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.