Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Next Fuel Wars Vignette - Food

“Get out of bed, get out of bed, get out of bed…” a loudspeaker  in echoic tones broadcast this message for thirty minutes starting at 5:30 in the morning.

The residents finally did as they were told when they realized that there was no snooze button on the interminable sound.

At 6 AM a new message played.
“Wait outside, wait outside, wait outside…” this lasted for 10 minutes and everyone moved to the front of their buildings and into the cold rain soaked air.

“Collect your rations, collect your rations, collect your rations…” the slow voice commanded everyone.

They looked around vaguely, and, at the bottom of the street, they saw that a huge metal cage had been erected and in it stood two guards in front of several hundred boxes. Slowly and still confused they walked towards the cage where the guards, without word, handed each person a brown cardboard box and in each box was 21 small bars. A small printed bit of paper in each box contained the following note:

“Dear Citizen,
Your food is now provided by the state. To reduce obesity and prevent starvation you have been given this box of 21 flavored kelp bars. You will eat one each for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They have been scientifically designed to fill you up and ensure that you do not feel hungry for five hours.
          Do NOT over eat; there will be no more until next week. Failure to comply will result in you being locked in the community cage until the next rations arrive.

Signed Your Government”

There were grumbles of dissent, but since the slow eroding of liberties at the start of the Fuel Wars, the passion for a fight had been lost. A few people looked around for the ‘Community Cage’ and assumed it was the one storing the boxes. They were wrong.
Two hours later, a bulldozer arrived and knocked down a vacant building and removed the rubble. Then sappers arrived and began constructing a large metal looking cage on the vacant lot. In the cage they strung 50 hammocks and in a separate caged area they plumbed in toilets and rudimentary showers. This was all done within ten hours.  
Five days later and the first people started filling the cage, they were reluctant at first, but not having eaten for three days they realized that at least they would be fed. Just one bar a day was given to those inside the cage. It was bland, tasteless kelp, but it was nutritionally perfect and engineered to ensure that, whilst they wouldn’t feel full, that hunger was kept at the other side of door.
Life inside the cage was dull and uncomfortable, the only time it wasn’t exposed to the elements was when it was heavily raining and kelp sheeting was dropped down the sides.
Two days later, the rain gave way to sun, the next weekly consignment of kelp bars was delivered and the greedy were free to collect their next food ration.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Fuel Wars – A Vignette

“And the last flame has gone out.” The announcer spoke the words that the world had been waiting for.
Smith turned off the television and stared blankly at the screen. That was it then. It was quieter than he imagined. It was the final death rattle of an industry that had changed the world for over 200 years.

And then the sirens sounded. He casually switched on the television again to see the same announcer wearing a flak jacket and military helmet over her tailored suit and coiffeured hair, looking as though she was reporting from a distant warzone and not a very very safe studio.

“We are at war,” she announced solemnly. “The fuel wars have begun.” Smith turned off the television again, stood up, walked to the fridge, took out a cold beer can and in one fluid motion opened it, drained it and crushed it, before reaching for another.

Slowly, he walked to his window, put on a pair of black rimmed sunglass and pulled open the blackout blinds that had been keeping the intense midday sun out of his apartment. From the 85th floor of his tower block he could see for miles. That’s why the Company had given it to him. It was why the Company had built the edifice and bought the freehold to the surrounding two kilometers of city. The Company gave its employees all the floors from the 40th to the 86th, and executives like Smith were given the highest, above him was a conference room. From his circular penthouse, he had a 365 degree view to way beyond the city limits, and out into the desert. Right now he could see the bright orange flames and black smoke of explosions at the Company oil fields. He spoke softly.
“Dial.” A telephone’s dial toned filled the air. “Jones,” he said, and the artificial sound of a phone being dialed replaced the dial tone.
“Jones here,” came a voice through the ether.
“Jones, its Smith. You watching the fireworks?”
“What’s the situation on the ground?”
“All staff evacuated last night, surface level fuel depots empty and fuel stored two k's below. No collateral damage.”
“Excellent. Do we know who started this?”
“Missile sigs suggest a government.”
“Do we know which one?”
“Yup” Jones replied as though he was chewing a corn stalk.
“Fucking hayseeds” thought Smith.
“Call Davis and initiate retaliation. Hang up.” and the room fell silent again.  

Smith closed the blind, and with his beer, returned to his seat in front of the television and switched it on.
“We have been attacked,” came the voice of the now quivering presenter from somewhere beneath a desk as the scenery behind her shook violently.
“Dial. Jones. Jones, Smith. Good job. Hang up.”
“I’ve never could stand that bitch.” He said to an empty room as he sipped his gently warming beer.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Trouble with the Joneses - A Harry Patterson short

“Oi that hurt. Stop it you crazy cow.”
That one was an orange onyx ashtray and it bounced off my shoulder before leaving a hole in the grass. Any higher and I’d have been lying spark out on the garden I was standing on.  

It all started a week before when I got called into my editor’s office after a few weeks of reporting on Christmas nativity scenes.

“Harry, Joe ‘Jawbreaker’ Jones, has been nicked, go and cover his trial and the impact on the community. Take Max with you for the photos when the trial ends.”
“Yes boss.”

I’d only been in the job a year, and this was my first real assignment. I’d covered court cases before as a trainee when I went and watched cases about minor stuff like shop lifting and drunks being wheeled out in front of a magistrate, but Mad Joe was serious. He and his family had been terrorizing the area for the last 20 years and he’d got away with it every time. He was a nutter. The case lasted a week and it was a foregone conclusion, he was going down and when the judge returned to pass sentence he was given five years. His family, sitting next to me, shouted and booed when the pronouncement was given and when I started to ask questions I was given a thinly veiled threat from one of the younger members of the family.

“Piss off unless you want your pretty little fingers broken,” was how he phrased it. My fingers are neither pretty nor little. These gnarled things had worked hard on my late father’s farm and good genes had made them the size of dinner plates, but I took his point and left it for a day or so to go and talk to some of his victims. They were scared, the family had long arms and they were keen that their protection racket wouldn’t stop funding their middle class lifestyle just because Pa had gone away for few years. A few “off the record” conversations with no names and no pack drill hadn’t given me enough for a paragraph, never mind the four columns that my editor expected for the Friday edition. I needed to do something drastic.

“Max, I need some decent snaps so I can build a story, let’s do some detective work.”

Max, was the same age as me and just getting started. Luckily he was as keen as I was stupid and he was up for any plan I had.

“Alright ‘arry what’s the plan?”

The plan, was to follow the little thug that had threatened me and find out what he was up to. He was easy enough to find, the ‘family’ drank in shithole of a pub where they were given free drinks in exchange for not burning the place down. Walking through the stained glass wooden doors we approached the bar and the place fell into the kind of deathly silence that would have allowed a gnat’s fart to be heard. All eyes fell upon us like the spotlights on an escaping prisoner and I leaned on the bar and ordered a couple of beers from the barman, who looked at one of the family, before being given the go ahead.
“What do you want, pal? I told you to get lost unless you want your hands broken.”
“I just want a drink is that so wrong?”
“Drink it and leave, it’s on the house.”

I expected as much and Max and I necked our pints before peeling my jacket sleeve from the sticky beer drenched bar and heading out into the frigid February air and into our car that parked up the road.

Three hours later and we were still there, feeling like castrated metal apes. 

“Jesus it’s cold,” I complained for twentieth time, as I breathed on my hands.
“Oh shut up ‘arry, it’s fuckin’ winter. You know it’s gonna last for another few months. Anyway I reckon he’ll be out soon, he must have something to do today.”

Max’s intuition was spot on and next time we looked up, this bloke and a couple of mates were leaving the pub. They climbed into a nearby Cosworth and had disappeared round the corner before my Montego had even got warm.

Just as we turned the corner, in the same direction that they’d gone, and cursing myself for not keeping the engine running we saw the same red RS being stopped by a Panda and the boot was open with a police officer holding, in his gloved hand, a sawn-off shotgun.

“That’s one for the good guys. Max, get a picture of that will you, I think I have my story, but first let’s go and tell the poor man’s mother.”

A five minute drive and we were outside Ma’s house and I knocked on the door.
“I know you. You were outside the court when my Frankie was sent down. Barry told you to get lost.”

“Yeah, I just saw him having a conversation with the policeman holding a shotgun. It seems like you may be losing a son as well. Now do you have anything to say for the Herald?”

She slammed the door in my face and the next thing I know pots, pans and a lot of abuse are being thrown at me from an upstairs window.

The photographs were great; especially the ones of me cowering behind my car after the ashtray nearly dislocated my shoulder and her other children speeding down the road to rescue Ma and coming over with baseball bats to damage my hands and Max’s camera. And we sped off for the good of our health.

Barry was locked up for a six months and I was given a death threat, which, after the windows on my car were broken, I took seriously enough to hand in my notice and see what Hong Kong could offer to a probationary hack. 

Copyright Stuart Carruthers 2013

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Happy Birthday - A short story

Happy Birthday              

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dearrrrrrrrrr Johhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnn, happy birthday to you.” A round of applause and John stared unblinkingly upon a bank of computer screens, CCTV cameras, cables and tubes with multi-colored liquids flowing through them; the rest of his body was encased in a shiny black sarcophagus that would bend and flex each of his 640 muscles.

The camera panned away and John’s family filed out of the small room that was adorned with streamers, balloons, banners and the paper string and plastic remnants of party poppers.

In John’s mind he was having a great time, he could see his family and talk to them whilst enjoying the taste of the best cake he could remember. As it was his 14th he was even allowed a small glass of sweet sparkling wine and it made him sleepy. After a while his mother and father left and he returned to school life.

“Ah that was nice,” said his mother, “do you think he’s happy?” That was the same question she asked every year at this time.

“Of course he is, he’s got the best life money can buy.” That was his father’s response to the same question.

The Academy was the place to send your children. Au pairs and nannies were considered old fashioned and even boarding schools had become passé for those who could afford something better.

Four years later it was graduation, one hundred pairs of parents gathered in the banqueting hall of one of the finest restaurants in the country and as the clock struck 1pm, 25 limousines began to drop the young adults at the front entrance where they were herded into the reception room. Once they were all there, an electronic fanfare was piped through a sound system and the dining room’s doors swung open.

The parents were aghast as their offspring nonchalantly, but confidently, walked through the doors. To a man they were all fit, slim, toned and tanned beneath perfectly tailored suits. Some of the mothers and fathers, not in the first flush of youth, gasped as they saw these healthy young men, who if they weren’t destined to become leaders of men would grace the covers of fashion magazines, enter the room and casually survey the area looking for their progenitors .

But behind them came John, the exception to the rule. It’s not that he looked much different. He was tanned, his muscles were taught and he was quite handsome. But there was something in his gait that just shouldn’t be there. His shoulders slumped forward, his chin drooped and as he walked he looked at the floor only occasionally raising his eyes to get his bearings. 

“John, John!” gushed his parents.
He raised his eyes and briefly smiled before walking off to the edge of the room and finding a seat.
“I guess it is a bit overwhelming,” said his Mother.
“I’ll be damned if he’ll do that,” muttered his father before irritatingly wandering off to find the headmaster.

“Hello, John. Is something wrong?” his mother had gone to find him.
“Hello Mother.” He spoke quietly and without emotion.

At the tender age of five, he was enrolled at The Academy a private school for the richest of parents that believed in the Victorian principles of child raising: that children should be seen but not heard. His progress could be watched by his parents through TV screens and realtime graphs showing his body weight, IQ, blood sugar count and everything in between. Children at The Academy were the healthiest in the world, their nutrition was constantly tweaked to ensure they had the best. Lessons were delivered through personal online tutors that, through the use of constant brain scans, monitored brain activity for signs of interest and adapted the lesson plan accordingly.

In his mind John was pursuing an active life of interacting with his friends, going to school and being forced to do homework and run for three miles around a freezing cold field in the name of building character. That was the theory and so far no one had contradicted it.

“How was school dear?”
“Lonely, very lonely.”
“Didn’t you play with friends?”
“Some of the time I played with friends but at the end of the day I just stood and stared out at row upon row of blinking lights for hour upon hour until my eyes closed and I returned to my friends. I couldn’t move a muscle during all of that time.”
“There there dear it can’t have been that bad.”
“You left me alone for thirteen years.” He looked deeply into her eyes. “Thirteen years of pain and misery. Thirteen years of sleepless nights. I must leave now. Good bye mother. I used to ask myself why, but now I don’t care. Have you any idea how lonely it is for a boy to be locked up without seeing his parents?”
“But you saw us love.”
“In my mind’s eye, but I never felt your love.”
“But they told me…”
“They told you what? That we wouldn’t know the difference? That we wouldn’t miss out on anything?” He almost spat at her with the venom.
“Yes, yes, that’s what they said.”
“They lied or they don’t know. Either way it doesn’t matter, now goodbye mother.”

And with that he stood up and walked away.

They didn’t see him again until 20 years later when he arrived at the reception of his father’s office building.

“Hello Father.” He still spoke with the soft dry intonation he’d had all those years ago.
“Hello John, how have you been?”
“You have heard I assume?”
It had been in the news John Sutherland had developed the cure for locked-in syndrome. There would be no more patients afflicted by this paralysis.
“We’re very proud of you. You see, that school was the best education that money could buy and now look what you’ve achieved.”
“It is true that without that school I wouldn’t have wanted to cure that problem. But I wanted to discover what caused it as well.”
“And you did?”
“I did.”
“Excellent, excellent. Well now if that’s all I’m extremely busy.”
“Shall we have lunch Father? I have invited Mother.”
“Yes yes alright.” His tone was hurried.

They took a taxi to a small apartment in the center of town and entered through an anonymous door, taking a goods lift to the seventh floor. They entered a room which had a dining table and three chairs in it and two sarcophagi’s. His mother was already there.

“What is this John?” asked his mother.
“We never had dinner together, so I thought we’d have one last family meal.”
“And those things?” his father nodded towards the caskets and just then both parents slapped the side of their necks with the palms of their hands. “You have bugs in here John?”
“Just those two. Now please eat.”

They ate and they talked and John explained what his life was like at school and what he’d been doing for the last 20 years. Presently his parents fell asleep and he moved them into the coffins where they would pretend they were living their normal lives until the evening when the darkness engulfed them and they would be awake for 12 hours staring out into the never ending darkness.

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Deists Dream

A Deists Dream
The Universe was not, as some would believe, a master stroke of engineering from some divine being. It was a fluke: a one in an infinitesimal number chance against it happening. It made the chances of finding you're holding the winning the lottery whilst being charged by a herd of polka-dotted elephants in your high street, seem pretty big. And then there's life, sentient living breathing rutting life.  You think that there's life on your cheese after it's been left in the fridge to have the appearance ofe a hairy scrotum attached to a sweaty rugby player. Nope that's just mold, absolutely no chance of anything interesting happening there.
          It basically takes, as astrophysicists and evolutionists will tell you, a lot more luck than that.
          Tuesday afternoon Dave is bored, he's sitting through another lecture on the history of someone or other who drew, painted or designed something really amazing. With an A4 pad of paper on his lap and a 2B pencil in his hand he starts to doodle. The lines flowing, like a melting glacier etching their way into the papery fibers coating the micro-filaments with gray powdery soot. By the end of the lecture, the assorted lines and shapes were just random patterns: swirls and oblique angles mostly, nothing to write home about. He tore the paper from the pad and scrunched it up, pushing it deep inside his jacket pocket before getting on with the rest of his day.
          By lunch the following day, he'd all but forgotten about the screwed up bit of paper, but, as he pulls his coat on and fumbles around in the pockets looking for his keys, his fingers run across the sharp edges of the paper ball. He pulls it out and has a look, before scrunching it back up and, being too lazy to find a bin, putting it back. The freezing air from the previous night dampened the fibers of his woolen great-coat, leaving his pocket slightly damp and smelling like a musty wet dog. He drags it on over a mangy jumper and torn pair of jeans before shuffling his feet inside a pair of desert boots and slamming the door behind him and heading to another lecture. It's raining; the harsh Arctic wind drives it hard into his face singing as it does so. He wipes the spray from his eyes, hoping that his eyelashes will stay clear enough for long enough to cross the road. They don't, and, as he crosses the road, he finds himself flying through the air before landing on the cold wet tarmac. Briefly, he hears noises around him and then silence.
          He never made it to his class, the next thing he remembers is waking in a strange bed, and, except for the beeping machines complete silence. He tries to move, everything aches. He sees his clothes in the corner of the room. A nurse comes in, he asks for his clothes. The black jeans are torn, from the grit and the nurses' scissors, the coat survives, it had been through worse than this in its life, and in the pocket was the soggy bit of paper. The wet road has soaked through the pocket and now it was disintegrating in his hand. He wasn’t sure why, but he decided to keep it, he unfurled it and lay it on his bedside table to dry.
          Unknown to him, the water, the cold and collision with a car created the perfect storm and a universe was created. The people of this universe created Gods, eventually settling, more or less, on a single one. They believed that it would look after them and answer their prayers.     
          As time passed, he kept hold of that piece of paper, never knowing why. It followed him as the young man became a young father who became a middle aged parent eventually becoming a grandfather an old man. Still unaware of the lives he kick-started all those years ago, he dies. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Murder in the supermarket

Murder in the supermarket
I’m after a book, I know the shop that has it, and I know what it costs. I don’t like to waste time shopping. In fact I’m slightly obsessive about saving time.
The Internet was my godsend.
I browse online for books, but I buy them from my favorite bookshop. Why don’t I buy books online if I don’t like shopping? Life is far from ideal and not easily answered.
I work in a drab building 60’s tower block, which, like many of the older inmates, has cancer. The functional furniture was designed by engineers, engineered for space and efficiency, with no thought given to the inhabitants. The fluorescent strip lights stings my eyes, so at lunchtime, I escape for some fresh air and rush to the bookshop, followed by a Marks and Sparks sandwich and fruit juice and a sit in the park with my new book.
If it’s raining or very cold, I head over to a peaceful back alley deli for a freshly made pastrami and honey mustard sandwich on crusty farmhouse bread and a glass of squeezed juice. To warm the bones there’s also a daily soup. It’s pricey, but as an administrative manager for a bank, I can afford it occasionally. A wife, a child and a 40 mile commute take their toll on the rest of my pay packet.
            About a week ago, one of my underlings royally fucked up and nearly failed his three-month probation. He had committed several clerical mistakes that resulted in some of our credit card customers being overcharged. Several complained and threatened to change banks.
As his supervisor I took most of the responsibility and was hauled across the coals. I was stressed not only because my team had screwed up but because I could have prevented the mistake by doing my job. Instead, I killed time at work browsing online for books just out of sheer boredom.
Being bollocked makes me feel inadequate, just the way I was as a 14 year old at school. “Hunter” my math’s teacher would shout “what is x if –b plus the square root of b2-4ac divided by 2a?” and I’d stand there and quiver.
“I what Hunter?”
“I don’t know, sir”
“You don’t know? Weren’t you listening?” and then, without waiting for an answer he’d turn to someone else and in a withering tone say  “Johnson tell Hunter what the answer is”.
Of course my carpeting wasn’t anything like that, 30 years on. It was all a bit more civilized. But my ingrained reaction was the same, and my bowels churned.
            I angrily left for lunch in a rush from the barren walls, fluorescent lighting, stale air and most of all the noise, the constant chit chat and shrill squeal of the temp agency girl flirting with the young men. Any other day I’d envy them and let it wash over me. Today, I felt they sensed my anger and were carrying on this way deliberately to bait me.
            The crisp February air and sunshine were a welcome change from the murk of the office. I still felt unhinged, my head filled with a dense fog. It was like a serious head cold that causes stupid errors of judgment or retarded performance of even the simplest tasks such as getting on the right bus or checking that the road is clear.
I walked down the street, got on the tube, caught the train and went home, calling in sick from the train. It may have looked a bit suspicious, but I was more afraid of what might have happened had I stayed in the office.
Arriving at the station, I walked the 15 minutes home. Nobody would be there, my wife was at work and my daughter was at school.
Shit. It was half term. I’d forgotten all about it. I leave for work before my daughter gets up and return home after her normally. I’m a bit out of touch with her schedule.
“Hi Dad”, she said as I walked through the door
“Hi Jess…ah struth, its half term, isn’t it?”
“Er yeah? What you doing home?,
“Oh, I’m sick.”
“Bunking off more like,” she smiled
“Yeah, something like that.”
The mist had cleared a little. I liked seeing Jess. I missed her when I didn’t see her and as we grew older we were seeing less and less of each other.
“Say seeing as we’re both at home, do you want to go to a movie and grab a pizza for dinner?”
“Sorry Dad, I’m meeting Dianne and Susan in town in an hour or so”
“Ok, have fun, I’ll go to Sainsbury’s and treat myself.”
I went up stairs to change into jeans, t-shirt and jumper, pulled on some shoes, pulled the car keys off the rack and went to the car.
The drive was uneventful. But, because it was half term, the place was full of mums and their kids. It was like hell on earth and I was about to enter the seventh circle of it.
Hell is other people, according to Sartre. I’d say hell is a supermarket or shopping center during a school holiday.
The vegetable aisle thronged with human cattle. The elderly pulling along bags ready for an extra bottle of booze or a pack of biscuits; the chronically unemployed shy and feckless in their pajamas and slippers; mums of all types who needed to get something for the night’s tea as the half term upset their normal routine; and a few who fitted no category, people who should be working but weren’t. Maybe they’d finished for the day, were throwing a sickie or taking the afternoon off just as I was.
I let out a deep sigh as the mental fog descended again. I didn’t want to be around people and expected the supermarket, in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the week, to be a quiet haven. I felt as if I were suffocating.
All I needed was a space at the deli counter for some nice pate, cheese and biscuits and then the wine aisle. Instead, I was blocked at every turn by a trolley or a small child and forced to perform little hopscotch-style jumps and shuffles to get through.
At the deli counter, I was out of breath and turning puce. Gripping the top of the counter, I deliberately took deep, slow breaths. It took a few minutes before I began to calm down.
Then some Neanderthal, halfbreed blubber babe in pink fleece pajamas and pink slippers wailed at a kid called Jedward and bumped, I should say rammed, into my back. She was walking at full speed and suddenly turned to clip Jedward around the head. I know his name because she was yelling it in his ear.
But then, to my utter incomprehension she wailed on me and spewed forth a  string of expletives about how I was in her way. I took it for over a minute before I pulled out a night stick and beat her senseless – well, dead, actually. She was senseless before I laid a splinter on her. Her head cracked loudly and the blood scattered around the scene like droplets of mercury on a science lab desk. Her kid screamed in terror.
What was his problem? He was free now to change his name and escape the brutality of his life.
His fat mother, eyes popping out of her skull, jaw hanging loosely, would never speak abusively to anyone again.
I pulled off my jumper and t-shirt, wiped the blood off my face and walked calmly from the store. Time was frozen, and I walked through it. I didn’t hear anybody scream. Everyone parted as silently as the electric doors through which I left.

At least that’s what I wanted to have done as I slowly stirred from my dream of what might have happened.
The woman stopped shouting obscenities; I turned to the deli server and ordered. She poked me again
“Are you gonna say sorry?”
 “You deaf or stupid? Are… you… gonna… apologize?”
“For what? You bumped into me, I was just standing here”
“ You want a slap mister?”
I was beginning to wish I had the night stick.
“I’m sorry for bumping into you” I said without a hint of sarcasm.
She still picked up on my lack of sincerity. “You being funny mister?”
“No, I mean it I am truly sorry”,
“Well what you gonna do about it?”
The image of her dead body sprawled on the floor returned briefly.
“I’ve apologized, what more, could you want?”
“You could compensate me”,
“I don’t think so”,
“Buy me my shopping or I’ll claim sexual harassment”
I smiled at the thought of someone molesting this hag. I leaned back to breathe out of my mouth, to avoid the smell of cigarette smoke on her breath.
“What you laughing at?”
“Nothing, nothing”, I said before turning to the deli server, and asking him to pass me his meat tenderizer.

Monday, 18 February 2013

A Dole Bludgers Nightmare

A Dole Bludgers Nightmare
Monday – 9am
Yawned, opened my eyes, looked at the clock. Wrote this and decided it was too early to get up.

Monday – 11am
Woke up again, decided it was now was time to get up. Got out of bed, and ran a bath, whilst it was running I went down stairs, put the kettle on for my morning pint of tea, poured some coco pops into a bowl and added the milk and a spoon of sugar. The kettle boiled and I added the water to the cup and tea bag. The bath was nearly ready, so I took the cereal and tea upstairs and got in for a nice relaxing soak. Grabbing a magazine from beside the toilet I read for a while and became sleepy again.

Monday – 1 pm
Ah shit, the coco pops have disintegrated and the magazine has turned to sludge at the bottom of the bath, and it’s stuck in my bits. The tea, on the other hand is now beautifully dark, almost coffee in colour and with enough of that furry taste to make it seem as though it could recoat an Indian restaurants wallpaper. Getting out I scrape the remains of an article about ‘the body beautiful’ off my thigh. I stand on the bathroom scales and wince as the dial spins round stopping somewhere I won’t mention. But knowing full well that: the sponge cake, six pack of coke, 12” Pizza, economy pack of digestive biscuits and a freezer full of ready meals have to be eaten before I go on a diet. Having dried myself and gotten dressed, I grab a cigarette and settle down in front of the TV, with 250 channels to choose from, how come I can never find anything to watch? I settle for a soap. Having missed breakfast I pick through the remaining pizza and settle down in front of the telly.

Monday 3:30pm
The bloody door rings, and right in the middle of a repeat of Ready Steady Cook. Answering it, I see a bloke in a suit holding a clip board. “Miss Smith?” he asks
“Uh huh”,
“I’m here to repossess your belongings”,
“What, you can’t do that”,
“I have a letter here that says I can” he shows me a letter, it says I owe 11 grand in unpaid parking fines. But here’s the thing, I think it’s really unfair that I should have to pay 30 quid to park my car outside my house and when I don’t pay it or move it, they keep giving me parking tickets cos I won’t move it. I mean, surely once I’ve had one parking ticket I should be able to park for as long as I like. They sent me letters about it and I talked to them, but all I got was nonsense about not being able to park there. I can’t get a parking permit because the car isn’t registered to where I live, cos it’s cheaper to get insurance 30 miles away. But the council doesn’t care, but they should care. That’s what people pay their taxes for. It ain’t my fault I can’t find a job and pay for parking. You’d have thought that after not having paid 160 tickets they’d be a bit more understanding, especially since this has been going for so long.

“Sorry mate you can’t come in, this ain’t my house. I’m staying with a mate for bit and all the stuff is his”
“I have a letter here …”
I shut the door and wandered back to watch the telly, children's TV would be starting soon.
“You can’t ignore this Miss Smith” he shouted through the letter box and dropped a letter through.

Tuesday – 2am
Bed time, a few mates came over for drinks and a movie and a joint or two and left about 30 minutes ago. It’s been a good day, being unemployed may be boring at times, but I get enough money for fags, Sky TV, booze and food, what with the rent being paid to my mate, we’re quids in. But why aren’t they paying for the car? It ain’t my fault. Night, night.

The Dream
What a nightmare, I dreamt I was unemployed and about to lose everything because the government wouldn’t pay my parking fines and tried to blame me. The cold sweat was pouring off my face. I fumbled around in the dark. Yup Dave is there, the cat’s purring at the end of the bed. The alarm clock says 6am, ahhh another 30 minutes of bed time before we have to get up, get Sylvia ready for nursery and then head off to work. I snuggle up to Dave and before I know it, the buzzer is going, I jump into a shower, hear Dave stir and Sylvia runs to me, just as I’m getting dry. Dave jumps into the shower and I get Sylvia her breakfast and grab some cereal for myself.  It’s 8am and we all leave the house together, my job as an estate agent is only a short drive and I like to get there before the shop opens to get the place sorted. Dave works about an hour away and has a mad drive. I don’t envy him but he enjoys his job.
At lunch time, I went and sorted out a few direct debits and spent 20 minutes trying to get through to the council on the phone to  pay a parking fine before it doubled. I gave up on the phone, there are only so many times you can hear a recorded voice telling you how important you are to them before you want to reach down the line and pull the tape out. If I'm so important why don’t they hire more staff to pick up the phones. Surely they’ve worked out that more people call them during their lunch times? I know they’re my problem, but they’re an occupational hazard. I grab a coat and head up to the parking shop. It’s a depressing place, the staff are abrupt and queues take a long time to move. Ahead of me was an Eastern European, he was arguing with staff about having to pay his tickets, but they have their rules and don’t get paid enough to put up with the constant attitude they get from people who think they’re owed something for nothing.  Eventually the man acquiesced and got out a big wad of fifty pound notes, and counted out about 500 pound. It barely dented the pile.

The afternoon was a mad rush, it’s a busy time of year, just before the Budget, buyers and sellers wanting to move before the inevitable Stamp Duty rise. After all who wants to give even more money to the government if it can be avoided?  So I ran home, picked up Sylvia from the nanny, cooked our dinner of tortilla wraps with salmon fish sticks and a baked potato, and watched some TV with her before putting her to bed. Dave came home, just as she was drifting off. She of course woke up, wanting to see daddy, so I left them too it and put my feet up with a glass of wine and bit of TV. He finally emerged from her room at nine, having dozed off with her. We chatted, made tired unenergetic love and went to sleep; knowing that tomorrow would bring more of the same.

Tuesday - 10am
God I need a pee. I had a really weird dream last night. Dreamt I was a posh bird, with a job and a husband and a child and I paid my bills. It was scary to think that some people actually want to pay their bills and work for their money. Suckers, now it’s time for breakfast TV and a fag.

Saturday, 16 February 2013


From the great blog, Bad Language comes this:

Whether it’s a typo, a gaff or a plain lack of common sense, sometimes when it comes to communications failures, you just have to laugh.
  1. The unintentional irony. Welcome to the great state of…wait…Texas/ Taxes sandals
  2. Lost in translation. NASA managed to lose its $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter back in 1999 because one team measured in metric and the other used English imperial. It meant they couldn’t accurately calculate the Orbiter’s acceleration and it literally got lost in space.
  3. The career-limiter. Spotted in the New York Times…oh dear, and on a full page spread as well. Some poor copywriter is going to get fired.Typo in NY Times advert.
  4. The Donald Rumsfeld. A classic case of using as many words as possible to say nothing at all: ”There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
  5. The down with skool. Everybody loves a little irony. Painted on a road in near Northwood Elementary in the town of Kalamazoo in the state of Michigan.Misspelled road sign: Shcool
  6. The joke they didn’t get. In 2012 the American satirical newspaper, The Onion, ran a piece declaring North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, to be the sexiest man alive. The blunder came when Chinese state newspaper, The People’s Daily, mistook this for a genuine poll and proceeded to run a 55-page photo spread on him, directly quoting the Onion article’s assertion that he was a “Pyongyang-bred heartthrob.” A clash of cultural conceptions it would seem.
  7. The wishful thinking. A preemptive PR disaster from 2003. In 2008 even Bush himself admitted that having that banner up so long before hostilities had been resolved “conveyed the wrong message.”George W. Bush: Mission Accomplished
  8. The legal loophole. In America, if you spot some chicken wyngz for sale, don’t laugh, it’s not a typo. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) issued guidelines last year that state you can use the word ‘wyngz’ for wing-shaped products that do not actually contain any wing meat. This takes mangling language to a whole new level. Perhaps Findus should start selling ‘Beaf’?
  9. The ‘we didn’t mean it like that’. Shell thought it was a good idea to open up its Arctic drilling advertising campaign to suggestions from the public. Their site is full of examples like this. I’m not sure Shell thought this one through.Example of failed Shell campaign
  10. The inconvenient truth. Finally, it wouldn’t be fair to compile a list like this and ignore our own blunder. Yes, ‘epic’ is currently one of the most misused words in the English language. These failures in no way relate to long works portraying heroic deeds over an extended period of time. I know. Bad Bad Language. All we can say is FTW!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A Slow Boat to England - A Love Story

Slow boat to England
30 airports, 30 airplanes, 12,000 people, 24,000 feet walking along endless miles of carpet and flying over thousands of miles of land and sea on their way to who knows where. The airports I fly too are universally dull, full of bleary eyed drones who can’t wait to get aboard and settle their sacks of bones into lightly sprung polyester seats for endless hours of lukewarm food, and uninspiring entertainment before entering into a zombie like stupor for the duration of their flights and during one of these trips it becomes clear that, as with most things in modern life, we haven’t been freed by modernity but trapped by it.
The porter pushes his sack barrow loaded with my three-piece Globetrotter luggage set up the gangplank to the deck and then up the stairs to my luxurious cabin. I tip him heftily and survey my surroundings. My room is spacious, on par with a luxury suit in a 5-star hotel, with all the mod cons you’d expect, a satellite connected 54” flat screen LED TV with surround sound, Egyptian cotton sheets and duvet cover, a whirlpool bath and more Egyptian cotton in the toweling. I step out onto the balcony and watch the crew gather in the mooring ropes and prepare to set sail. The surrounding docks are picturesque in a roughly hewn industrial way; the cranes lift and then carry the containers from ship to shore. Our ship pulls away from the dock and we’re on our way. The next 23 days are to be spent travelling from Hong Kong to Southend, I’m already dressed in suit, so i slip my jacket on and head down the passenger lounge for a welcoming aperitif just before the sun passes the yardarm and lunch is served. My 11 other passengers were mostly in their 50’s although there was a young couple who had used this as their honeymoon. Once in open water the captain joined us and welcomed us aboard. He went through the preliminary details of safety and general courtesies such as the meal time were to be strictly observed because the kitchen staff have tight deadlines preparing high quality meals for us and the 50 crew. We mingled for a while and got to know each other and drifted off in separate directions, some forming alliances and friendships of the bat others going their on ways.
I found myself talking to a woman called Janice, a middle aged English professor  at Oxford University. She often traveled by ship because it gave her time to relax and work on the academic paper that she’d spent the previous years working on. Her husband caught planes and gave her time to herself, she knew of his affairs. He didn't know of hers. We chatted for an or so and went for lunch of fois gras pate; smoked salmon, mangetout and pommes frites; desert was cheese and biscuits and a strawberry mouse. The wine was superb.
After lunch I retired to my cabin for a lie down, 40 winks later and I drowsily woke up. Splashing some water on my face i stepped out onto the balcony and lit my pipe, a habit I'd had since I was a precocious 16 year old trying to exhibit an air of sophistication. The precociousness faded, the habit didn’t and some 30 years later I had grown into it. I like to think it gave me an air of sophisticated nonchalance. It probably just made me smell bad.  The air was warm smelt of salt water and diesel fumes; if I craned my neck a little I could see the crew going about their business on the deck. I sat down on a metal bench that was welded to the balcony, opened a book and began to read. 20 more days of this I thought, I’d be so relaxed I’ll be practically comatose when the shores of Blighty come into sight.
A while later I went for a walk to get my bearings and stretch my legs. I met a few of my fellow passengers besides the pool. For a working ship it was a small but lavish affair, just under 2 meters deep and about 5 meters long by 3 wide with wooden decking around the edge. The water was from the sea and, this being the Yellow sea was a very pleasant temperature.  After walking around for a while I discovered the crew bar. Despite my wealth I’d come from a working class background and generally preferred to socialize with working men rather than the faux aristocracy with whom I was forced to spend most of my working life. It was considered out-of-bounds for paying passengers as it was considered that they crew needed somewhere that they could escape from us and not have to be so polite. They looked surprised when I stuck my round round the heavy steel door, not quite sure whether to tell me to “fuck off” or just leave me to realize that I had made a mistake and wander back from whence I'd crawled in from. I asked if I could come in, the Chief Engineer, who was a broad Scotsman both physically and in accent, came and had a word. “It’s not strictly allowed, sir” the contempt dripping from his tongue like saliva from Pavolov’s pooch. I stopped him before he could I say any more and he began to turn away, thinking that I'd understood and would leave it at that. I’d been to university in Edinburgh and spent many of my free weekends in the highlands and slid back into the heavy  brogue I’d  picked up there in the countless evenings in bars and told him that it was fine, but I was more comfortable socializing with the crew and in return all the crew would be tipped generously.  He stopped, slapped the back of my shoulders and said “well why didn’t you say so?” The deckhands were mostly Filipinos with no ability to speak English and kept themselves to themselves, the officers were a mixture of Germans, Scots, English, Italian and Australian, educated men who could all speak their own language plus several others. Apart from James, my new found cohort, and a couple of deckhands on a break, the bar was empty. Beyond the steel door the bar was comfortably, if sparsely decorated, there was a row of seats at the back with four round tables and assorted stools, the bar itself had three stools against it. It was a fully functioning bar with optics, draught beer, an ice bucket and bar towels. “What’d ya fancy?” asked James as he stood behind the bar. A neat rum was needed as a pre-dinner tipple. After one or three later, James and I went our separate ways for dinner, where I met Janice, she’d been working all afternoon but after dinner was ready for relaxing swim, and asked if i’d join her. By 10 o’clock the others guests had gone back inside and we were left to ourselves. Janice had kept herself trim, and wore a 2 piece swimsuit without any cares, I on the  other hand had been suffering from middle aged spread since I was in my mid 20’s when my metabolism slowed but my drinking and eating habits increased, I was a little self conscious sitting there next to her so wore slacks and a linen shirt. Once we were alone, she asked me to join her in the pool, I made to go and get my swim shorts but she simply looked at me silently and undid her bikini top and stepped out of her bottoms, placing them on the side of the pool. Not being backwards in coming forward I took the hint and removed my clothes and stepped into the pool. From there on in fantasies were fulfilled and fluids exchanged and we woke up in my cabin. It was half an hour to go before breakfast and Janice decided it would be prudent to get some fresh clothes on.  During breakfast we chatted as part of the group, eager not to draw attention to ourselves by ether ignoring each other or speaking solely to one another. We didn't see each other again until lunch, I occupied myself by reading on my balcony and writing in my journal, at midday we all assembled for pre-lunch drinks.
The next 23 days continued in much the same vein, Janice and I continued our tryst, spending nights between each other cabins, we gave up keeping it a secret after about the filth day when we were caught having a late night dip sans costumes. There were disapproving looks from the newlyweds, who rather idealistically believed in the sanctity of marriage, but the others didn't react in one way or another, although there were some subtle nods from the married men.  In between evenings with Janice I spent time in the crew bar and got to know the officers and crew a bit better and spent a lot of time on the bridge and on the decks as well as reading and generally relaxing.
We pulled into Southampton docks on a cold Wednesday morning, Janice and I said our goodbyes one last time and I made my way back to my cabin to pack. We had a final breakfast and said farewell to the crew and as promised I tipped the crew handsomely.

Back in the real world my car arrives at the hotel and I make a mental note to look into travel by cargo ship and then I call my wife, Janice.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

12 Letters That Didn’t Make the English Alphabet

Taken from Mental Floss

12 Letters That Didn’t Make the English Alphabet 
You know the alphabet. It’s one of the first things you’re taught in school. But did you know that they’re not teaching you all of the alphabet? There are quite a few letters we tossed aside as our language grew, and you probably never even knew they existed.

1. Thorn

Have you ever seen a place that calls itself “ye olde whatever”? As it happens, that’s not a “y”, or, at least, it wasn’t supposed to be. Originally, it was an entirely different letter called thorn, which derived from the Old English runic alphabet, Futhark.
Thorn, which was pronounced exactly like the “th” in its name, is actually still around today in Icelandic. We replaced it with “th” over time—thorn fell out of use because Gothic-style scripting made the letters y and thorn look practically identical. And, since French printing presses didn’t have thorn anyway, it just became common to replace it with a y. Hence naming things like, “Ye Olde Magazine of Interesting Facts” (just as an example, of course).

2. Wynn

Another holdover from the Futhark runic alphabet, wynn was adapted to the Latin alphabet because it didn’t have a letter that quite fit the “w” sound that was common in English. You could stick two u’s (technically v’s, since Latin didn’t have u either) together, like in equus, but that wasn’t exactly right.
Over time, though, the idea of sticking two u’s together actually became quite popular, enough so that they literally became stuck together and became the letter W (which, you’ll notice, is actually two V’s).

3. Yogh

Yogh stood for a sort of throaty noise that was common in Middle English words that sounded like the “ch” in “Bach” or Scottish “loch.”
French scholars weren’t fans of our weird non-Latin letters and started replacing all instances of yogh with “gh” in their texts. When the throaty sound turned into “f” in Modern English, the “gh”s were left behind.”

4. Ash

You’re probably familiar with this guy from old-fashioned Greek or Roman style text, especially the kind found in churches. It’s even still used stylistically in words today, like æther and æon.
What you may not know, however, is that at one time the ae grapheme (as it’s now known) was an honorary English letter back in the days of Old English. It still had the same pronunciation and everything, it was just considered to be part of the alphabet and called “æsc” or “ash” after the ash Futhark rune, for which it was used as a substitute when transcribing into Latin letters.

5. Eth

Eth is kind of like the little brother to thorn. Originating from Irish, it was meant to represent a slightly different pronunciation of the “th” sound, more like that in “thought” or “thing” as opposed to the one found in “this” or “them.” (The first is the voiceless dental fricative, the second is the voiced dental fricative).
Note that, depending on your regional accent, there may not be much of a difference (or any at all) in the two pronunciations anyway, but that’s Modern English. Back in the old days, the difference was much more distinct. As such, you’d often see texts with both eth and thorn depending on the required pronunciation. Before too long, however, people just began using thorn for both (and later “th”) and so eth slowly became unnecessary.

6. Ampersand

Today we just use it for stylistic purposes (and when we’ve run out of space in a text message or tweet), but the ampersand has had a long and storied history in English, and was actually frequently included as a 27th letter of the alphabet as recently as the 19th century.
In fact, it’s because of its placement in the alphabet that it gets its name. Originally, the character was simply called “and” or sometimes “et” (from the Latin word for and, which the ampersand is usually stylistically meant to resemble). However, when teaching children the alphabet, the & was often placed at the end, after Z, and recited as “and per se and,” meaning “and in and of itself” or “and standing on its own.”
So you’d have “w, x, y, z, and, per se, and.” Over time, the last bit morphed into “ampersand,” and it stuck even after we quit teaching it as part of the alphabet.

7. Insular G

This letter (referred to as “insular G” or “Irish G” because it didn’t have a fancy, official name) is sort of the grandfather of the Middle English version of yogh. Originally an Irish letter, it was used for the previously mentioned zhyah/jhah pronunciation that was later taken up by yogh, though for a time both were used.
It also stood alongside the modern G (or Carolingian G) for many centuries, as they represented separate sounds. The Carolingian G was used for hard G sounds, like growth or good, yogh was used for “ogh” sounds, like cough or tough, and insular g was used for words like measure or vision.
As Old English transformed into Middle English, insular G was combined with yogh and, as mentioned earlier, was slowly replaced with the now-standard “gh” by scribes, at which point insular G/yogh were no longer needed and the Carolingian G stood alone (though the insular G is still used in modern Irish).

8. “That”

Much like the way we have a symbol/letter for “and,” we also once had a similar situation with “that,” which was a letter thorn with a stroke at the top. It was originally just a shorthand, an amalgamation of thorn and T (so more like “tht”), but it eventually caught on and got somewhat popular in its own right (even outliving thorn itself), especially with religious institutions. There’s an excellent chance you can find this symbol somewhere around any given church to this day.

9. Ethel

Similar to Æ/ash/æsc above, the digraph for OE was once considered to be a letter as well, called ethel. It wasn’t named after someone’s dear, sweet grandmother, but the Furthark rune Odal, as œ was its equivalent in transcribing.
It was traditionally used in Latin loan words with a long e sound, such as subpœna or fœtus. Even federal was once spelled with an ethel. (Fœderal.) These days, we’ve just replaced it with a simple e.

10. Tironian “Ond”

Long before there were stenographers, a Roman by the name of Marcus Tullius Tiro (who was basically Roman writer Cicero’s P.A.) invented a shorthand system called Tironian notes. It was a fairly simple system that was easily expanded, so it remained in use by scribes for centuries after Tiro’s death.
One of the most useful symbols (and an ancestor to the ampersand) was the “et” symbol above—a simple way of tossing in an “and.” (And yes, it was sometimes drawn in a way that’s now a popular stylistic way of drawing the number 7.) When used by English scribes, it became known as “ond,” and they did something very clever with it. If they wanted to say “bond,” they’d write a B and directly follow it with a Tironian ond. For a modern equivalent, it’d be like if you wanted to say your oatmeal didn’t have much flavor and you wrote that it was “bl&.”
The trend grew popular beyond scribes practicing shorthand and it became common to see it on official documents and signage, but since it realistically had a pretty limited usage and could occasionally be confusing, it eventually faded away.

11. Long S

You may have seen this in old books or other documents, like the title page from Paradise Lost above. Sometimes the letter s will be replaced by a character that looks a bit like an f. This is what’s known as a “long s,” which was an early form of a lowercase s. And yet the modern lowercase s (then referred to as the “short s”) was still used according to a complicated set of rules (but most usually seen at the end of a word), which led to many words (especially plurals) using both. For example, ſuperſtitous is how the word superstitious would have been printed.
It was purely a stylistic lettering, and didn’t change the pronunciation at all. It was also kind of silly and weird, since no other letters behaved that way, so around the beginning of the 19th century, the practice was largely abandoned and the modern lowercase s became king.

12. Eng

For this particular letter, we can actually point to its exact origin. It was invented by a scribe named Alexander Gill the Elder in the year 1619 and meant to represent a velar nasal, which is found at the end of words like king, ring, thing, etc.
Gill intended for the letter to take the place of ng entirely (thus bringing would become briŋiŋ), and while it did get used by some scribes and printers, it never really took off—the Carolingian G was pretty well-established at that time and the language was beginning to morph into Modern English, which streamlined the alphabet instead of adding more to it. Eng did manage live on in the International Phonetic Alphabet, however.