window I’d have known not to go in!

Shat-Nav: The William Shatner-themed-satellite-navigation system, complete with strange pauses in conversation that make you miss your stop and sudden forays into spoken-word renditions of popular tunes. Either that or one that allows you to record your own voice so that you feel like a driving Adonis (‘Check me out – I know where everything is.’ or ‘Why thank you Martin, I will take the next left.’)

Informiaowshon Super Highway: Make it illegal for people to post cat pictures anywhere other than on the dark web – that supposed part of the internet reserved for ultra-violent and morally bankrupt material. We’ll obviously still have to hunt them down and punish them for their crimes (I’m still talking about the cat people).

Light Web: A saccharine-sweet cyber world in which no one says anything nasty ever. Anyone writing a trolly comment has their IP address instantly blocked for life leaving people free to post things like ‘I’ve just bought a new fridge’ or ‘Look, I’ve made a casserole nyom nyom’ or whatever, and other people can reply with ‘Ooh, I made a casserole once. Did you use beef?’ and the first person can say ‘Yes – LOL’ or whatever (but no cat pictures). At the end of each month a list is compiled of everyone who has used the light web. They are then rounded up and killed, and the rest of us normal people can get back to being miserable without bothersome interruptions.

Inadvertently Curing All Prejudice: Advocate one day a week when it’s acceptable to use all of the really great insults you harnessed as a child before finding out what they really meant and subsequently losing the right to use them. It would be awkward at first, but once we’ve all got over ourselves we can crack on with establishing utopia. I’ve come up with two amazing names for this day, but am too afraid to post either of them! 

Los Lobotomy: ‘You know what this crowded tube train needs?’ I thought, ‘a mariachi band!’ and etc…

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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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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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I’ll have what he’s having…

A friend of mine had an idea to walk from London to Rome over a six month period – sauntering through the wine regions, taking in the culture, losing some weight and writing a book about his experiences. On a whiteboard behind our desks we are currently counting down to the birth of his first child – a fantastical event, but one that also effectively puts his Rome idea on ice for at least a decade.

A number of people have commented recently that they envy me for my freedom to up-sticks and move about without dependants. Meanwhile I’m planning to go off on an adventure at the end of the year, but am keen to settle down.

Everyone wants what the other has…

That’s not to say we all miserable – far from it – but restlessness is a curious human condition – seemingly nothing to do with flight-fight / hunter-gatherer and everything to do with matters of the soul.

I for one write my best prose when angst-ridden, and yet am striving at all times to be happy!

I’ll be climbing Kilimanjaro in July. One of the people doing it with me is in Tanzania tagging turtles(!). This morning she sent one of those ‘follow your dreams’ type e-mails. Whilst she herself recognised the sentiment as cheesy I found myself annoyed at my own cynicism.

Joni Mitchell once wrote ‘We’ve got to get our way back to the Garden’ (of Eden). I need to get there via some beaches, a few sunsets over the Pacific and a stack of manuscript paper…

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