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Adventures in Pedantry

I ordered something called a Hero Burger. The nice lady asked if I would you like to supersize?
‘Isn’t it already heroic?’ I inquired.
‘It is, but you get more of everything on the next one up.’
‘What’s that one called?’
‘We don’t have a name for that one yet sir.’
‘Shouldn’t that one be called the Hero Burger?’
The nice lady gave me the special look she reserves for vermin. ‘I guess so!’
With shades of my father I added ‘Might I suggest The Super-Fluous?’
Where on earth did that mustard fart of indignation come from? On ninety-nine days out of a hundred I would have let something so inconsequential go by the by, but today my Hero (now demoted to Side-kick) Burger was presumably going to arrive laced with various bodily fluids and interfered with beyond words. Such is the price of perfection.
Back at Castle Cororan (still surprising peckish) I found a package waiting for me. I opened it. It contained three bottles of peroxide. I am a bald man. As such I was perplexed. The invoice revealed that I share my address (different postcode) with a hairdresser across town. Ah, irony abounds. When I contacted them to arrange a pick up their manager was so impressed with my honesty that he left a gift on the doorstep – two bottles of luxury exfoliant. How delightful. I used one and the skin proceeded to melt from my face. Picture the bald man running around in just his pants, howling like a child who has touched a nettle. By Jove I demanded satisfaction.
But what’s the protocol for complaining about free stuff? There isn’t one is there? I’ve found a gaping hole in British (and possibly world) etiquette. I must write to someone. This is marvellous / unacceptable (delete as appropriate).
Scarred for life, but ebullient with my newfound revelation I set off for a corporate shindig. There an old colleague reminded me of an incident that completes the triumvirate of pedantry.
We both worked with a young man for whom English was not his first language (For the sake of anonymity we’ll call him Tim). Tim would’ve spoken perfectly good English had he paid attention in the lessons that had been paid for by the company (i.e. he’s fair game).
As well a possessing poor grammar Tim was also a prolific skiver – both in the amount of days took as sick-leave and in the amount of time he spent asleep in the toilets. Every two weeks or so his line manager and I would get an email explaining why he was absent. Because his English was terrible he would make attempts to describe the symptoms rather than succinctly state the ailment – the most memorable of which was: ‘I not be work now – big stomach – much pooh – also puke.’
A few days after his various misdemeanours had been tackled in a performance review he took me aside and asked for my help. ‘You tell me how to say this?’ he asked, and then proceeded to graphically described diarrhoea. Even in the midst of a bollocking you could see the cogs turning; setting up the next bout of absence. I told him he was giving too much information and provided a shorter syntax for the condition. He thanked me.
Sure enough – a few weeks later the glorious email arrived: ‘I cannot come to work today as I have Ass Mayhem.’
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Life is Hyperbole

Many years ago when I first moved to Reading I lived in a shared house with three other twenty-something males. Three of us had relocated for work purposes. The fourth who, for reasons of anonymity we’ll call Dan (although coincidentally that also happens to be his real name) told us that he didn’t need to work on account of his parents’ acrimonious divorce and their subsequent attempts to out-spoil him. He sat at home most days drinking Stella, eating bucket loads of chicken wings that he bought from ‘Mr. Cod’ (virtually next door) and howling obscenities at the television.

One day we returned home to find him in a state of mortification. The gig was up. His parents were onto him. No further funds would be forthcoming. He was to do the unspeakable and find a job. After several failed attempts he got himself paid work as a security guard at the local shopping centre.

Less than a week after he started the job I discovered my two other housemates in the lounge laughing uncontrollably. Unable to speak one of them handed me a piece of paper. It appeared that Dan had not enjoyed his time as a security guard, but too ashamed to admit he couldn’t hack the work, had decided that his departure would be more palatable if the reason was a little more elaborate. As such he’d written a letter to the head of security posing as his sister and stated that he could no longer come to work as he’d been involved in a car crash and had, had one of his arms amputated.

My housemates’ mirth was not caused by the excuse, but rather the reply he’d received from the head of security – one of the finest works of literature I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Amongst it’s many well-crafted stanzas two sentences stand out: “We were even more concerned when he contacted your next of kin and discovered they were unaware of your accident. If you could get someone else to hold the phone against your ears perhaps you could call them (presuming you skill have ears)?” And “As your uniform was found in the locker we can only presume you were planning to leave anyway before this most tragic of events.”

I remember he was very angry that they hadn’t paid him, but could think of no legitimate way to complain.

Engaged in the black art of self-promotion as I am, I am constantly bewildered by the sheer volume of exaggeration and out an out lying that takes place in everyday life. I’m not talking about the adulterous / of-course-I-didn’t-burry-her-in-the-woods type exaggeration (i.e. things worth lying about). I’m talking about the little things, like describing a cappuccino as ‘awesome’ or any use of the term ‘LOL’ (surely a killable offence (if that’s not hypocrisy?)).

The latest bee in my bonnet (hyperbole: I don’t own a bonnet) is the emergence of companies that charge to generate fake comments / likes / views / re-tweets etc online. I’ll admit, when I first started promoting my music (Martin’s music) I did try one of them – paid the princely sum of £8, and 48-hours later one of my songs had been listened to 5000 times, but no one had liked it (I hadn’t paid for that) and none of the people were real. Their avatars had been lifted from other users and they had not really listened to my work. They were simply bots clicking on a link. Having decided that it wasn’t a virtuous thing to have done I deleted the song, re-uploaded it and by the end of that day it had been listed to 30 times and liked 8. I felt satisfied. This was an honest picture of the world. I had connected with 30 individuals and properly connected with 8 – Hardly setting the music industry alight, but a true reflection of reality.

I read an online article about a rapper who had over 100K Twitter / Sound cloud followers, all of whom were fake. It posed the question: How does he feel when he reads computer-generated comments that declare ‘You are a rock God’ and ‘Dope’? Or beholds the giant list of fans, none of whom have ever listened to a single note of the tunes he has so lovingly sampled from proper musicians (!) but who have cost him an arm and a leg to acquire?

It’s as if he has taken the Turing artificial intelligence test and the computer has failed him! And he isn’t even an isolated example. The practice is becoming widespread. Now, whenever I see a Facebook link with 20K likes I think: There’s a good chance that’s not real.

I went for lunch last week at a bar I hadn’t frequented in over a year. The place had been renovated. I struck up a conversation with the owner about the changes. Turns out that the previous owner woke up one morning ten months ago, rang the brewery and said ‘So, it’s like this – I’ve had enough – the keys are on the bar’ (click), and off he went, owing in access of fifty grand. No one had seen him since. That’s excited and not made-up.

Another thing that really happened was that I was sitting at a beachside café with an old school friend last weekend. I mentioned that one of my greatest regrets in life was my failure to corral a bunch of co-workers into getting drunk, attending a matinee show by Britain’s premium children’s entertainers ‘The Chuckle Brothers’ and heckling them. My friend replied:

‘Oh I met them once. Tried to get them to go drinking with me, but they declined – gave me a signed photo of the two of them sitting in a cockpit. I did however get annihilated (hyperbole) with a Tommy Cooper impersonator – Guy was phenomenal – Never broke character once!’

Rant over. Mother Teresa put it better than me: ‘Life’s a dream, realise it.’

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Pub quiz etiquette…

A previously lucrative Sunday night quiz has hit the skids in recent months due to the arrival of a pair of annoyingly clever rivals. Having won almost every week since first appearing they now sit in a diminishing pool of disillusioned competitors like vast toads: bloated from eating all the flies and croaking at the scarcity of food. My irrational bitterness at repeatedly losing has been countered in some small way by a mid-week conversation with one of the barmaids in which it was confirmed that:

1. Management has considered watering down / tampering with their beer in order to drive them away as they are affecting the pub’s revenue stream.

2. They are indeed ‘douche-bags’ (although I may have led the conversation somewhat).

Compounding this middle-class outrage is the fact that the ‘Best Team Name Award’ (tankard full of jellybeans – not to be sniffed at) always goes to some lame, innocuous guff and not talented wordsmiths (i.e. us). For example, the week Whitney Houston died we were called ‘Shaving all my glove for you’ – Nothing, not even an honourable mention or look of disgust (‘Let’s get quizzical’ claimed the goodies) – Week of the Greek bail-out our ‘Papandreou don’t preach’ lost out to ‘Quiz on my face.’ It’s almost as if they don’t see us for the geniuses we are!

And so we come to my abandonment of the moral high ground. For months it has been a little-known fact that a pub on the other side of the village does the exact same quiz a few days later. Well this is splendid (if ethically questionable). Last week I finally succumbed to temptation, sauntered on over, paid a pound and duly received £60 for two hours work (I say work)…

But then came that nagging suspicion that I’d done a bad thing.

The thought followed me around for days – taunting and poking and chastising. I kept the 3 crisp £20 notes in a separate pocket from my wallet. It was as though I subliminally knew the ‘clean’ money would be tainted if it came into contact with the ‘dirty’ money. Eventually, when I could take it no more, I hit upon a scheme to be free of the torment. Spotting a homeless man in town I made a beeline and bet him £60 that I could guess his name. (This way, I reasoned, he would technically be winning the money rather than receiving a hand-out):

‘Go on then.’

‘Dave.’

‘Yes.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Yes.’

‘You could have lied.’

‘That would’ve been dishonest.’

See now I’m really in a bind. On one hand I want to give him the money, but on the other a bet’s a bet…

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Prolific Fibbery

On three separate occasions in August I received macabre text messages that read ‘When you get home from work, dig a grave.’ The resting places in question were for a brood of ex-battery hens who’d succumbed to a mystery ailment within days of each other. Leonard was the last one to go (poor girl). She spend her final few hours trying to dig up her friends, presumably so that she could eat them like she did everything else.

Over the coming days and weeks the usual school run of young mothers gathered outside my garden with their offspring, hoping to catch a glimpse of the silly creatures. They’d  become accustomed to the hens lolloping over to see if the children were edible (mistakenly deducing that they were not).

‘Mummy, where have the birdies gone?’ one of them was heard to enquire.

‘I don’t know sweety,’ came the reply. ‘I think maybe they’ve flown south for the winter.’

‘Don’t be silly mummy. Chickens can’t fly.’

It soon became clear that the women of Emmer Green were being bombarded and harassed. A number of them collared me by my car one morning and learnt the awful truth, but far from enlightening their kids with the circle of life they preceded to make up all manner of excuses to explain the absence. One told her brats that the hens were hibernating (?), another that they were inside watching television, and another that they had ‘gone indoors for the milking season’ – a comment that makes me fear for her little cherub’s future.IMG_0064

After a good few months I felt the burden of responsibility bearing down on me and set about getting some replacements. One rainy Sunday morning I drove over to a local farm and queued in a muddy field with two boxes stuffed with hay. At the front of the line a farmer inadvertently set off an incendiary device by asking the father of a young girl, ‘Are you here for the child exchange program – you get six hens and I get your daughter?’ Playing along the father nodded. Seeing his affirmation the girl became hysterical which, in turn, sent 100+ chickens squawking into Pandemonium.

Returning home I realised that the coop was riddled with lice and was therefore unusable. I ordered another one online and made a makeshift ‘hen den’ in the house. The hope was that it would suffice for a week or so, but a mere night into our cozy little arrangement the chickens decided to make a bid for freedom. In the morning I surveyed the damage…

But for a quirk of history ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ could’ve been known as ‘Cororan’s Cock(rel).’ Instead of the discovery that dogs become conditioned to thinking a ringing bell denotes food, you’d have the insight that chasing a chicken round the garden with a rake let’s it know that it’s not OK to take a massive dump on your pool table.

My murderous antics were interrupted by the school run. ‘YAY! The chickens are back! Where have they been?’

I wasn’t prepared and, as such, only brought my B-game. ‘They’ve…been on holiday.’

‘Where to?’

‘…Disneyland?’

‘Did they go on the rides?’

‘…No they…get sick.’

‘Do they like…’

As I steadied myself to answer a series of other queries about what chickens may or may not like a thought occurred to me – What an awful lot of lying has gone into what is essentially a really good thing: Rescuing battery hens and letting kids see them on their way to school. As I pondered this moral quandary fate stepped in and settled the matter.

‘Mummy, why are the birdies so thin?’

‘Because the nasty man doesn’t feed them enough.’

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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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Mish-Mash

My pet chickens need feeding and all I have in the fridge is a spicy chicken pizza. Mmmmoral dilemma. It’s probably no one they know, but best to be on the safe side. In the absence of any grain I find myself pushing a trolley round Tesco Express.

‘OK, you’re a chicken,’ a rather attractive woman overhears me say out loud to myself, ‘what do you like the look of?’ A key-lime pie takes my fancy, but it’s completely impractical. My beak’ll never pierce that lid, and what am I going to do with the ramekin afterwards? Channeling poultry doesn’t appear to be one of my skills.

Back at home the hens seem non-plussed with the selection of cakes I set out before them. The guilt at having forgotten to stock up on their favourite nosh drives me to boil up some rice. A good ten minutes is spent wondering whether or not to add seasoning. Eventually, on the proviso that they’ll taste better if I ever decide to put them in a pie,  I reason that I can stretch to a bit of salt and pepper.

In a scene straight from ‘Come dine with me’ I apologetically serve up the chow. They wolf it down affecting clucks of contentment, but they’ll probably slag me off in the taxi back to their coop.

It wasn’t my idea to get the chickens, but I’m glad that they’re here. Their entire day consists of asking ‘is this edible?’ The answer is invariably ‘yes’.

I order more bird seed online, which instantly infuriates me. Modern life is too easy and too well defined. There’s a slick way of doing everything – ordering seed, buying pre-packaged grub, uploading blogs. Even previously off-the-beaten-track holidays are now pretty much nailed down as experiences. Just once it would be nice to find something ill-defined and reckless (if only so I could complain about it not being better organised). I pledge to go out foraging for sustenance and a female of child-bearing age, but my hunter-gatherer instinct has taken the day off, and I find that women generally object to being clubbed on the head and dragged back to your house by their hair.

So anyway, that’s breakfast out of the way. I check yesterday’s post. The copyright office informs me that my next book ‘Froth’ has now been copyrighted, but that my William Shatner-based satellite navigation – the ‘Shat-Nav,’ has not. The reasons for this rejection (written in biro) are that:

1. William Shatner has already copyrighted himself.

2. The uneven timbre and spacing of his voice may well misinform motorists, leading to peril.

Besides cooking for farm animals I’ve also published ‘The Melting Pot’ on the site ‘Smashwords.’ This means that, in addition to the already published Kindle version, it is now available on i-Pad, html, pdf and several other digital formats:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/131778

Spread the word. I thank you…

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Dr. Seuss and booze…

…spawned the idea of writing kids stories where the language and subject matter were deliberately inaccessible. By 1 A.M we had a few running titles: ‘Let’s count to infinity,’ and ‘Silly Billy retrieves his frisbee from the Nazis.’

A small selection of possible opening lines included: ‘Do you know what pharmaceutical maleficence means? You don’t! Oh dear. Give this book back to daddy and go to your room.’ ‘Ben’s ironic half-smile perfectly illustrated the juxtaposition of an anthropologist going on a violent killing spree.’ And (personal favourite) ‘With a crushing resignation they left Timmy’s rabbit down the well.’

In the sober light of day the critical and commercial enthusiasms have largely dissipated*.

I’m just starting to think about putting together a cover and design for the new book ‘Froth’ (now in its 3rd draft).

The cover of ‘The Melting Pot’ (as seen in the background to this blog) was designed by a good friend of mine, Tim, who was also a co-conspirator in the ill-conceived kids books idea – a very talented chap (though now sadly racked with depression at the loss of his bunny). He took my extensive notes (‘Can it have an orange city in a circle?’) and crafted an image that I was instantly blown away by. Check out his creative excellence at www.systemfx.co.uk

As a self published writer it’s so important to go through all of the appropriate quality gates (extensive editing, proper type-setting, critique etc) so that the end result holds up to scrutiny. A striking front cover is also paramount in showing a potential reader that you mean business. As such I Gave Tim a comprehensive brief:

‘Froth – Man standing in water with waves coming toward him. Waves should be blue. Metaphor for confusion.’

Let’s see what he comes up with!

*Favourite word of the late & fantastically great Mo Cororan!

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