Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Crispy Duck Arithmetic

The pub was beating to the tunes of Groove Armada.  Heaving with commuters, the place had that perfect post-work buzz.  With a pint of Staropramen in one hand and a menu in the other, I scanned the pizza list with enthusiasm.  I was probably drooling.  My eyes settled on the crispy duck.  I have a weakness for duck.  If it is on the menu I will go for it.  Catch me at the right moment and I would sell my birthright for some crispy duck.  Crispy duck or a million quid?  I'd take the duck any time.  I went to the bar and placed my order.  
"I'll have a 12" crispy duck pizza please, and a pint of Star."
"We have a two-for-one deal on today ," he said.
"I couldn't eat two," I replied.
"But you could get two 6" pizzas for the price of one," he pleaded.
Someone walked by carrying a couple of minuscule pizzas.  There were so damn tiny.  Would that really be the same amount of pizza?  I used to be quite good at maths.  With two maths A-levels, a computer science degree, a major in neural computing and six years busting my brain writing financial software, I would like to think I still am.  I'm beginning to suspect it was all a dream and that I am actually a farmhand.  I froze for a few seconds, racking my brain for the formula to calculate the area of a circle.  All I could find were random bits of physics equations, ghosts of calculus and crispy ducks.  πr2, that was it.  I struggled with the arithmetic.  In my defence the baby had kept us up most of the night before, I had played football over lunch, drunk a pint on an empty stomach and was partially distracted by a group at the bar, the bizarrest group I have ever seen.  Eight gay men and one woman.  Now what was that all about?
"I'll go with the two 6" pizzas."
"They don't both have to be crispy duck," he explained, "you can mix and match."  He was wrong, they did both have to be crispy duck, and on second thoughts, with a million quid I could buy 142857 crispy duck pizzas, and on a Tuesday, get another 142857 free. 

Monday, 27 July 2009

There are some things that never change

A man sits at an outside table, a pint of lager keeping him company. He looks sad, deep in thought. Maybe he isn't sad, maybe he is just contemplating life, the universe, a new job, a job far away from here. Maybe he has never been good at handling change, many people aren't, but a pint and some precious solitude are doing him a world of good.

Some surfers walk past on their way back from the beach, a black Labrador trotting after them. The tide is in, a toddler paddles in the shallows with her father. A yacht sails out of the harbour, it symbolises something, something he understands, freedom perhaps, or escape. Two men sit in a dinghy fishing, all you can hear is the wind, the rattling of rigging and the cry of sea birds. He'll miss this place.

He pops into the shop to get some essentials. An elderly couple blockade the basket pile, preventing all access while they debate about who carries what. Emerging from the shop he nearly gets knocked down by some imbecilic pavement-cyclist. He gives the fool a piece of his mind. As he walks away he smiles ruefully, some things will never change.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Percy, Porcelain, the Elephants and the Bottom-of-the-barrel Scratchcard

Time has escaped me this week, I think she could be on summer vacation. Or having a long bath. In the meantime, here's an old, old post that only the fabulous Sass (as far as I know) has read. Written last November when I was young and foolish.

20 Minutes

20 Minutes. There's a lot of things I can do in 20 minutes. Burp a baby. Kill a mockingbird. Let the dogs out. Drink a pint. Tie my shoelace 40 times. Count to 1200 (one elephant, two elephant, three elephant...*). On this occasion I had a 20 minute wait at Gatwick Airport for my train. No prizes for guessing what I chose to do.

I had barely got to "ten elephant" when I decided to buy myself a healthy chocolate snack, so I stopped counting and headed off to WHSmith. The store is roughly one minute away from the platform, so that would still give me 18 minutes spare. With a bit of luck I would have time to point Percy at the porcelain on the way back, and maybe even drop off the kids.

To my dismay I was thwarted by the joint efforts of a lotto-junkie and a trainee cashier. A deadly combination. The two were locked in some sort of bitter dispute. The lotto-junkie seemed to be purchasing every scratchcard available. Titles included "Monkey Money" and "Money For Ewe".

The latter must be the lowest form of scratchcard available. "Money For Ewe" has a huge background image of a ewe, and each little scratch item is a ewe. Talk about bottom-of-the-barrel.

I waited patiently as these gibbonoids fought it out. I can't remember what they were fighting about, I was too busy working out how many years of mental gymnastics I would require before I bought a "Money For Ewe" scratchcard. It came to 16 million. The heated shop floor was making me sweat like a badger, and I started to panic as I realised that the chances of making my train were as narrow as a stick insect's waist.

I made my train, but only just, and I arrived perspiring like a mad horse and busting for a wee. 20 minutes. Time flies so fast when you're having fun. Next time I'll stick with the counting.

*In case Americans are not familiar with this, it is a technique taught to children for counting in seconds.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Parting Kiss

Quarter to six, the alarm cuts through my beauty sleep like a
butcher's knife. I remember a nightmare and shudder, the football
season had started but I had forgotten to register my fantasy football
team. What could be worse? Lie there blinking, contemplating the
late train for an extra hour in bed. Should I stay or should I go?
Creep through to the kitchen, closing doors gently so as not to wake
the baby. Drain cafetiere while catching up on blogs. Wander onto
balcony, the morning sun makes the river so beautiful. In the
distance the rolling downs are a luscious green. A pack of squawking
gulls chase a fishing boat up the river. Tempted to join them, fish
for breakfast would be sublime. The morning tranquillity stills my
soul. Wash, dress, down a glass of juice, pack my bag. Creep back to
bedroom, give sleeping wife a goodbye kiss.

"Too bristly," she says, and turns away.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Stress, Puke and Trauma, but at least I got to experience irony on a new level

We were sitting in the car at Calais docks, third in the queue, tired, uncomfortable and covered in baby puke. Seven hours driving in the July heat, the car stank, we stank, the baby stank. The baby was to blame. Babies are always to blame.

"I stink," I complained.

"Why don't you get changed?" replied my wife.

"What, now?!"

"Sure, I'll keep watch, you'll feel much better."

She was right. I would feel much better. Not that getting changed was straightforward. There were lanes of cars either side of ours, people were milling about, impatient with the delay. Small children running, smokers smoking, dogs yapping and elderly folk getting up to their usual mischief. To complicated things further I was wearing my swim shorts. You know, surf shorts with a sort of netted lining, the type you don't wear underwear with. I had worn them to make the drive more comfortable, not envisaging a scenario where I would be getting changed in the car.

"OK," I said, the thought of feeling fresh and clean spurred me on. My thoughtful wife had packed a change of clothes in our day bag, and after several hours engulfed in the stench of regurgitated milk I was ready for anything.

I unfolded my jeans and boxers, placed the boxers on top of the jeans and waited for my wife's signal.

"All clear," she said.

Shorts off.

"Watch out," she warned, as an old man wandered by.

I grabbed my boxers and covered myself. When he had passed (and oh how slow he was walking) I battled with my boxers. It's surprisingly difficult to get them on quickly when you have a damn steering wheel in the way, a pair of shorts tangled round your feet and the fear of little Mo being seen by a dock attendant. As I muttered, cursed, and sweated like a badger, my wife got the giggles. You simply cannot trust women.

Someone got out of the neighbouring car. I grabbed the map and pretended to be studying it. The twit lingered for a moment, looking about aimlessly before finally lumbering off. With a final flurry of activity, muttering, scrambling and panicking, I got my jeans on.

Thirty minutes later we were in the "family room" on the ferry. Our just-crawling baby crawled up to me. I scooped her up, held her above me as she squealed with excitement, then lowered her down to give her a kiss and a cuddle. Just as I kissed her she puked, with all the force of an exploding hydrant. It went in my mouth, all over my t-shirt, and down my jeans.

On the plus side, I experienced irony on a new level.

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Hand-Sanitiser and the Can of Mace

The moral of this story is that you should always carry a bottle of anti-bacterial hand-sanitiser. Just in case. If you've been coming here a while you'll know of my disdain for protocol violators, people that break the fundamental rules of etiquette, flagrantly sticking the finger up at what is left of your personal space, sanity and inner peace. The Bible doesn't tell you this, but these rules were created at the beginning of time along with the sun, moon and stars.

So I'm sitting a fairly empty carriage, it's always a bit quieter on Friday mornings, the seat next to me is vacant, as are two whole seating areas, one four-seater and one six-seater. I'm sipping a coffee, reading my magazine and quietly revelling in the peace and quiet. Quietly revelling is always a bad idea. If you want to tempt fate, or at least welcome a scandalous protocol violator with open arms, just sit there quietly revelling.

This bloke wanders in, completely ignores the free seating areas and targets my seat like a homing missile. I'd like to say that I chucked out some chaff (newspaper, coffee cup lid, used tissue) or even fired some flares, but sadly I didn't think of that.

He sits next to me - breaking that fundamental rule that on public transport you should always aim to protect the most (collective) personal space - and then (the irony, oh the irony) proceeds to lower the armrest. Listen Mister, why the hell are you even bothering with the armrest? If you're going to invade my tranquil world when you could have taken a whole six-seater to yourself at least do it properly, squash yourself right in, read my magazine with me and help yourself to my coffee.

As if that wasn't bad enough he starts breathing heavily. Swine-flu outbreak on the way, I think. Of course, another fundamental rule is that you do not breathe heavily on public transport. Unless, for example, the carriage is empty and you're passing the time by doing star jumps (jumping jacks in American I believe). And then I can feel his breath on my arm. That was the moment I wanted the hand-sanitiser, or even a can of mace.

I leaned away from him as much as possible, coping by dreaming, focussing instead on a wonderful scene. I'm sitting under a tree by a river on the edge of a field, a beer in one hand, a book in the other. Birds are singing, butterflies are dancing in the sun, there's not a human soul in sight and all is right with the world. Beside me on the grass is a bottle of hand-sanitiser and a can of mace. Just in case.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Evil Antagonists (Prompt Tuesday #64)

San Diego Momma's prompt this week is:

Make up a silly evil scheme. Even better? Dream up an evil antagonist and write a story about the dreadful thing he plans to do.

I'm glad she chose this prompt. It was only yesterday that, having spent half an hour in the post office queue behind a desultory pack of pensioners, I popped in to see an old university pal of mine, a failed physics graduate affectionately known as "Fish". These days Fish lives in his parent's basement, dividing his time equally between watching Ren & Stimpy and messing about with particle physics. After listening to me rant about the post office queue he rummaged around in a cupboard, found what he was looking for and handed it to me.

"What you need, my long-suffering friend, is one of these".

"A pen?"

"It's not a pen you fool, essentially it is a teleportation wand disguised as a pen. I was so fed up of those dithering halfwits you get at ATMs, you know, the time-wasting miscreants that faff about at the ATM for MINUTES, anything over twenty seconds is unacceptable, I had to do something about it. Basically, it is a particle accelerator. Of course, it is far more complex than that, but I won't bore you with the details. You identify your target a bit like the lassoo tool in Photoshop, all the while holding the clicker down. Then you point at the destination and release the clicker. Simple as that. Watch this."

He teleported an empty Fosters can into my groin. Aside from the exquisite discomfort I was in a state of awe, fear, and a desire to be truly evil came over me. "Shall we take this thing into town?" I asked. "Sure," said Fish, "but we can only use this for good." I nodded absent-mindedly, my mind was otherwise engaged, imagining entire post office queues sent to the White House, tailgaters finding themselves floundering in dirty ditches, wasps struck out of the air, yobs struck by a sodden bunch of duraniums..."

As we reached the post office a hideous queue snaked out the door. "Unacceptable," snapped Fish, and carefully circled the queue with his wand. I admired his skill, his effortless grace. He completed the selection with a pirouette, then slowly raised the wand and pointed at the sun. I came to my senses.


Monday, 13 July 2009

I'll bet you're not this great in bed

I have a hypothetical question for you. A man is rudely awakened by a woman. She claims he has been repeatedly poking her in the eye. In addition she also claims that he stole all the covers, and that when she woke shivering, and tried to get them back, he wrapped them tightly round himself and snapped "It's MY blanket!".

Who is in the wrong?

I say the woman, these are not reasons to ruin a man's sleep. Besides, it is my blanket, and she should have kept her eye out of the way of my finger.

Friday, 10 July 2009

You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

I was sitting outside at a French café, sampling a local beer and observing the world around me. I pride myself on my observation skills. An astute people-watcher, I like to think I can know volumes about someone the second I see them. A bit of a Sherlock Holmes, I like to think. Remember when Holmes meets Watson for the first time and immediately comes out with "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." I'm just like that, I like to think.

The two men walked up to the café and stopped to look at the menu. I could immediately tell they were gay, the evidence speaks for itself. Both were tall, clean-shaven, well-dressed, extremely fashionable. Too fashionable. Both in matching jeans, brown leather belts, pointy leather shoes, open-collar shirts. The shirts were finely pressed, perfect fit, identical cut, one wore blue, the other pink. I looked down at my ripped jeans and baby-stained t-shirt in shame.

They sat down at a table and crossed their legs in total synchronisation (right over left). In two swift actions they placed their leather wallets side by side on the table, then placed their mobile phones on top of the wallets. Not that there is anything wrong with this, by the way, it was simply fascinating. Gay, fashionable, synchronised to an extreme and totally comfortable.

And then their girlfriends showed up, one with a baby. I must have been having an off day.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

So anyway, a penguin moonwalks into a fish and chip shop...

The fish and chip shop came well recommended. There's nothing I enjoy
more than circling a chippy's lobby like a vulture before masticating
a battered fish.  I love fish.  In some ways I'd like to be a penguin,
especially when I'm sitting on a stuffy train with no elbow room, worn
out by the daily grind and listening to the rumblings of my ravenous
stomach.  Oh to slide about on ice all day eating fish.

On this occasion my wild, abandoned hopes of fatty bliss were kicked
in the groin.  The shop was run by a group of contemptible
adolescents, sulkily going about their business with a clear disdain
for the customers.  Not to worry, I thought, it doesn't necessarily
mean the food is bad. The girl took my order without making any eye
contact, her voice a bored monotonous drone. I suspect that even if a
penguin moonwalked in, chirped merrily and ordered cod and chips, her
reaction would be emotionless.

She had false nails, giant acrylic things that could easily poke out
an eye. I've always felt a bit queasy when served food by a French
manicure, imagining the telltale *crunch* as you bite down on a tasty
piece of Haddock.

And then I noticed she only had nine false nails.  My appetite has
suffered permanent damage and I may never fully recover from the
trauma.  Needless to say I will not be going there again.

Fish anyone?

Monday, 6 July 2009

This is by far the greatest poem ever written and that aside, I'm gonna kick your ass Rubbish

When I was in France Rubbish wrote me a poem. I'm re-posting it here because nobody has ever written me a poem before and certainly not this funny. I've left it unedited, unadulterated and unspellchecked, it wouldn't do to censure the chap would it? (Even if my blog's rating will shoot right up. ) Anyway, while you're reading it I'm off to Wales to kick Rubbish's ass.

A long long time ago
I found a blog written by Mo which made me smile

And I knew if I started one
I could make it lots of fun
And maybe they would laugh for a while

But June became really hard
Challenges coming thick and fast
Wayfaring through the blogs
Was jamming up my cogs

I can't remember if I spat
When I read underline optional rats
Who thinks of all this crap
My brains just turned to shat

So Mo Stoneskins gone to France
He took a train through the tunnel for some romance
Before his wife gives birth to a son called Lance
Singing this is his last chance, yeah this is his last chance

Did he write about token intake
I'm sure it must have been a mistake
I hope so for his sake

And is writing the new rock n roll
Can blogs save your mortal soul
And does economical produce just blow

All the American Moms are in love with Mo
Because he's a Brit and a wordsmith Ho
You all kick off your furs
And dig his funky words

And I was a lonely poker playing ass mug
With a shitty blog and a line in smug
But I knew I was due some luck
The day Mo went on holiday, I started writing


For ten days we'll be on our own
I might listen to some Rolling Stones
No will I fuck

The jester will be back really quick
Writing about hamsters and some such shit
Exclusion from his blog really sucks

But whilst the king was on vacation
Rubbish took his following nation
The blog world was stunned
Are all these Brits so fun

And whilst Nikki read Rubbish' rants
She felt a warmth in her pants
Rubbish she thought, insemination any chance
The day Mo went on holiday, I started writing


Helter skelter in a summer swelter
Mo holidayed in a fall out shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast

So I've been smoking some grass
Wondering if these words will pass
With his non imperiousness in France

And all the Moms put on their best perfume
Whilst Rubbish wrote the words to the tune
And Mo got up to dance
But he never got a chance

Because Mo came back to take his field
But Rubbish refused to yield
He'd nicked Mo's followers he revealed
The day Mo went on holiday, I started writing


And there we were all in one place
A generation raised in cyberspace
With no time for fucking anything

So Mo be nimble Mo be quick
Mo you're in the fucking shit
Because Rubbish has stolen all your friends

And has I read his words of wrath
I wanted to give the bitch a slap
Rubbish must be born in hell
Mo will break his spell

Approaching damnation this very night
Words written for a sacrificial rite
Mo would be laughing with delight
The day Mo went on holiday, I started writing


I've read a Moms blog about the blues
So I left a comment for some happy news
But she never answered me

So I searched for some more
Some of them left my head feeling sore
They just weren't that funny

And in the blogs the children scream
The husbands whinge and the women dream
Not a word was spoken
The keyboards were all broken

And the blogger I admire the most
Mo Mad dog Stoneskin cannot post
He's on vacation down by the coast
The day Mo went on holiday, I started writing


I'm not really trying to nick all Mo's followers, just the pretty ones. All the best.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A Remarkable Exhibition of Slightly-wined Brainwork

Our first night on holiday and I was woken from my deep, Côtes du Rhône-fuelled sleep with a start. Bubba was screaming and my wife was shaking me. "Wake up," she hissed, "help me turn on a light." The room was completely dark, I couldn't see a thing, not the bed posts, not the dark outline of the wardrobe, not even my own hand. Bubba had probably lost her dummy (soother), woken to find she couldn't see anything and totally freaked out. I understand. I'd hate to lose my dummy on a dark night.

My wife was trying to turn on her bedside lamp and (apparently) failing miserably. I reached to find mine, sending books and cash to the floor and narrowly avoiding knocking over a glass of water. I took a sip to restore my equanimity and then focused my attention on the light. Damn that Côtes du Rhône, I thought, as my keys crashed down the back of the table.

A man of settled habits, this kind of nighttime scenario stresses me out no end. I ran my hand down the wire, fumbling in vain for the light switch. Must be one of those "slide-block" switches, I thought, finding the bulb and sliding my hand downwards. Nothing. Damn those modern light-makers.

My wife had given up and was now trying to calm Bubba down from across the room. I still couldn't see anything. A thought came to me, if only I could retrieve my phone from our bag it would provide enough light to find the light switch.

In a remarkable exhibition of slightly-wined brainwork I planned the operation. Walk slowly forward until reaching the door (main light switch not an option as it would further wake the baby). Shuffle to the left until reaching the wardrobe. Inch round the wardrobe until positioned directly in front of its centre. Take a few steps back until reaching our bags.

I was just in the process of inching round the wardrobe when the light came on. My wife had resumed her search and found the light switch.

"Thanks for helping," she snapped*, as I stood by the wardrobe stark-naked and blinking like a rabbit in headlights. I said nothing, rescued my keys and got back into bed. A man always knows when his efforts are unappreciated. Ultimately the problem with rural France is that there is no light pollution. On the upside, there is Côtes du Rhône.

* When I mentioned this in the morning after she didn't remember snapping at me. But if you read about the time she effectively accused me of wearing slippers in bed this will not surprise you!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

At this rate people will think I enjoy killing birds and butterflies but I don't, I'm just unlucky

Bubba Stoneskin has two new tricks. The first of these is to scramble off the changing mat and poo on the carpet. The second is to rip off her sun hat and chuck it out the pushchair when we are not looking. Having just spent an arduous step-retracing exercise to retrieve her sun hat we were now on our way home.

Cruising down a country lane we found ourselves fast approaching three little birds standing in the road. In over ten years of driving I have never hit a bird. Sure, there have been some close misses, but the little twits always get out of the way. I remember the Seinfeld episode where George is driving and a pigeon is sitting in the road. His (George's, not the pigeon's) female companion urges him to stop. "They'll get out of the way," says George, "they always do." The next thing you see is feathers everywhere. They'll get out of the way, I thought.

As we closed in the birds panicked. One flew left, one flew right and the third, in an unprecedented display of feathered stupidity, flew straight at us, hitting the car with a thud.

"Ha!" I laughed. There was a brief silence.

"I cannot believe you just laughed," said my wife.

Truth is I have no idea why I laughed. I attempted to defend the indefensible. Maybe it was the cartoon-like way the bird flew at the car. Maybe it was the comical little thud. But, I explained, I didn't actually find it funny, I was sorry we had hit the little fool, it's not like I'm rebelling against nature, slaughtering birds on the slightest whim. She wasn't buying it so we left the conversation there, discussing pleasanter topics such as the prettiness of the French villages, the joy of driving on French roads, the delights of French wine and the beauty of the French countryside. Anyway, you know when you dig yourself a hole, fall in it, scramble out, forget it is there and then fall in again? A few minutes later a butterfly splatted against the windscreen.

"Ha!" I laughed, "I just killed a butterfly."

There's something wrong with me, I should probably seek help.

Just for the record. I genuinely do not take pleasure from killing birds or butterflies.

As I have quite a few new readers since I became a "Jelly Biter" I've put this up here again. To understand the context you must read this post!